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Undergraduate Researchers

Aleeza Abbasi

Aleeza Abbasi, Biological Sciences

“Genetic Analysis of Translational Accuracy using the LacZ Reporter System in HeLa Cells”

The central dogma of molecular biology states that DNA is “transcribed” into RNA, which is then “translated” into protein. Proteins are made by linking together a series of units called amino acids; errors can occur when the information in the RNA is misinterpreted leading to the incorporation of the wrong amino acid. This phenomenon, termed “misreading” is our laboratory’s main interest. A small RNA called a transfer RNA (tRNA) is responsible for decoding the RNA. Our laboratory has developed an enzyme-based reporter system to measure misreading rates. The lacZ gene encoding the enzyme beta-galactosidase was mutated to produce an enzyme lacking significant activity. Misreading of the mutant gene can restore activity. The rate of misreading is equal to the ratio of the mutant enzyme activity to wild type activity. In bacteria, misreading occurs at a rate of about 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000. This research seeks to determine what the error rate is in human cells using this system. We propose to insert the lacZ gene from bacterial plasmids into plasmids that can be used in HeLa cells, which are immortal human tissue culture cells. A similar method of misreading analysis will be applied to the human cells’ beta-galactosidase activity in order to understand errors in cell machinery during the process of protein production.

Why do you think research is important in an undergraduate education?

I believe that research is an integral part of learning because you can apply what you learn in the classroom to real life situations. You can gain hands on experiences in any field through research. In addition, you learn many important skills, including critical thinking and communication.


When and how did you find out that you could do independent research or creative work as a UMBC undergraduate?

I learned about undergraduate Research at UMBC through my friends and peers. At Pre-Medical Society meetings and information sessions, I heard about the wonderful and educational experiences that students had while doing research, and I could not wait to get involved!

 How did you learn about the Undergraduate Research Awards program at UMBC?

I heard about the program when Ms. McGlynn spoke during a Pre-Medical Society meeting. She explained the award and the application process.

Was the application difficult? Did your mentor help you with the application?

Although the application took some time, it was very straightforward.  My mentor, Dr. Farabaugh, worked with me to edit the abstract and proposal.

What methods are you using to conduct your research?

I use Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), cell transformation, plasmid preparation and DNA isolation techniques

What preparation did you have for conducting this research?

I have worked in Dr. Farabaugh’s lab since the summer of my freshman year. The graduate student I work with trained me in basic lab skills. She taught me about the purpose of her project, and I was given the opportunity to work alongside her. My new project involves similar techniques and background information.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

I would encourage others to talk to their professors after class and ask questions. Many UMBC professors conduct research, and they often hire undergraduate students to work in their laboratories. It is easy to get involved with on campus research if you know your professors well. That way, you may able to ask them if they have any available positions in their labs.

What are your careers goals?

I hope to gain acceptance in medical school in the near future to pursue an M.D.