Walsh Fellow: My summer with science and ‘Max’

Posted by: on June 18, 2015   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

brianna1Hi everyone,

Welcome to my new summer blog! I’m thrilled that you’ve decided to check it out. My name is Brianna Abbott. My hometown is Wrentham, MA, and I’m a rising junior just down the road at Providence College. After realizing that I should actually start preparing for a future after graduation, I decided to spend my summer in Friartown doing research in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Because I’m an English: creative writing and chemistry double major, I was approached and asked to blog about my research experience, and I was more than happy to oblige.

And if you’re wondering what I’m planning on doing with an English and chemistry double major, because most people do, the answer is that I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get paid to professionally write chemistry research blogs. A girl can dream.

I’m one of the six students funded by the Walsh Student Research Fellowship, a fellowship created by Robert H. Walsh ’39 and ‘66Hon. to allow for more student research on campus in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, and biology. Thanks, Robert! Though there are dozens of other researchers on campus, this summer I’m the only student researching under Dr. John Breen, who specializes in analytical and physical chemistry. He was my professor for General Chemistry during my freshman year, and I’m taking his Analytical Chemistry I class in the fall. Though it may seem as if I’m just out to get extra brownie points for my class (which isn’t completely wrong), it is a bonus to be able to foster close personal relationships with your professors in the research lab as well as in the lecture room.

Dr. Breen and I are doing a few different experiments this summer, all of them involving lipids. For the first part of my research, I’m replicating research conducted by Emily Mohn ’10 and Jung-Min Lee ’10 in 2009–repetition and reproducibility are important to any successful scientist! They’re even important to the unsuccessful scientists, too. Anyway, the project they started and that I am reproducing is the observation and study of the interactions of Cytochrome c with D_PG containing vesicles.

When I first heard that mouthful of an experiment, I could barely pronounce half of those words, let alone understand them–so I’m going to take a second to explain what’s going on. D_PG vesicles are sacs made from lipid membranes that carry substances throughout the cell. They are formed from lipids of various chain lengths ranging from eight to 18 carbons. Cytochrome c is a protein that lives in the inner membrane of the mitochondria and interacts with that same lipid membrane. It has been suggested that Cytochrome c binds to the lipid membrane and causes the lipids to move from their usual, parallel conformation to an extended conformation with one tail of the lipid rotated at a 180° angle, or antiperplanar. This conformation would reduce the strain of the tightly packed lipids, like someone shouting ‘SHARK’ in a crowded pool and causing half of the people to leave the water, giving those in the water more space. This formation of lipids in the membrane could possibly be the standard position during protein-lipid interactions and could enable vesicle fusion.

fluormaxI set out studying the interactions between these vesicles and Cytochrome c with my friend, the FluoroMax-3. The FluoroMax-3, or Max for short, is an instrument that measures the fluorescence of liquid solutions. A fluorescent label was added to the lipids, and those lipids were then turned into vesicles through a process known as extrusion. Max then took the vesicles and gave me a number based on the amount of fluorescence he observed. If Cytochrome c binds to the vesicles, it blocks the fluorescence, and the number Max calculates decreases. Through this process, I can determine how chain length and amount of Cytochrome c added affect the binding of Cytochrome c to the vesicles! There are all sorts of mini experiments I can–and will–do based off of this general concept, and I’m sure I’ll share all of them with you before the summer sun sets and no longer … fluoresces (I know it’s a terrible joke, but I couldn’t help myself).

I’ve been researching for about three weeks, and now we’re really getting into the meat of the experimenting. During the meat, however, Max does a lot of the time-consuming work, meaning that I have some time to update my lab notebook, study papers that Dr. Breen gives me, read the entirety of Game of Thrones, and, of course, blog! You’ll be hearing from me and Max soon as our productive summer in Friartown gets under way.

I hope you’re as excited as I am (you’re probably not)

– Bri

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Posted by: on June 18, 2015   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows