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Junior biochemistry major participates in summer NSF-REU program

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Posted on Thursday, October 5, 2023

A Westminster College junior biochemistry major spent 10 weeks this past summer working on computational simulations of the histone mRNA degradation complex at Duquesne University.

Gabriella Hunter from New Baltimore, Mich., was chosen to participate in the Integrated Computational and Experimental Chemistry National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) Program.

Hunter worked in the biochemistry lab on the project “Role of 3'hExo in Histone mRNA Degradation” alongside Duquesne faculty members Dr. Rita Mihailescu and Dr. Jeffrey Evanseck, Westminster College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Patrick Lackey, and graduate students Caylee Cunningham and Adam Kensinger.

The team worked on creating a better understanding of the degradation process and learning the roles of every structure involved, testing to see how the 3’hExo interacts with the mRNA when it is degrading it.

Hunter says that Westminster College prepared her well for this opportunity, as she was already familiar with the techniques and lab equipment she was using. She was also confident in her understanding of chemistry and biology that was critical to her research.

Lackey, Hunter’s campus mentor, was an integral part of Hunter’s experience.

“He helped explain a lot of background information and aided me along with the presentations we had to do, but he also let me figure things out on my own. That really made the experience interesting, because I could be independent as I learned a lot from doing it on my own,” Hunter said.

At the conclusion of the program, which ran from May 22 to July 28, Hunter presented her research poster at the Duquesne University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Hunter’s future plans include pursuing a career in research and going to graduate school to eventually work as a chemist in formulation or research in the development of cosmetics.

The Integrated Computational and Experimental Chemistry NSF-REU Program is made possible through the collaboration of the U.S. Department of Defense's Awards to Stimulate and Support Undergraduate Research Education (ASSURE) program and the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program.

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

Gabby Hunter presenting her poster at Duquesne University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.