“For decades, the scientific community has known that two different structural forms of HIV RNA exist—they just didn’t know what controls that balance. So our discovery that a single nucleotide is having a huge effect is a paradigm shift in understanding how HIV works,” says Joshua Brown, Ph.D. ’18, biochemistry.
At a time when information and misinformation are coming at us from all directions, and everyone is looking for answers, UMBC researchers are stepping up. They’re working hard to answer pressing questions about COVID-19 and sharing their expertise to help the public stay healthy and make informed decisions.
Physicist Matt Pelton and chemist Marie-Christine Daniel are both engaged in photonics research, which is “the idea of using light—photons—to do information processing instead of using electrons like you do in electronics,” explains Pelton. The work poses challenges, but if Daniel, Pelton, and their students succeed, they’ll be setting the stage for a revolution in computing.
“The approach that we propose will induce chemical reactions that would otherwise need a lot of harsh reagents and organic solvents, and just a lot of nasty stuff,” Lisa Kelly says. “This is a greener route.” The technique could support efforts from drug development to synthetic materials production.
“Metals open up the toolbox for the protein to be able to accomplish so much more,” Aaron Smith says. His new NSF and NIH funding will allow Smith’s lab to increase understanding of how one metal, iron, is involved in adding molecules to proteins after they are made. This process can significantly change a protein’s function and play a role in disease. By focusing at the molecular level, “We think that we fit in very nicely in this research space,” Smith says. “We’re filling a niche that remains really uncovered at this point.”
“Already there are research teams working in this building on such complex issues as age-related disease, environmental degradation, and health disparities,” says Dean Bill LaCourse. Solutions to our most complex challenges “are found through a convergence of talent and effort,” bringing together the perspectives of people from different fields and backgrounds. This is what the new building is designed to achieve.
“I’ve always been interested in how proteins are working in the real system, in real time, in real action,” Minjoung Kyoung says. She’ll get to explore those dynamics with funding from a new five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The pathways she’s studying are relevant to some of the most pervasive diseases in the country. “My dream is to be able to predict disease before symptoms occur,” she shares. “That would be the best.”
“It is truly thrilling to think about the national and global impact the Meyerhoff Scholars Program will have through partnerships like this,” says UMBC’s Michael Summers. “By working together we can help shape the future of our national Ph.D. pipeline, with inclusive excellence as a core shared value of our work.”