Last spring, Alexis Mastrelli and Morgan Salanger, seniors at SUNY Cortland, were among the students in a biochemistry class tasked with creating posters to explain the structure and function of metabolic enzymes.
These posters are now on display both in the lobby of the Memorial Library and online via the Digital Commons repository.
Recent graduates SUNY Cortland Sidney Campbell ’21 and Samantha Stabinsky ’21 also have their posters of this project displayed in the library. Other SUNY Cortland students whose work is included in Digital Commons include seniors Alexander Guerrero and Thomas Roe.
Hilary Wong, Education Services Librarian, suggested posting the completed infographics on Digital Commons and secured the space for the physical display at the Memorial Library. One of the goals of this project was for students to explain a complex scientific concept to a general audience. Posting posters in a prominent location will attract the attention of faculty and staff, as well as science and non-science students.
This project also involved a collaboration with students and teachers of Cal Poly Pomona.
Mastrelli, a biochemistry student from Farmingdale, NY, focused on 4.4 ‘diapophytoene synthase and cholesterol regulation in human health. Salanger, a major in biochemistry with a minor in exercise science, examined the role of ribonucleoside triphosphate reductase in DNA synthesis.
Biochemists study metabolic pathways to understand the series of chemical reactions that occur in the cells of living organisms. Mastrelli’s poster, for example, explores how a particular enzyme might alter cell chemistry in humans, which would allow it to be useful as a cholesterol-lowering therapy.
Using software called UCSF Chimera and PyMOL, students were able to visualize and analyze molecular structures and create graphics for posters.
“We knew all we were doing was our job that we were putting it into it,” said Salanger. “We weren’t looking for other structures. We had to do the structures and make sure they were accurate. There were many revisions made to the final product and Dr. Hicks gave us a lot of feedback.
The students carried out their work with the help of Associate Professor Katherine Hicks of the Department of Chemistry at SUNY Cortland and virtually with the students and Associate Professor of Biochemistry Kathryn McCulloch of Cal Poly Pomona.
“Our professors posted a collaborative board so we could talk to students in California and bounce off each other,” Mastrelli said. “Things like, ‘I ran into this problem, what did you do? “”
Mastrelli is currently in the process of deciding whether to apply to a dental school or a pharmacy school. Salanger is considering a career as a nurse anesthetist.
They both benefited greatly from this project and other opportunities in the Biochemistry major at SUNY Cortland, who graduated from her first student in 2013. With a combination of small class sizes, hands-on research and preparation opportunities. For graduate studies or a wide variety of careers, the major is ideally suited for students interested in an interdisciplinary approach to science.
“The tools we were using, learning them has helped me in my classes now,” Mastrelli said. “It is a good skill to know how to make publication quality figures and models of proteins and reactions.”