CURF #3 – The end of the semester but not the research!

Now that we are in the final weeks of the semester, it’s nice to reflect on everything that has happened in the past 15 or so weeks. These months have kept me busy both in and outside of lab and have been full of new experiences and opportunities to grow as a student and researcher. One of the highlights was presenting my research at the UHC Research Fair and at the Pitt Spring Undergraduate Research Fair. These were in-person events, and it was amazing to show my poster and meet and talk with undergrads, grad students and professors who either attended or were also presenting at the events. The experience was very valuable, as I was able to improve my ability to present to a diverse audience and answer unexpected and in-depth questions. I love hearing about other undergrads’ research, and these poster sessions, along with reading everyone’s blog posts from this semester have given me that connection and sense of community.

Another highlight of the semester, which isn’t directly related to my research project, but is still part of my growth as a researcher, was my experience as a UTA in Dr. O’Donnell’s Introduction to Molecular Genetics class. I really enjoyed helping the students and explaining the concepts and theories behind the experiments. I hope that I have other opportunities in the future to teach and mentor.

Turning to my actual research project, I made some good progress and am excited about the next steps. I also spent a good amount of time this semester troubleshooting some issues and doing the data analysis that isn’t always the most exciting but is valuable and necessary. One thing I have also been working on this semester is trying to immerse myself more in the current literature of the field. I have been trying to read one paper a week, so that I can improve in my comprehension and ability to think critically about the results and methods. I don’t always meet my reading goal, especially during exam season, but I have definitely read more papers this semester than last. I think this is a skill that is invaluable and required in graduate school and beyond, but isn’t talked about as much in undergraduate classes.  

With the conclusion of the semester, I am looking forward to spending the summer in lab continuing my research. Earlier this semester I applied for and received a research fellowships so I can continue working over the summer. I am so excited to be able to dedicate all of my time to my project and make more progress. During the summer I will be working on the next steps of my Kir2.1 project, focusing on the cellular trafficking machinery candidates that were shown in my previous experiments to very likely be a-arrestin regulators. These include ESCRT (vps4∆), the Lst4-Lst7 complex (lst4∆), the sorting nexin Mvp1, and Retromer (vps35∆).

I have already started examining more deeply the dynamic between Mvp1 and the arrestins. My preliminary experiments with Kir2.1 implicated Mvp1 as likely regulating in some way arrestin function, with significantly altered Kir2.1 abundance at the PM when Mvp1 is deleted. The function of Mvp1 in the context of intracellular trafficking has only recently begun to be understood. Just last year it was determined that Mvp1 mediates an endosome-to-Golgi recycling pathway that is distinct from the Retromer and Snx4 pathways. This is particularly interesting because Mvp1 is the homolog to human SNX8. Mutations or overexpression of SNX8 has been linked to Alzheimer’s, other neurodegenerative diseases, and behavioral and learning disruptions. As Mvp1 binds to PI3P as part of the endosome-to-Golgi trafficking pathway, and arrestins are known to partially control PI3P abundance and localization, it is likely that a-arrestins impact the localization and possibly the function of the sorting nexin.

I am so grateful to have been supported by the CURF this semester and I am very excited to continue my research in the summer and in my senior year.

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