HNSE-L2-6. Regulation and Action of Cx43 in the Uterus during Pregnancy

Mitchell Anderson1
Faculty Research Mentor: Scott Barnett, Ph.D.2
1Nevada State College, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
2University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology

Approximately 15 million preterm births occur annually worldwide. These account for 1 in 10 pregnancies and constitute $51,000 in additional medical fees compared to a normal term birth. Currently, there are no FDA-approved drugs that reliably halt spontaneous preterm labor (sPTL). The myometrium, which is the muscle of the uterus, relaxes when exposed to nitric oxide (NO), but through a non-canonical process called S-nitrosation. Cx43 is a gap junction channel (GJC) in the myometrium critical to contraction and relaxation. Here we examined if Cx43 is dysregulated in in women who experience preterm labor (PTL) and if S-nitrosation of Cx43 affects its function. In the myometrium, Cx43 expression increased significantly during pregnancy (preterm non-labor P=0.0033, n=6; term labor P<0.0001, n=14; term non-labor P<0.0001, n=14), with the notable exception of PTL myometrium (n=6, P=0.8411), for which there was no appreciable increase in expression of Cx43. The expression of Cx43 in the myometrium is only one of several important metrics when establishing its role in contractile dynamics. It is well-known that Cx43’s phosphorylation state, particularly at S368, is critical to facilitating transition from the GJC (contraction) to the phosphorylated hemichannel (quiescent) state. We determined that the ratio of pS368:S368 was 2.6-fold higher (P=0.0281) in myometrium treated with NO as compared to tissue treated with oxytocin, suggesting a role of S-nitrosation in GJC disassembly. Because there are no effective therapies to treat PTL, these novel finding may be used to identify new therapies that target Cx43 dysregulation and phosphorylation during pregnancy.

HNSE-L2-5. Bead Based Aptamer Research: Affordable and Accessible SELEX Methodology Used to Isolate Novel Aptamers

Gautam Rangappa1
Faculty Research Mentor: Gwendolyn Stovall, Ph.D.1
1University of Texas at Austin

Aptamers, synthetically derived RNA or DNA molecular recognition elements, are increasing in demand for biosensors, diagnostics, and therapeutic technologies. Aptamer selection processes oftentimes require specialized equipment and training which causes them to be restrictive due to their high cost burden. To counter the aforementioned issue, the Aptamer Research Lab of the Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin has altered traditional SELEX processes to create a SELEX methodology that is more affordable, easy to execute, and able to be performed in parallel. Researchers performing aptamer selections with the “Affordable-SELEX” method could discover novel aptamers that have the potential to advance modern scientific applications.

Currently, I am leading a team writing a manuscript detailing our adapted SELEX method for publication in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). By marketing our research lab’s “Affordable-SELEX” method, our intent is to provide individuals interested in aptamer research an easily accessible way to begin rounds of selection. In the wide body of aptamer literature, many publications that are available do not provide a comprehensive protocol on how to perform aptamer selections. Through outlining our distinct bead-based protocol through a video and written format, we hope to provide interested researchers with a cost-efficient way to execute aptamer selections at large scale. Although the proposed protocol requires more effort to customize selection conditions compared to other methods, researchers are able to foster essential research techniques through this unique learning experience.

HNSE-L2-4. The Effects of Male Olfactory Signal on Female Behavior in Drosophila grimshawi

Robin Kee1
Faculty Research Mentor: Donald Price, Ph.D.1
1College of Sciences, School of Life Sciences

Hawaiian fruit flies in the Drosophilidae family participate in complex courtship behavior. In Drosophila grimshawi, male flies secrete a substance that serves as a chemical signal to attract female flies along with other males to a communal mating area called a lek. In their natural habitat, this substance is released from glands in the male abdomen and “streaked” across leaves and bark prior to courtship. Both male and female fruit flies display characteristic wing movements and other sensory and olfactory interactions before choosing a mate. Courtship behavior can be species-specific, promoting mating within species and causing isolation between species, thus functioning as a mechanism of speciation. This study investigated the Drosophila grimshawi signaling system to determine if the chemical compound secreted by males influences female behavior in courtship and mating, indicating an additional function as a sex pheromone.

