Chemistry and biochemistry majors Ashton Ariola ’22 and Charmaine Chung ’19 are tweaking typical lab conditions to examine how the crowded environment of a cell can alter enzyme kinetics.
“Most previous enzyme studies have been conducted in dilute, in vitro conditions; however, cells are in reality extremely crowded,” Ariola explains. “Therefore, we use crowding agents to more accurately mimic a cell’s interior to see how it impacts enzymatic reactions.”
Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Chemistry Kristin Slade, Ariola and Chung are designing and monitoring experiments and analyzing data to discover how proteins behave in conditions similar to those in an actual cell. By mimicking real-world conditions, they hope the research advances scientific knowledge as well as the processes around how proteins can be used for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Chung, who has dedicated two summers and an Honors project “The Effects of Macromolecular Crowding on Enzyme Kinetics” to the research, says the implications are “important because scientists have found that proteins behave differently under crowded conditions. We are trying to understand how these conditions affect the enzyme’s reaction.”
As her first summer research experience, Ariola says the opportunity “has taught me a lot about the scientific research process and some general topics in biochemistry, but it is also helping me develop critical thinking skills, patience and an increased confidence in a lab setting.” Ariola is a dean’s list student and a defender on the Herons soccer team. She was a finalist for the first-year writing prize and a recipient of the Chemical Rubber Company First-Year Chemistry Achievement Award. In the fall, she will serve as a Teaching Fellow in the Chemistry department.
Chung, who graduated magna cum laude in May with a double minor in health care professions and public policy studies, intends to continue further research opportunities at the graduate level. She is the recipient of the Dr. Barbara Johnson ’34 Prize, the Hill/Franks Prize in Chemistry and the Rocco L. Fiaschetti ’40 Prize in Chemistry. A member of Hai Timiai and Tri Alpha National Honor Society, she volunteered at Neighbors Night, served as co-president and treasurer of the Asian Student Union, vice president of Christian Fellowship, treasurer of International Student Association, captain of the Pre-Health Professions Club and as a resident adviser.