Biochemistry Graduate Students Receive Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships

Minfei Su and Yang Mei, doctoral students in the laboratory of Dr. Sangita Sinha, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have been chosen to receive ND EPSCoR Doctoral Dissertation Assistantship (DDA). Ms. Mei and Ms. Su are among the five graduate students at NDSU awarded the DDA for the 2014-2016 academic years.

Dr. Sinha’s laboratory focuses on obtaining a structure-based understanding of the autophagy pathway, an essential cellular homeostasis pathway, using a combination of biophysics, bioinformatics, biochemistry, molecular biology methods and cellular assays. “This research in structural biology with Dr. Sinha is a first in North Dakota and they are producing cutting edge science that will put NDSU on the map.” as Dr. Greg Cook, the chair of chemistry and biochemistry, said in the endorsement letter.

Ms. Mei’s research focuses on elucidating the structure-based mechanism of Beclin 1, a key autophagy protein, and its interactions with various other important autophagy proteins and interactions partners including Bcl-2, AMBRA1 and ATG14. Beclin 1 is implicated in numerous diseases including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and innate immune defenses against viruses. This information may enable the design of therapeutics to specifically up-regulate or down-regulate autophagy levels in the cell.

Ms. Su’s DDA proposal focuses on Beclin 2, a recently identified homolog of Beclin 1 that is important for degradation of G-protein coupled receptors via autophagy and in regulating metabolism and obesity. Ms. Su’s work will elucidate the structure of the Beclin 2 coiled-coil domain (CCD), and help understand the interaction of the Beclin 2 CCD and Atg14 CCD. The detailed information obtained from this proposal will help identify Beclin 2 residues important for interacting with Atg14 that will allow selective inhibition or activation of Beclin 2-regulated autophagy.

The DDAs provide a 21-month stipend of $1620 per month, enabling Ms. Su and Ms. Mei to dedicate their time exclusively to dissertation research. $2,000 is awarded for research supplies and to support each student’s attendance at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Philadelphia, PA.