HNSE-L2-3. Cardiac fibroblasts gene expression patterns during reverse modeling

Tasneem Ikram1
Malina Ivey1
Faculty Research Mentor: Onur Kanisicak, Ph.D.1
1University of Cincinnati

Cardiac fibrosis is a consequence of almost all myocardial injuries. During myocardial infarction (MI), what starts as protective scarring to prevent ventricular wall rupture becomes pathological remodeling with the accumulation of excess extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. Previously, cardiac fibrosis was assumed irreversible; however new evidence shows signs of “reverse” remodeling resulting in improved cardiac function. Recently, cardiac fibroblasts (CFs) have emerged as potential therapeutic targets in preventing both acute and chronic cardiac fibrotic disease states. However, the mechanisms defining the role of activated CFs during longstanding fibrosis and reverse remodeling remain unknown. Through analysis of RNA sequencing data of CFs obtained from the homeostatic, injured and healed tissue, we have identified several key genes that could potentially lead to new information on fibroblasts activities or specialized subpopulations of these cells.

HNSE-L2-2. A Sequence Comparison of SARS-CoV-2 strains

Ann Beck1
Sharmada Swaminath, Ph.D.2
Faculty Research Mentor: Edwin Oh, Ph.D.2
1College of Sciences, School of Life Sciences
2Department of Brain Health

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus which is a positive strand RNA virus, that emerged in 2019 and has now caused a global pandemic. Since RNA viruses have a high mutation rate, the aim of the present study was to assess the divergence in the different strains of SARS-CoV-2 isolated from patients from different regions of the world. Nucleotide sequence alignments on different SARS-CoV-2 strains deposited in NCBI from various regions were compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 Wuhan strain and to SARS-CoV genomes, which is highly similar to the novel strain. We observed that most of the missense mutations occurred in the domains of the non-structural genes ORF1ab, ORF3a, and ORF8, and the structural Spike (S) gene. Some of these mutations were found in multiple strains isolated in different regions of the world, which separates the evolving virus into clades. The knowledge of the divergence in the strains at different geographical locations will help us design better vaccines suited for that specific location.

HNSE-L2-1. Regioselective Bronsted Acid Catalyzed Friedel-Crafts Alkylation of Beta-Naphthol

Emarose Ahmed1
Jeffrey Ash1
Ngantu Le2
Roland Leyson2
Faculty Research Mentor: Jun Yong Kang, Ph.D.1
1College of Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
2College of Life Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences

The Friedel-Crafts alkylation reaction is a powerful carbon-carbon bond forming electrophilic aromatic substitution reaction. However, Friedel-Crafts alkylation reactions are limited with harsh reaction conditions (elevated temperature) and formation of regioisomers. Extensive research on the alkylation of indoles has been reported due to their significant biological and pharmaceutical applications, but limited study on the alkylation of naphthol-based compounds has been investigated despite their important applications in medicine, pharmaceuticals, and materials chemistry. Herein, we report a facile procedure for a regioselective Friedel-Crafts alkylation of beta-naphthol using a Bronsted acid catalyst and functionalized allylic alcohol electrophiles. This one pot procedure offers alkylation of beta-naphthol selectively at the alpha-position using a catalytic amount of p-toluenesulfonic acid and subsequent functionalization of the aryl alcohol with acid chlorides or anhydrides to stabilize the reactive intermediate. This synthetic transformation achieved with mild reaction conditions and high product yields (up to 93%).

HNSE-L1-5. Understanding metalloproteinase inhibition mechanism using yeast surface display

Imam Sanousi1
Mari Toumaian
Bella Do
Faculty Research Mentor: Maryam Raeeszadeh-Sarmazdeh, Ph.D.2
1University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
2University of Nevada, Reno, Chemical and Materials Engineering

Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) are responsible for the degradation and remodeling of many components of the extracellular matrix. MMPs upregulation is related to many inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. MMPs play a role in the progression and metastasis of tumors and are promising targets for inhibition. Thus, MMP inhibition may lead to developing therapeutics for MMP-related diseases. Tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) are natural inhibitors of MMPs. There are four types of TIMPs in humans, each with the ability to inhibit different MMPs. These are Timp-1,2,3 and 4. Though TIMPs can inhibit all MMPs, there are differences in binding affinity among them. The inhibition of MMPs by TIMPs is facilitated by the N-terminal domain of the TIMP. It has been determined that the N-terminus plays a vital role in MMP inhibition via binding the Zinc in the catalytic site of the MMPs. We are interested in studying the binding interactions of TIMPs with MMPs and exploring ways in which we can potentially use them as therapeutics in diseases that MMP plays a key role. We have displayed four different TIMPs and their N-terminal domain on the yeast surface and analyzed binding and expression using flow cytometry. For future studies, we aim to screen a library of TIMP fragments generated by DNA shuffling between four TIMPs on the yeast surface using fluorescent-activated cell sorting (FACS). These studies shed light into the mechanism of MMP and TIMP interactions and help designing next generation of therapeutics that target MMPs efficiently.

