2013 News

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  • September 19, 2013

    Fred Sherman, Major Contributor to Modern Genetics, Dies

    Dr. Fred Sherman

    Fred Sherman, Ph.D., an internationally recognized scientist and a faculty member at the University of Rochester Medical Center since 1962, died on September 16 at the age of 81. Sherman, who served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry and then the merged Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics from 1982 until 1999, was one of only three URMC faculty members appointed to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

    Sherman performed groundbreaking research on the structure of genes and the effects of genetic mutations on proteins in yeast. He was also a proponent of the use of baker's yeast as a genetic model system. Research using yeast is now conducted at virtually all research centers worldwide, largely due to Sherman’s efforts and his teaching of many leaders in the field.

    It’s hard to overstate Fred’s contribution to modern genetics. His insights into how genetic mutations affect protein coding and his foresight of the utility of the yeast system quite literally changed the course of biological research, said Jeffrey J. Hayes, Ph.D., chair of Biochemistry and Biophysics at URMC. Beyond his scientific accomplishments, Fred’s quick wit and sense of humor were legendary. It was always enjoyable to be in a room with Fred. He will be terribly missed.

    The Democrat and Chronicle has published an article about Fred's life, viewable here.

  • June 14, 2013

    Department Faculty Awarded 2013 Provost's Multidisciplinary Award

    The X-ray crystal structure of bacterial ribosome.

    Biochemistry and Biophysics Department faculty Dmitri Ermolenko, Ph.D. and David Mathews, M.D., Ph.D., in collaboration with Professor Gloria Culver, Ph.D. from the Biology Department, in the School of Arts and Sciences, were recently awarded a Provost's Multidisciplinary Award to study how RNA structure contributes to the regulation of gene expression. Their project, entitled Regulation of Protein Synthesis by mRNA Structure, aims to take a novel look at initiation of protein synthesis in eukaryotes through multiple approaches, including single-molecule fluorescent microscopy and fluorescent spectroscopy (Ermolenko laboratory), probing of RNA structure (Culver laboratory), and computational biology (Mathews laboratory). The research will test whether the secondary structure of mRNA facilitates the recruitment of initiation factors and thereby aids translation initiation. These studies will address fundamental biological questions, potentially changing paradigms regarding regulation of protein synthesis.

    A FRET time trace showing changes in donor (green) and acceptor (red) fluorescence, which correspond to fluctuations of the ribosome between different conformations.

    The Provost's Multidisciplinary Award provides pilot funding for especially exciting scholarly research with a high probability of future support from external sources of funding. The Award is designed to foster collaboration between departments and across schools at the University of Rochester. Five diverse research projects at the University were selected as recipients of the sixth annual Provost's Multidisciplinary Awards. The initiative provides $250,000 each year to support faculty research that crosses disciplines.

  • May 22, 2013

    New RNA Structure - the Wedekind Lab has it Covered!

    Crystal structure of the preQ1-II riboswitch (cover art from Liberman et al.)

    Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics Associate Professor Joseph Wedekind and members of his research group (Joseph Liberman, Mohammad Salim and Jolanta Krucinska) published a paper in the June 2013 issue of Nature Chemical Biology. The work describes the structure of an RNA molecule called the preQ1 class II riboswitch (featured on the journal's cover) that functions as a gene regulatory element for bacteria within the Firmicutes phylum, including human pathogens such as Streptococcus pneumoniae. The RNA structure is bound to the small molecule preQ1, which is the last soluble metabolite in the biosynthetic pathway that produces queuosine, a hypermodified base at the wobble position of certain tRNAs that promotes accurate genetic decoding. Because preQ1 is unique to the bacterial metabolome, the class II preQ1 riboswitch has potential as an antibacterial drug target.

