Project: Exploring Undergraduate Chemistry & Biology Students' Understanding of Enzymes

Presenter: Emma Grace Micer

Major: Biology & Chemistry

Classification: Senior

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jaime Sabel, Biological Sciences

Abstract: Undergraduate students in introductory biology and chemistry courses learn about both the structure and function of enzymes. However, their understanding tends to be superficial and students tend to lack the ability to think about the functionality of enzymes in a visually representative way. When students begin taking upper-level classes such as bioorganic chemistry, they are often blindsided when so much detail is presented to them regarding enzymes. Through the use of Dr. Nathan DeYonkera's NSF CAREER grant-funded website, the Residue Interaction Network-based Residue Selector (RINRUS), we created an assignment to enhance student understanding of enzyme structure and substrate interactions to address our goal of increasing long-term retention and understanding of enzyme structure and function for students in introductory courses. In this assignment, students find enzymes within the Protein Data Bank and read the associated literature for information about substrate interactions. Students are then tasked with inserting the strand information for the enzyme-substrate complex into the RINRUS website, which allows students to view this complex in many forms.

To determine the effectiveness of this assignment, we conducted a pilot study in a graduate chemistry class. Following completion of the assignment, we conducted interviews to view their experiences completing the assignment and to evaluate what changes should be made to make it understandable for undergraduate students. The graduate students felt the assignment would be accessible in most cases, but the students may have some difficulty with the literature and general enzyme-substrate knowledge.

To explore this, we began surveys and interviews of students in General Biology I and General Chemistry I and II to determine their enzyme understanding. Students were asked to explain what an enzyme is, how it works, and any information known about structure and function. We analyzed these surveys and interviews by comparing the enzyme statement answers to the content of their lectures to determine what information was retained. Through analysis of the data collected from the undergraduate students, it became clear that the functions of enzymes, such as acting as catalysts by lowering the activation energy, were known by most. Although many students could explain these functions, almost all students had difficulty explaining the structure and substrate interactions.

Moving forward, I will continue collecting data from students to get a more comprehensive understanding of the general knowledge of enzymes present, as a larger sample size is needed to collect enough information to adjust the assignment to best support students who have only a basic understanding of enzymes. By inserting the RINRUS activity into the course curriculum, we hope that student retention of enzyme-substrate knowledge will better set the students up for success in later courses where they will again encounter enzymes.

Presenter: Kian Ziai

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Classification: Junior

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gary Bowlin, Biomedical Engineering

Abstract: I will be investigating the ability of several flavonoids found in honey to reduce the degree of neutrophil NETosis via their scavenging of intracellular ROS. There is evidence that honey has the ability to provide wound cleaning and healing. In honey there is an important component called flavonoids. During wound healing, white blood cells known as neutrophils perform an activity called NETosis which is the action of releasing nets of DNA in order to trap and kill bacteria in the wound. However, too much NETosis results in fibrosis which can prevent tissue growth onto an implant. Data in the Bowlin lab demonstrates that Manuka honey has been found to reduce the degree of NETosis, and I will be finding out whether the honey's flavonoid component is the reason for this reduction.


Presenter: Matthew Atwill

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Classification: Senior

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joel Bumgardner, Biomedical Engineering

Abstract: This in-vitro study measured the additive effects of raspberry ketone, a natural antioxidant, on the bone-cell differentiation let by bone-morphogenetic protein 2 in W-20-17 mouse stromal cells. Various cell culture techniques were employed to culture and subculture the cells needed for the study. Analysis of cell differentiation was mainly measured quantitatively through assays. DNA, alkaline phosphatase, osteocalcin, and calcium-phosphate concentrations were measured using the respective assays for each compound. Additionally, Alizarin red staining was used to get a visual, qualitative representation of calcium-phosphate deposition by the cells. 


Presenter: David Hale

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Classification: Senior

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Amy Curry, Biomedical Engineering

Abstract: In this project, I designed a programable tactile stimulation device to work in an MRI. This device increases the ability of groups to provide precise, replicable stimulus to the body. I was able to study brain chemistry, MRI physics, coding, and the nervous system anatomy. In particular, the Brachial Plexus, a nerve bundle controlling the arm. This plexus is often injured in childbirth, however those injured this way rarely experience long term differences in mobility. However those injured in adult hood certainly do even given similar healing times. Further noted are differences in brain physiology. Those recovered from BPBI experience brain activation with both sides of the brain as opposed to the opposite side like most individuals. The overall goal of the project is to study the brain of these individuals by simulating the skin of these individuals.