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By giving genes the silent treatment, Bonneau earns biochemical kudo

May 18, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

Society’s national RNA poster honor goes to CSUCI student researcher

In genetics research, as in many mysteries, it’s often what isn’t said nor seen that provides the clearest clue. And, as Ashley Bonneau will tell you, silenced genes don’t get expressed.

Bonneau, a biology major at CSU Channel Islands, Ashley Bonneau, left, with mentor Nitika Parmarhas spent more than two years there silencing particular genes and examining the ensuing effects on cell growth. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recently cited the excellence of her investigation into improving silencing techniques, presenting her its award for the best RNA-themed research poster at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Her poster is titled “Double knockdown of the Rheb gene in mammalian cells using RNA interference.” (Click for abstract.)

A naturally occurring process, RNA interference (RNAi), according to the National Institutes of Health, destroys “the molecular messengers that carry information coded in genes to the cell’s protein factories. These messengers, called messenger RNAs (mRNAs), carry out a critical function, without which a gene is essentially inactive.” RNAi manipulation, now a widely used biotechnology tool, earned its pioneers a Nobel Prize in 2006.

In her recent work interfering with RNA, Bonneau tested 11 commercially synthesized silencing agents as she sought “to establish optimal conditions for silencing” genes while minimizing doses of key compounds and treatment times. The two Rheb genes she studied are associated with producing proteins important to the insulin pathway.

Here’s the news release from CSU Channel Islands announcing the poster award.

Mentored by CSUCI Assistant Professor of Biology Nitika Parmer, Bonneau has received funding from the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB). At the CSU’s 2010 Biotechnology Symposium, she was named a Doris A. Howell Scholar for her research poster “Silencing of the Rheb Gene in Ovarian Cancer Cells Using RNA Interference.” (The Doris A. Howell Foundation supports research related to women’s health.)

A recipient of four other awards in 2010, Bonneau also served as president of Free Radicals, a CSUCI student group to strenghten student research and boost the public’s understanding of science. She will soon be at Yale University pursuing a doctoral degree in molecular biology.

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