CURF Introduction: Building 3D Molecular Models

Hello! My name is Iraa Kalambur and I am a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience, minoring in Applied Statistics and Chemistry. In addition, I am pursuing a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. A fun fact about me is that I have been involved in Indian classical dance for over ten years.  

As of now, I am interested in pursuing a career in medicine and research by going to medical school or pursuing an MD-PHD. I want to specialize in neurobiology research to learn more about human behavior as well as gain a comprehensive understanding of treating mental disorders from a biological, chemical and psychological perspective.  

I came across the opportunity to work on my CURF project through the Honors Foundations of Biology class with Dr. Swigonova. In class, we often used 3D molecular models to enhance our understanding of many biological processes. I personally have benefited from the integration of these models in our lessons as they have helped me visualize important chemical interactions to deepen my understanding of the content. When I expressed my appreciation of the models, Dr. Swigonova invited me to join her research team that worked on building these 3D molecular models.  

My project involves expanding the current 3D molecular model library by creating 3D structures of key proteins that are included in lessons for many biology classes. I will use UCSF Chimera software to create computational structures of these proteins, highlighting features of the molecule that are relevant and beneficial to the lesson, and 3D print these structures so that they can be used in the classroom. Some of the proteins that I will be focusing on include lactose permease (membrane bound receptor that facilitates the uptake of lactose into the cell), β galactosidase (enzyme that metabolizes lactose to create glucose molecules that can be used to create energy in the cell), and lac I (a repressor protein in the operon regulating the metabolism of lactose).  

In addition, I will create supplementary figures that will allow students to access these 3D models digitally in their own time for learning outside the classroom. These figures will include information that students will not be able to otherwise learn through static 2D textbook images and 3D models. For instance, many proteins exist in a dynamic nature in their natural cellular environment. These intricacies can be highlighted in the supplementary figures through showing multiple computational representations of the model to help students better understand how protein structure relates to protein function.  

My CURF project has made me realize that research comes in different forms. Coming into college, I had only envisioned research to be traditional biology laboratory work. However, I have realized that research can be expanded to many different fields such as the computational biology work I am doing for my CURF project. My CURF project will help me in my future research goals because it will allow me approach research from a different perspective, introduce me to new ideas through witnessing my peers’ research, and take me through the comprehensive process of starting a research project and seeing it through.  

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