Reema Sharma, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Incorporation of Tagged and Untagged L4 Ribosomal Protein into Ribosomes
Ribosomes are responsible for the synthesis of protein in every living organism. They contain a large number of protein subunits (50-75 depending on the organism), and the functions of these proteins are not clear. Ribosomal protein L4 (RPL4) is an evolutionarily conserved protein present in ribosomes from bacteria to humans. My lab uses a “tag” in mutated versions of the RPL4 to observe the role of its various features in yeast ribosomes. This tag consists of six histidine amino acids added onto the N-terminal end of the RPL4 amino acid chain, which makes it possible to observe the relative amounts of mutant and wild type RPL4 protein accumulating in the cell. This in turn should make it possible to determine the function of mutant versions of RPL4 in ribosome assembly. However, the histidine tag may affect the overall structure of RPL4 and result in the tagged protein being less compatible with the ribosome than the un-tagged protein. My project is to determine if the tagged version is as effectively incorporated into the ribosome as the wildtype protein. The results of this project will be used to better plan and conduct other projects involving the N-terminal histidine tag on the L4 protein.
When and how did you find out that you could do independent research work as a UMBC undergraduate?
UMBC is a school that is very much focused on advancing undergraduate research. Therefore by enrolling at UMBC, I knew I would have an excellent opportunity to do hands-on research and be able to work on a project of my own. Also, as a Meyerhoff Scholar, I was encouraged to find a lab of my interest.
How did you find a mentor and decide on a project? How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
I knew I wanted to look for a lab on campus since it would allow more time for me to do research. I started by browsing through the research profiles of professors on the UMBC Biology and Chemistry Department websites and contacting the ones whose research seemed appealing to me. I kept my options open and talked to several professors in each department. Eventually, I decided to work with Dr. Lindahl since I had never worked in a lab that focused on the genetic aspects of an organism and wanted explore research areas that I was not familiar with. We worked together to find a project that was suitable for me.
How much time will you put into this research work?
Over the summer, I plan to spend as much time necessary to progress my project. Over the academic year, I plan to spend an average of 15 hours a week.
What academic background did you have before you started on this research?
Before joining my current lab, I had the opportunity to work in two different labs focused on two different areas of research. So I had a basic understanding of lab technique and environment. As for the course load, I had taken basic courses required for a Biochemistry major. During my sophomore year (the year I joined my lab), I took Genetics and Cell Biology both of which were very useful in understanding my research project. However, having said that, I don't think anyone should be discouraged or intimidated from working in a lab just because they believe they will not be able to understand the information. With time and enough literary research, anyone can understand the concept behind a research project and, in some cases, even help you study for your current or future classes.
What is your advice to other students?
I would advise others to look for a lab that not only interests them research wise but also creates a comfortable environment for them to work in. It is important to have the freedom to ask as many questions as necessary to gain a better understanding of your project and the best way to achieve this is to have mentors who encourage your curiosity. Support from your mentor combined with genuine effort on your part can make research a very enjoyable experience. Also, time management is necessary as well as flexibility in your lab work. Working in a lab, especially during the school year, can be difficult because of time limitations. Therefore, looking into how you will incorporate lab work into your schedule is helpful. I found working in a lab on campus to be more convenient as it allowed more time for me to do research instead of commuting.
What are your career goals?
I plan to pursue an MD/PhD after graduation. The areas of Oncology and Neuroscience are very appealing to me and I hope to pursue these fields in my future.