    The research was performed primarily at the University of Rochester and made extensive use of the Structural Biology and Biophysics Facility. The work also required the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (Menlo Park, CA), as well as Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (Ithaca, NY) where crystals were subjected to X-ray diffraction analyses. The work in Wedekind' lab was funded by the National Institutes of Health/ National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIH/NIGMS).

    The preQ1-II riboswitch structure reveals the chemical details of preQ1 binding in a pocket formed at the junction of three RNA helices. Complementary work from Wedekind's lab showed that preQ1 promotes a more compact shape that leads to blocking of a signal that is necessary for protein synthesis, which leads to lower levels of preQ1 in the cell. Of special note was the lab's observation that the mechanism of action used by the preQ1-II RNA riboswitch is entirely different than that used by the class I preQ1 riboswitch, whose structure and mode of preQ1 binding were reported previously by Wedekind's lab. Overall the results expand the known repertoire of metabolite-binding modes used by regulatory RNAs.

  • May 17, 2013

    Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics Holds Annual Awards Ceremony

    The Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics held its annual Awards Ceremony on Friday, May 17, 2013. Congratulations to our 2013 Graduates:

    Ph.D. Program in Biochemistry:
    • Jennifer DeAngelis
    • Kimberly Dean
    • Rozzy Finn
    • Jason Gloor
    • Chenguang Gong
    • Athena Kantartzis
    • Geoffrey Lippa
    • Jessica McArdle
    • Adam Miller
    • Sharon Pepenella
    • Karyn Schmidt
    • Wen Shen
    • Cody Spencer
    • Guowei Wu
    Ph.D. Program in Biophysics:
    • Prahnesh Akshayalingam Venkataraman
    • Paul Black
    • Zhenjiang Xu

    Our department was particularly honored this year to receive the University of Rochester's prestigious Wallace O. Fenn Award named after the first Chairman of the Department of Physiology. This award is given annually to a graduating student from any program within the Medical Center judged to have completed especially meritorious Ph.D. thesis research. This year, the award was given to two recipients for their thesis originality, creative thinking and excellence in research and both recipients were students from the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics! Congratulations to Paul Black and Chenguang Gong! For a complete list of all awards, please see the Awards Ceremony Program. Photos of the event can be viewed on the B&B event photos page.

  • May 9, 2013

    David Mathews Heads Working Group Within New Center For Aids Research

    Dr. David Mathews will head one of the primary units within the recently announced $7.5M Center for Aids Research at the University. The NIH-funded center is one of only 18 in the country and brings together University scientists from numerous disciplines. Dr. Mathews, Associate Director of the Center for RNA Biology and Associate Professor within the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, will head the working group focused on the biology of the AIDS virus genome, which is comprised of RNA.

  • January 10, 2013

    URMC Biochemistry Professor Named University of Rochester 2013 Presidential Diversity Award Recipient

    University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, with 2013 Diversity Award winners Suzanne Piotrowski (THSP), Kevin Graham (THSP), Alyssa Cannarozzo (THSP), Lynne Maquat of the Medical Center, Kim Muratore (THSP), and Vice Provost for Faculty Development & Diversity Vivian Lewis.

    Lynne Maquat, Ph.D., J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair & Professor, Biochemistry & Biophysics; Director, University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics; Chair, University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science, has been selected to receive one of two 2013 Presidential Diversity Awards for exemplary contributions to the University's diversity and inclusion efforts. Dr. Maquat is being honored for combining her groundbreaking research agenda with a lifelong commitment to helping women succeed in science. Her remarkable accomplishments include the networking and mentoring programs she initiated as president of the RNA Society; her creation in 2003 of the University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) program; and her award and renewal of an NIH training grant that supports graduate students, including underrepresented minorities, in the cellular, biochemical and molecular sciences.

    The Presidential Diversity Awards were created in 2009 by President Joel Seligman to recognize faculty, staff, students, units, departments or teams that demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion through recruitment and retention efforts, teaching, research, multi-cultural programming, cultural competency, community outreach activities, or other initiatives.

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