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Students tackle brain receptors, find mutant genes, win awards

January 14, 2011

Category: News & Notes

CSU Biotechnology Symposium honors excellence of student research –

Fullerton’s Schott takes Eden Award; Long Beach’s Ricarte, the Nagel

Bustle and brainpower were in abundance at the 23rd annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, held Jan. 7-8 in Anaheim.

Experts described challenges – and achievements – of delivering medicine and designing medical technology in developing countries. A panel of two journalists, two geneticists and a bioethicist provoked lively and lingering discussions on privacy and DNA testing. Tips and business cards flowed at career-networking sessions. Professors shared their findings from the frontiers of cellular physiology, bioinformatics and genetic regulation.

However, in a hotel ballroom striated by partitions adorned with research posters, the CSU students’ sessions created the most buzz – literally. Down the room’s alleys, dozens of small groups huddled to exchange questions and chatter in overlapping conversations about membranes, protein molecules, viral releases, genetic expressions, “how’d you do that?”, and the like.

Presented by the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB), the symposium featured more than 230 student research posters from 22 CSU campuses.

(Here’s the symposium’s program book.)

Specifically cited for adept experimental technique and incandescent scientific thinking, two emerging biologists – Jason Schott of Cal State Fullerton and Florante Ricarte of CSU Long Beach – received the symposium’s top student-research honors.

Focusing on gene expression by brain receptors

Schott received the Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award for his investigation into the brain receptors behind the expression of genes connected to Alzheimer’s Disease.

Jason Schott of Cal State Fullerton

Jason Schott of Cal State Fullerton

One of Schott’s targets, the Pregnane X receptor, plays a major role in maintaining manageable levels of lipids – or fats – in the brain; and it also serves to detect health-threatening compounds – such as environmental pollutants. Further studies, Schott suggests, could help determine if such pollutants create risk factors for Alzheimer’s.

His poster is titled “Regulation of Apolipoprotein-E Gene Expression by Nuclear Receptors in H4 Neuroglioma Cells.”

Schott’s faculty mentor at Fullerton was Nilay Patel. Patel leads Fullerton’s $1.3 million Bridges to Stem Cell Research project, which is training 30 students in advanced research techniques to help address California’s increasing workforce needs in biotechnology.

Screening genome for trafficking clues

Florante Ricarte of CSU Long Beach

Florante Ricarte of CSU Long Beach

Ricarte received the Glenn M. Nagel Undergraduate Student Research Award. Ricarte’s research discovered, within a single fungal cell, mutant genes involved in the activities of the cell’s vacuole – an organelle that handles molecular recycling and waste processing, stress management, and maintenance of ionic concentrations in the cell’s solution.

The vacuole is analogous to the lysosome in the cells of mammals.

Ricarte’s poster is titled “Novel genes ENV7, ENV9-11 were uncovered in a genome-wide screen in S. cerevisiae and are involved in vacuolar biogenesis, trafficking and function.”

His faculty mentor at CSULB was  Editte Gharakhanian.

At the web site for her cellular biology lab, Gharakhanian writes: “We find the field of trafficking just fascinating! How do cells know which cargo to take to different organelles? What are the proteins responsible for delivering specific proteins to specific locations in the cell? … When normal trafficking of cargo breaks down in cells, it leads to different diseases.”

A searchable catalog of the student researchers’ abstracts—including Schott’s and Ricarte’s—is posted here: http://csuperb.org/oars/abstracts.php.

CSUPERB also presented its top faculty awards – to Howard Xu of Cal State L.A. for service and to Sepehr Eskandari of Cal Poly Pomona for research. Pete Arnold, a biology graduate student at Sonoma State, received the Crellin Pauling Student Teaching Award.

San Diego State University President Stephen Weber was also honored for his long-time leadership as chair of CSUPERB’s Presidents Commission.

– Sean Kearns

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