CURCA Funds Students’ Microbiology Research

Published January 19, 2012

UB’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) has awarded funding to six students conducting research in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Shedding Light on HIV’s Protein Envelope


Karen DeWispelaere, a senior biochemistry major who works with Amy Jacobs, PhD, is studying the intracellular trafficking of the HIV envelope protein complex using a fluorescent dye called FlAsH. The envelope protein complex facilitates viral entry and propagation, but its active form has proven difficult to characterize.

With FlAsH, DeWispelaere has successfully labeled the HIV envelope without affecting its activity. She has already initiated a collaboration based on this discovery with Yale University’s Walther H. Mothes, PhD.

CURCA funds will help her study the envelope complex’s movement and conformational changes in live cells to gain further insight into HIV’s infection and production processes.

Exploring DNA’s Interactions

Five students working with Piero Bianco, PhD, have been awarded CURCA funding to study reactions in human and bacterial DNA.

  • Brittany Haensley, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, is working to visualize homologous recombination in real time on single molecules of DNA. Her research focuses on human proteins and she will use tag DNA and its recombination enzymes with fluorescent compounds to study these reactions.
  • Hui Yin Tan, a senior biotechnology major, is studying the E. coli single-stranded binding protein (SSB), which is implicated in all DNA metabolic processes, including replication, repair and recombination. She is characterizing how this protein interacts with two DNA replication fork repair helicases, PriA and RecG, and will image these helicases and SSB in live cells.
  • Syafiq Abd Wahab, a senior biotechnology major, is purifying and characterizing fluorescent RuvA proteins. This forms part of a larger project to study the late stage of DNA recombination known as branch migration. Once Wahab characterizes these proteins, he will study branch migration processes at the level of individual DNA molecules.
  • Sophomores Aashutosh Vihani, a pre-pharmacy major, and Jack Zhan, a biomedical sciences major, are collaborating on a project to study how opposing forces affect the E. coli DNA helicase RecBCD. They are visualizing RecBCD’s movement by attaching fluorescent beads at the single molecule level.

Bianco has been mentoring and training each of these students in his lab since last summer.

$500 Awards Support Undergraduate Research

CURCA offers $500 awards to pay for supplies, conference fees or other related needs for undergraduate research and creative activities.

The center accepts applications for awards on a rolling basis throughout the year. For consideration, the student’s project must be advertised on the CURCA website. Research mentors working with undergraduates are encouraged to submit research opportunity postings online.