Louis Bradbury, PhD, Department of Biology
From Climate Change to Human Health: The Multifaceted Potential of Carotenoid Metabolic Engineering
Carotenoids, the vibrant yellow-red pigments found in plants, and other photosynthetic organisms, serve crucial roles in many organisms (including humans). Primarily, carotenoids are indispensable for photosynthesis due to their function in light harvesting and protecting plants from excess light damage. Beyond their photoprotective role, carotenoids have been identified as vital dietary components for humans. They serve as precursors to vitamin A, an essential nutrient that supports vision, growth, immune function, and overall health. Moreover, specific carotenoids, such as lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin, have been associated with a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly. Given the paramount importance of carotenoids, metabolic engineering of their biosynthetic pathway presents a promising avenue for dual objectives: to enhance the efficiency of photosynthesis, which can bolster crop yields and bioenergy production, and to augment the nutritional profile of foods, potentially addressing vitamin A deficiency and other nutrition-related health challenges worldwide. The strategic manipulation of carotenoid pathway genes in plants, using multiple biotechnological tools, not only holds potential for securing the global food supply but also for ushering in a new era of health-promoting foods that can mitigate the prevalence of preventable diseases.
Stephen Fearnley, PhD, Department of Chemistry
Heterocyclic Methodology for Natural Products Synthesis
As a synthetic organic chemist, my research program involves the ongoing development of new synthetic methodology for the construction of biologically active natural products. Specifically, this encompasses: • Investigation and use of oxazolone as a useful heterocyclic scaffold for alkaloid synthesis: This has primarily involved studies of intramolecular Diels-Alder reactions with oxazolone as the dienophilic species. Extrapolation to other cycloadditions is planned. Application in the synthesis of several alkaloid targets is currently underway. • Novel organosilane chemistry for approaches to bioactive ether targets: We have developed a rapid synthesis of cis-fused bicyclic ether arrays in which oxocarbeniums undergo nucleophilic attack by vinylsilanes in a novel intramolecular annulation process. The related silyl-activated Friedel-Crafts process proceeds through an unusual combination of electronic and steric effects. A series of silicon-mediated cycloadditions are also under investigation. A wide variety of ether natural product motifs are thus accessible.
Louis Levinger, PhD, Department of Biology
Rye and Wheat Berry Microbiomes
‘Sourdough’ breads, made using flours milled from grains including wheat and rye, are leavened with a natural starter. The starter microbiome originates from microorganisms found in grain and flour. Its composition changes markedly on incubation with regular feedings. Leavening results from yeast fermentation of the low concentration of simple sugars found in flour, and souring is due to acidifying bacteria such as lactobacillus.
To initiate a long-term project, we analyzed rye and wheat berry microbiomes by amplification and sequencing of colonies obtained from plate cultures. Genera were identified using a 16S rRNA primer pair for bacteria and an Internal Transcribed Spacer (ITS) pair for fungi. Remarkably, dominant fungal and bacterial genera characteristic of a mature starter were not observed among 98 identified in the rye berries.
Dina Lipkind, PhD, Department of Biology
Lipkind Lab: Learning Complex Motor Skills - What Songbirds can Teach Us
Juvenile songbirds learn to sing a song that they hear from adults. Like learning to speak in children, song learning in songbirds is a gradual process that involves a lot of practice. My lab studies this learning process by recording and analyzing juvenile birds' vocal practice as they learn songs delivered by artificial "adults". I study zebra finches, an Australian songbird species that breeds well in captivity. I will talk about what we can learn from songbirds about the way complex skills, including human speech, are learned.
Andrew Edmonds, PhD, Department of Earth and Physical Sciences
Using Muons as a Tool for Finding the Standard Model’s Missing Pieces
The Standard Model is our best theoretical understanding of the Universe. It can accurately predict the properties of fundamental particles to many decimal places. However, we know it is incomplete. It does not contain a description of gravity, dark matter, or dark energy, and it does not explain why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe. To answer these questions, we look for the missing pieces of the Standard Model that would complete our understanding of the Universe. In this talk, I will describe how we use a fundamental particle called the muon as a tool to find these missing pieces.
Chitra Narayanan, PhD, Department of Chemistry
Structural and Dynamical Properties of Proteins: Implications for Protein Function and Disease
Proteins are essential components of living cells. The unique three-dimensional structure of proteins has long been associated with their unique functions. Advances in experimental techniques have revealed that nearly 30% of the genome encodes proteins lacking defined 3D structures, referred to as intrinsically disordered proteins. This presentation will provide an overview of the role of protein structure and dynamics in both health and disease and how changes in protein structure and dynamics can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. I will also discuss how we can exploit these properties to design novel proteins with an example of how we can design peptides (miniproteins) that can act as effective antimicrobial agents.
David Johnson, PhD, Department of Behavioral Science/Neuroscience
Easy to Learn, Difficult to Forget: Understanding Fear-Related Disorders Through the Lens of Associative Learning Processes
Stress and anxiety disorders such as PTSD, phobia and OCD, impact tens of millions of people worldwide. Many of these disorders are experientially driven; that is, they can result from moderate to severe trauma experience. Thus, many researchers and clinicians view these conditions as memory disorders. Indeed, substantial evidence shows that individuals who show diminished capacity to dynamically learn about predictors of threat and danger, or fail to update their knowledge of the same, are at increased risk for the emergence of fear-related disorder. Exposure-based therapies are the most effective approaches for treating these disorders, and comparable to or even more effective than drugs, but they only work for approximately 50% of patients. Identifying factors that predict trauma vulnerability and treatment response are necessary to relieve more patients of their suffering. Here, I will highlight research I’m currently carrying out in my lab at York College to help identify these factors and set the stage for new and/or optimized clinical approaches based on the principles of personalized medicine.