In 2013, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation funded development and initial testing of two new student research projects in life science. SSP is seeking funding to enable full deployment of these exciting projects, as early as 2017.
A major challenge for humanity is feeding the world’s growing population while arable farmland is shrinking. One answer is to better protect crops against diseases.
Concepts and methods will span protein purification, in silico homology modeling of 3D structures, experimental characterization of kinetic parameters in relation to candidate inhibitory molecules, and hypothesis-driven modeling of structural mechanisms of inhibition.
Each team of three students isolates and characterizes an enzyme implicated in fungal infections of agriculturally important crops. They use specialized software to design small molecule inhibitors for their enzyme. Their research is accompanied by college-level instruction in biochemistry, enzyme structure and function, and the drug discovery process.
Applying “big data” techniques to DNA samples – aka metagenomics – is a like new kind of microscope. Students will investigate the number of microbial species (prokaryotic) in an aquatic environment and do a phylogenetic analysis of those species based on rDNA. They will filter microbes, isolate DNA, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplify rDNA, send for sequence analysis, and write code and use software for analysis of returned sequence information.
Working in small teams, students will employ bioinformatics and cellular biology to investigate the evolutionary relationships of the micro-organisms in a specific aquatic environment, and formulate hypotheses about factors affecting those relationships.