HNSE-L1-4. Perchlorate and Co-contaminants Reduction Through Bioremediation

Noor Kordi1, 2
Yasaman Saedi3
Faculty Research Mentor: Jacimaria Batista, Ph.D.3
1College of Sciences, School of Life Sciences
2College of Liberal Arts, Department of Psychology
3Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction

Perchlorate is an inorganic substance that is found in groundwater and soil, in recent decades it has developed into a health concern. Its salts are routinely used in solid propellants and customarily found in abundance in dry deserts. The primary culprit of perchlorate being present in our water sources is the improper disposal of waste salts from military or NASA facilities. The intake of the salt is harmful, because it inhibits our iodine uptake by the thyroid gland which leads to a hypoactive effect of hormone production. One of the most promising forms of technology is to reduce perchlorate by bioremediation. Perchlorate reducing bacteria perform their function by transforming perchlorate (ClO4-) into chloride (Cl-). This elaborates the production of energy in a redox reaction by utilizing an electron donor and an electron acceptor. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the feasibility of the biodegradation of perchlorate and co-contaminants under high total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration conditions. Specifically, the research methods we undertake is by chemical characterization of groundwater and soil, followed by the conduction of microcosm batch testing. There are two different electron donors tested, namely glycerol and emulsified vegetable oil (EVO). The implications of the results of perchlorate and the co-contaminants were analyzed to observe the outcome of biodegradation. Nitrate, chlorate, and perchlorate concentrations in groundwater were 15 mg/L, 7.6 mg/L, and 3.5 mg/L respectively. The perchlorate, chlorate and nitrate biodegradation were completed within 15 days and high TDS concentration did not have any adverse impact on biodegradation.

HNSE-L1-3. Investigations of B-site Ordered Double Perovskite Sr2NaIO6

Cameron Kirk1
Eduardo Montoya2
Jonathan George2
Faculty Research Mentor: Eunja Kim, Ph.D.3
1Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
2College of Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
3College of Sciences, Department of Physics and Astronomy

The perovskite crystal structure is researched the most often because of the variety of properties that materials of this structure can feature. The perovskite structure refers to any chemical compound that forms the same crystal structure as the perovskite mineral, calcium titanium oxide. This structure is special because it allows for the replacement of elements in the calcium titanium oxide perovskite to create a new perovskite with unique properties. The perovskite structure is capable of combining almost any set of elements into a crystal compound. Synthetic perovskites have become a versatile platform for the development and research of materials with unique properties. Under the direction of Dr. Eunja Kim’s research group from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and in collaboration with Neil Hyatt’s research group from the University of Sheffield, we investigated the structural stability and bonding characters of perovskite materials including Sr2NaIO6 using density-functional theory (DFT). The total energy curve was successfully created for the monoclinic P21/c and P21/n space group and for the orthorhombic Fm-3m space group. X-ray diffraction patterns were simulated from the optimized structures. The results were compared with the experimental work completed by University of Sheffield and were in good agreeance with each other.

HNSE-L1-2. Laser Cavity

Antonio Bernardino1, 2
Faculty Research Mentor: Yan Zhou, Ph.D.1
1College of Sciences, Department of Physics and Astronomy
2Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering

For a typical free-running External Cavity Diode Laser (ECDL), the linewidth is about 1 MHz due to the mechanical vibrations of the laser cavity and unavoidable fluctuations of the laser diode current source. An ultrastable reference cavity is required to eliminate such noises by active feedback loops. The project is designing and building such reference cavity with sub-kilohertz frequency stability. Under the direction of Professor Zhou, we designed a compact system that incorporates four independent optical cavities. The four cavities share the same supporting framework and vacuum system, thus being more cost effective. Each cavity is composed by a flat mirror and a curved mirror in a hemispherical mode with 1.3 GHz free spectral range (FSR) and moderately high finesse (F=1000). Drifting due to the thermal expansion of the supporting frame PZT, and cavity mirrors will be reduced by precise temperature control in high vacuum and largely compensated by inserting shimming materials with opposite sign of thermal expansion coefficients. Professors Zhou’s research focuses on exploring new physics beyond the Standard Model by precision measurements using ultracold molecular ions. To coherently manipulate the molecular ions and resolve a single quantum state, a narrow linewidth laser (sub-kilohertz) is required. This cavity will aid him in his future research.