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Junior biochemistry major participates in summer REU program at Duquesne University

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Posted on Monday, October 31, 2022

A Westminster College biochemistry major completed the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded summer research internship at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh during summer of 2022.

Junior Olivia Herman of Hamburg, N.Y., participated in a 10-week NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which supports active research participation by undergraduate students.

Herman’s internship was spent running experiments on histone mRNA—a type of protein that provides structural support for chromosomes and is necessary for packaging newly replicated DNA. Histone mRNA lacks the poly(A) tail that is used for stabilizing half-life and starting degradation in normal eukaryotic mRNA and instead contains a stem-loop that is paired with a protein stem-loop binding protein (SLBP) that controls every aspect of histone mRNA metabolism.

Alongside her mentor Dr. Rita Mihailescu, chair and professor of the Bayer School of Natural and Environment Sciences, Herman conducted many experiments to determine the binding affinity of SLBP to the stem-loop intermediates by running competition electrophoretic mobility shift assays of various stem-loop pairs, as well as phosphorylated and dephosphorylated SLBP through a quadratic equation for competition curves.

“My biggest takeaway from my internship was the amount of trust you have to have in yourself,” said Herman. “Experiments in class typically give you the expected result, but research experiments typically don’t and that is where you have to trust you are doing the experiment correctly.”

To wrap up her internship, Herman presented her research at Duquesne University.

After graduation Herman plans to go into a research lab based job.

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