assistant professor of biology, speaks on "Neurons looking back before
firing: the timing of action potentials" during the Molecular Biophysics
Retreat Sept. 21.
Scientists Share Research at Molecular Biophysics Retreat
Established and budding scientists attended the
Seventh Annual Wesleyan University Molecular Biophysics Retreat at the
Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown on Sept. 21. The retreat is an
annual celebration of the Molecular Biophysics Program, which is co-directed
by David Beveridge, professor of chemistry and Ishita Mukerji, associate
professor and chair of molecular biology and biochemistry.
this year by Beveridge and Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular
biology and biochemistry, the event was supported by the Edward W. Snowdon
lecture fund, the Molecular Biophysics Program, the departments of Chemistry
and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and the Howard Hughes Medical
The retreat was designed to bring together students and faculty in the
molecular biophysics and biological chemistry programs and provide them an
opportunity to discuss their current research, explore new ideas and
possible collaborative work. About 50 people attended this year's retreat.
pictured at right, the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of
Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology and member of the
National Academy of Sciences, was the keynote speaker.
Barton discussed how electrons move through DNA structures and how this
process can mediate DNA damage and repair.
"By researching what happens inside the cell that leads to DNA mismatch
formation and repair, we may better be able to understand how certain types
of cancer occur," Barton says.
In a complementary talk titled "Mopping up after messy polymerases,"
Professor Hingorani discussed her research on mechanisms of DNA damage and
repair, involving proteins linked to carcinogenesis.
The event also featured 26 posters by several Wesleyan students and alumni
including, Katherine Augustyn, a fifth year graduate student at the
California Institute of Technology and double major in chemistry and
molecular biology and biochemistry.
Augustyn's poster detailed how electric charges migrate through DNA, more
specifically how cells, like those exposed to UVA radiation, could be
damaged by charge migration. She also spoke with students about her research
at a Wesleyan
Women In Science seminar
Rex Pratt, Wesleyan University professor of chemistry, described his studies
about a class of enzymes that catalyzes the last step in bacterial cell wall
"These enzymes are the targets of beta-lactam antibiotics such as
penicillin," says Pratt. "Our aim is to learn more about these enzymes at a
molecular level to assist further drug development."
Ryan Pelto, a fourth year chemistry graduate student at Wesleyan, who
conducts research with Pratt, presented a poster about bacterial resistance
to current ß-lactam antibiotics and how ß-lacatamase enzymes play a major
role in bacterial defense mechanisms.
Other Wesleyan University scientists presented research, including new
faculty member Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology, neuroscience
and behavior, and T. David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry.
Aaron's research investigates how neurons communicate with each other and
produce precise patterns of activity. The title of his talk was "Neurons
looking back before firing: the timing of action potentials."
"In this ongoing work, we are demonstrating that slow currents in some
groups of neurons produce, in a sense, a memory of past communications from
other neurons," says Aaron.
"Thus, the decision of when to fire an action potential can incorporate
messages from further back in time than had previously been assumed. This
research may help us understand how precision is produced in a network that
appears at first glance to be composed from imprecise elements."
Westmoreland's talk was titled "Marcus Theory and Atom Transfer: It's not
just for electrons.
"The most important type of atom transfer, both from a biological and an
industrial point of view, involves the transfer of a single oxygen atom,"
Westmoreland's talk reported on the progress in showing how the conceptual
framework previously developed for reactions that involve transferring a
single electron can be extended to include single atoms as well.
He hopes that this work will provide new insights into the functions of a
number of important enzymes and may point to new industrial catalysts.
By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media
Relations; photos by Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor