Alex’s life as a fly barista

Alex Dainis ’11 writes about her experiences in the Garrity lab studying the genetics of nociception in fruit flies in her story “My life as a fly barista” on the Life@Deis blog.

13th Annual Northeast Student Chemistry Research Conference (NSCRC)

The timing and location of this conference would seem to make it ideal for undergraduates to present their research — follow the links below if interested.

April Jewell of the NSYCC wrote:

As Chair of the Northeast Section Younger Chemist Committee (NSYCC), I would like to invite the Undergraduate and Graduate Students and Post-Doctoral Candidates from your department to participate in the 13th Annual Northeast Student Chemistry Research Conference (NSCRC). I would appreciate it if you would forward this information on my behalf. The NSCRC will be held at Northeastern University’s Curry Student Center on Saturday, April 30th, 2011.

The Northeast Student Chemistry Research Conference (NSCRC) is organized for students by students. It is devoted to the research of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral chemistry students, providing a relaxed atmosphere for students to share their work. The day-long event features student poster and oral research presentations, a keynote speaker, awards, and catered lunch. The conference encourages students to network and get feedback from their peers. The 1st NSCRC was held April 24, 1999 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The deadline for abstract submission is Friday, April 8th, at 5pm. Please visit our website at for submission instructions.

Undergraduate research fellowship opportunities

Meredith Monaghan, Director of Academic Fellowships, writes:

I am happy to announce the latest competition for two sources of funding designed to support undergraduate research at Brandeis University. Applications for both the Schiff Undergraduate Fellows Program and the Undergraduate Research Program are due in March; specific details for each are below. For your reference, I have also attached to this email the info sheets/applications for each.

Schiff Fellows work closely with a Faculty Mentor on a year-long research or pedagogical project; Fellows earn $2000 and their Faculty Mentors receive $500. Current and past Schiff Fellows describe this as an excellent opportunity to pursue independent research in collaboration with a caring and knowledgeable expert in their field. In past years, faculty members have been particularly helpful in identifying excellent candidates for the Schiff Fellowship, and have often approached a student directly with an idea for a project. Applications for academic year 2011-2012 are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Monday, March 7, 2011.

This cycle of the Undergraduate Research Program competition is for summer 2011 grants. This award is open to students in all disciplines, and funds can be used to pay for research materials, travel to conferences, and other research-related expenses. Students need a recommendation from a faculty mentor, but the role of the faculty member is less hands-on for the URP than for the Schiff Fellowship Program. Applications are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.

For information about other fellowship opportunities, see the Academic Services website.

Last year’s winners, the 2010-2011 Schiff Fellows, are:

  • BENJAMIN G. COOPER ’11, Chemistry & Biology (with Prof. Christine Thomas) — “Catalyst Design for Environmentally-Friendly Production of Fuels”
  • USMAN HAMEEDI ’12, Biology & HSSP (with Prof. Bruce Foxman) — “Temperature Sensitive Ferrocene Complexes”
  • JUNE ALLISON HE ’11, Psychology (with Prof. Nicolas Rohleder) — “Investigating the Link Between Subjective Conceptions of Stress and Health and Age-Related Declines in Cognitive Functioning”
  • MAYA KOENIG ’11, IIM Medical Anthropology (with Prof. Sarah Lamb) — “Bringing Medical Anthropology to Brandeis / Using CAM to Conceptualize Health”
  • ALEXANDRA KRISS ’11, HSSP (with Prof. Sara Shostak) — “College-Aged Women & Contraceptives: What Does Advertising Have To Do With It?”
  • ALEXANDRU PAPIU ’12, Mathematics (with Prof. Bong Lian) — “Structural Properties of a Certain Kind of Semigroup”
  • Géraldine Rothschild ’12, Economics & French (with Prof. Edward Kaplan) — “Jewish Identities in France During 1945”
  • MARTHA SOLOMON ’11, Biology (with Prof. Lawrence Wangh) — “Barrett’s Adenocarcinoma and its Effects on Mitochondrial DNA”
  • ILANA SPECTOR ’11, Economics & Philosophy (with Prof. Marion Smiley) — “The Meaning of Life: Revealing Individual Perspectives Behind Broader Philosophical Notions”
  • JOSEPH POLEX WOLF ’11, Neuroscience & HSSP (with Prof. Angela Gutchess) — “Cognition at the Cross-Roads: Bicultural Cognitive Processing in Turkish Individuals”

Back to class

2010 Beckman Scholar Philip Braunstein ’12 discusses his research project in the Hedstrom lab at the last class meeting of Organic Chemistry CHEM 25a. Training the scholars in communicating science and improving the visibility of undergraduate research are key components of the Beckman Scholars program.

Photographs by Nathaniel Freedman

Phosphatases and DNA double strand break repair

When cells suffer DNA damage – as little as a single break in one chromosome – they respond by activating the DNA damage checkpoint, which prevents cells from entering mitosis until there is enough time to to repair the damage.  The principal biochemical events in the checkpoint pathway are the phosphorylations of protein kinases by other protein kinases and eventually the phosphorylation of other proteins that regulate mitosis.    When repair is complete, the checkpoint must be turned off.  Not surprisingly, the enzymes that turn off the checkpoint are phosphatases that can remove the phosphates added by the protein kinases.

The Haber lab has previously shown that, in budding yeast, a pair of PP2C phosphatases known as Ptc2 and Ptc3 were important in turning off a key protein kinase, Rad53.  A member of another phosphatase subgroup, the PP4 phosphatase Pph3, dephosphorylates a target of the checkpoint kinases, histone protein H2A.  There is one aspect that they didn’t understand at all: It seems that the intensity of the checkpoint signals must grow the longer it takes to repair DNA damage, because deletions of ptc2 and ptc3 or a deletion of pph3 prevented cells from turning off the damage signal when it took a long time – 6 hours – to repair the damage, but they had much less effect on different repair events that could complete in 3-4 hours or in less than 2 hours.  So they decided to see what would happen if they created a yeast strain lacking all three phosphatases (ptc2 ptc3 pph3), leading to a paper appearing this month in the journal Molecular and Cell Biology.

To their surprise, these cells had a new defect: they couldn’t complete the repair event itself, rather than simply being defective in resuming mitosis after repair was completed.  The mutants could not properly initiate the small amounts of DNA copying that are required for repair.  Again, the severity of the defect depends on the length of the delay it takes to initiate the repair event itself.  The figure (right) shows that the triple mutant is also much more sensitive to DNA damaging agents such as the anti-cancer drug camptothecin (CPT) and to methylmethansulfonate (MMS). These data show a complex connection between DNA damage signaling and the repair process itself, and reveal new roles for the phosphatases in DNA repair.  The work was carried out primarily by graduate student Jung-Ae Kim, now a postdoc at Rockefeller University, with help by another grad student, Wade Hicks, and by an undergraduate Sue Yen Tay, and postdoc Jin Li. The work was supported by a research and a graduate student training grant from the NIH.

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