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Two Vassar seniors bring home awards for original research from the national annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY- Six Vassar chemistry and biology students traveled to Anaheim, California, and presented original research at the national annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology held from April 24 to 28, 2010. Two of the students received awards for excellence in the 14th annual Undergraduate Poster Competition. Senior Tripta Kaur (Poughkeepsie, NY), who has been working with Vassar Associate Professor of Biology Bill Straus, won best poster in the proteins and enzymes category. Senior Jennifer Son (Staten Island, NY), who has been working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Teresa Garrett, won honorable mention in the synthetic biology category.

Founded in 1906, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) has grown into one of the most important learned scientific societies, with over 12,000 members from around the world. The Society numbers in its ranks an impressive cadre of scientists, who have given freely of their time to promote and foster various activities that have in turn helped to catalyze extraordinary advances in molecular bioscience. The annual meeting has over 10,000 participants. Vassar students were able to participate through funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The Sherman Fairchild Foundation, and Vassar College.

Tripta Kaur's research is part of a collaborative project between Vassar biologist Bill Straus and chemist Jay Carreon (now at Ramapo College of New Jersey) for the past two years. The project is aimed toward understanding how proteases, enzymes that digest proteins, function during phagocytosis. (Phagocytosis is when cells encapsulate bacteria or other nutrients and normally digest them, and is how white blood cells attack bacteria and viruses and fight disease.) However, there are pathogenic bacteria that somehow avoid destruction during this process. Kaur's work involved using fluorescence microscopy and affinity tags to visualize where proteases are located in living cells and analyze their amino acid sequences to identify the genes that code for them. She presented her work at the Ciliate Molecular Biology conference in Vermont last summer as well as at the ASBMB meeting.

Kaur said, "As a first-time attendee of the ASBMB conference, I was blown away by the magnitude of this scientific gathering. The mutual intellectual exchange of research ideas was a constant occurrence at this conference, and participants discussed topics from the secondary structures of proteins to the actual definitions of red meat. This wide array of topics allowed me to expand my knowledge and experience science's direct impact on society. I am most grateful to the Vassar College chemistry and biology departments who provided me the education, knowledge, and funding to pursue my research and attend this conference."

Jennifer Son has been working with chemist Teresa Garrett on a study analyzing the effects of extraction solvents on the detection levels of a lipid called N-acyl phosphatidylethanolamine.  This lipid is involved in the production of molecules that regulate sleep cycle, appetite and cellular responses to stress.  Previous research has shown that extraction conditions alter N-acyl phosphatidylethanolamine levels. The goal of her work has been to assess the effect of these chemical extractions on the formation of this minor lipid to better characterize the in vitro enzymatic synthesis of this important glycerophospholipid.

Son said, "The meeting was a great opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to come together and learn about each other's work and get feedback from outside investigators in the same field. I hope many other students at Vassar embrace this opportunity their senior year."

About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant

In 2008, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded Vassar a $1.5 million four-year grant to establish a Center for Collaborative Approaches to Science. This award supports curricular innovation, faculty training, student-faculty research, and outreach to local high school teachers and students. The grant also supports the acquisition of scientific equipment including new fluorescent microscopes, housed in the renovated Fluorescent Microscopy Laboratory, funded by the George I. Alden Trust. For more information, see

About the Department of Biology at Vassar College

The Department of Biology at Vassar College (,in keeping with the liberal arts tradition, provides broad coverage of the biological sciences. The department is devoted to an integrated approach to teaching modern biology. This is reflected by the integral relationship between teaching and research. Our vigorous and creative faculty who are active in research bring new knowledge and approaches to their courses. At all levels of the curriculum, inquiry-based learning challenges students to interpret findings and to understand integration among several levels of biological organization. At its best, it is also reflected in the collaborative research performed between faculty and students in research laboratories. The curriculum, faculty research interests, and interdepartmental and multidisciplinary programs each demonstrate our commitment to integration in biology and among the sciences.

About the Department of Chemistry at Vassar College

The Vassar College Chemistry Department ( a creative, supportive, and intellectually challenging environment for the pursuit of study and research in the chemical sciences. The department is fully equipped to support rigorous and vibrant interdisciplinary research, providing students the unique opportunity to work closely with faculty throughout their undergraduate career and to become proficient in the use of modern instrumentation and methodologies. With our modern, laboratory rich chemistry curriculum, students may pursue a degree certified by the American Chemical Society, obtain a correlate sequence, complete premedical requirements, or explore a wide choice in experimental independent projects and interdisciplinary collaborations. An undergraduate major in chemistry at Vassar is excellent preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas such as medicine, environmental science, materials science, public health and even the law.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, May 21, 2010