I worked as part of Dr. Elizabeth Rhoades’s lab this summer as an REU student for the Center for Engineering and Mechanobiology (CEMB). My project continued on previous research in this lab to understand how the protein tau binds to neuronal tubulin. Tau is a protein found in neurons whose main function is to promote the assembly of microtubules. However, tau can lose this normal function and aggregate to form plaques inside neurons, which is indicated in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of this project is to understand how specific repeat regions in the microtubule-binding region of the protein tau bind to tubulin. Fluorescent molecules are attached to certain mutated positions in each repeat region, and fluorescence screening of each of these positions gives a good measure of binding. We will then see if there is any pattern in binding among each of the repeat regions.
I had previously worked with techniques like polymerase chain reaction, western blotting, and transformation in order to make proteins. However, in the context of physical measurements like fluorescence, I became familiar with protein purification and fluorescent dye labeling as procedures critical to constructing each mutant needed for the measurements with the proper purity. I learned to appreciate the level of detail and precision that goes into making mutant proteins. Because we are currently in the process of optimizing the labeling procedure, I am learning how to test different strategies to make a procedure work for a specific protein that has not been made before. Taking a more independent role in this project has taught me more about what the personal investment into independent research looks like. Beyond specifically the scientific details of the project, I have begun to understand how to function with and contribute to my lab.
Through my program, I have also begun to learn more about what graduate studies in biological science involve through practicing presentations, talks from faculty, and participating in program development for CEMB. I am thankful for the interdisciplinary nature of the CEMB program, which integrates areas of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and computer science to solve problems in the new field of mechanobiology. I have learned to consider more about how each of these fields are involved in the new frontiers of biomedical research, an area I am invested in as I apply to medical school this cycle. I am thankful for this opportunity funded by both CEMB and CURF and that I will continue working on this research throughout the year.