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Senior biochemistry participates in summer REU program at Duquesne University

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Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Westminster College biochemistry major completed an in-person National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded summer research internship at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, giving her an important high-level hands-on learning experience.

Senior Nicole Mackenstein of Ellwood City, Pa., participated in a 10-week NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which supports active research participation by undergraduate students. During Mackenstein’s internship, she researched various biophysical characterization methods to compare stability of different histone mRNA degradation intermediates—a crucial process that allows the cell to properly package DNA. Her focus was on the trimmed, uridylated and histone mRNA intermediates, allowing her to better understand the mechanism that takes place.

Alongside her mentor Dr. Rita Mihailescu, chair and professor of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Mackenstein conducted many quenching experiments to quantify binding of proteins to the stem loop that occurs within the ternary complex. They also used multiple native gel shifts to show conformations and binding between all the intermediates.

This was Mackenstein’s second summer participating in an REU program at Duquesne University. In summer 2020, she participated remotely in the program, during which she modeled the surface and potential surface reactions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, otherwise known as the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19.

“Last summer I was able to work computationally, but to actually work in-person was really special,” said Mackenstien.

To wrap up her internship, Mackenstein was given the opportunity to present her research at the University of Michigan and at Duquesne University.

“My biggest takeaway was finding my passion for research,” said Mackenstein. “I highly recommend this program, especially if you are hesitatant on doing research.”

After graduation Mackenstein plans to pursue a Ph.D.

For more information about Westminster’s biochemistry department, click here.

~ Mackenzie Basalla '19