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Spring 2018 Wallrath Lab Accomplishments

Friday, May 25th, 2018

Lori Wallrath (Professor and Vice Chair, Biochemistry) was featured in the Spring 2018 addition of Quest, a Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) new publication, where she praised MDA’s “umbrella” structure of supporting dozens of neuromuscular diseases so that researchers and clinician’s benefit from the “cross-fertilization” of ideas. The article can be found at:

Recent research from the Wallrath Lab was published in Aging Cell. This article describes a new model and potential therapy for cardiac disease associated with several types of muscular dystrophy that are caused by mutations in the human LMNA gene. This project was in collaboration with Dr. Girish Melkani (San Diego State University).

Biochemistry Senior Laura Fischer Featured in The Daily Iowan

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Laura Fischer, recent Biochemistry graduate, was featured in the May 10, 2018, edition of The Daily Iowan.  Please click on Laura’s picture for link to the May 10th Daily Iowan.

Tien Thuy (Jane) Nguyen Awarded the Hancher-Finkbine Undergraduate Student Medallion

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Tien Thuy (Jane) Nguyen was awarded the Hancher-Finkbine Undergraduate Student Medallion at the 101st Finkbine Dinner on April 10, 2018.  Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers was emcee, and UI President J. Bruce Harreld presented the Hancher-Finkbine Medallions and Distinguished Student Leader certificates. 

Jane Nguyen, from Sioux City, Iowa, is majoring in biochemistry in the Carver College of Medicine. Nguyen is an active leader, participant, and co-founder of the Conversation Center, an integrated learning platform designed to provide non-confident English speakers the opportunity to explore and better understand the English language. The center, now a part of the rhetoric department’s curriculum, has provided over 3,101 independent one-on-one sessions since the spring of 2016. In addition, Nguyen has actively participated in more than 800 hours of undergraduate independent research in the Department of Biochemistry, focusing on Replication Protein A and its effect on DNA repair. She exemplifies leadership not only in the classroom but also in her extracurricular activities. As current president and co-founder of Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Nguyen has played an integral part in the organization’s accomplishments, including achieving active status in the Multicultural Greek Council, establishing the Chapter Alumnae Association, and hosting campuswide workshops aimed at increasing mental health awareness within the Asian community. In the spring of 2017, Nguyen was awarded the T. Anne Cleary scholarship and the Helen Reich scholarship for her scholarship, leadership, and service.

Congratulations, Jane!

14th Annual Gene F. Lata Undergraduate Research Symposium

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Ten students presented at this year’s Undergraduate Honors Program. This year marks the fourteenth year for the Gene F. Lata Undergraduate Research Symposium. Please join Professor Marc Wold, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Honors Advisor, in congratulating these 2018 graduates and their research mentors for a job well done.

(back row – left to right): Steven Huang, Gabriel Fortunato, Preston Anderson, Benjamin Spector
(front row – left to right): Devin Reusch, Alexandra Bess, Tien Thuy (Jane) Nguyen, Laura Fischer, Titus Hou
(far right) – Lance Heady
  • Preston Anderson
    Mentor: John Engelhardt
    Submucosal Gland Myoepithelial Cells Are Reserve Stem Cells That Can Regenerate Mouse Tracheal Epithelium 
  • Alexandra Bess
    Mentor: Jennifer Fiegel
    Protein Effects of BALF on Various Polystyrene Nanoparticles
  • Laura Fischer
    Mentor: Marc Wold
    A Potential Role of Alternative Replication Protein A in Huntington’s Disease Progression
  • Gabriel Fortunato
    Mentor: Amnon Kohen
    Uncovering the Evolutionary Mechanism of Enzyme Catalysis
  • Lance Heady
    Mentor: Andrew Pieper
    A Neuron and it’s Survival: A Tale of Drug Discovery
  • Titus Hou
    Mentor: Ernesto Fuentes
    A Newly Identified Sub-Pocket That Plays a Unique Role in Scribble PDZ1 – SGEF iPBM Interaction
  • Steven Huang
    Mentor: Ernesto Fuentes
    The Structural Characterization and Ligand Identification of the SrrB Cache Domain
  • Tien Thuy (Jane) Nguyen
    Mentor: Marc Wold
    Diverse Interactions of the Multifunctional, Regulatory Domain of Replication Protein A
  • Devin Reusch
    Mentor: Todd Washington
    Polymerase Switching During Translesion Synthesis: A Tale of the Tail
  • Benjamin Spector
    Mentor: David Price
    Association of the Pol II CTD Phosphatase Ssu72 with Transcription Complexes

The symposium also included the presentation of two undergraduate awards, made possible by a gift from Alap Subramanian. The H.G. Wittmann Scholar Award was presented to Steven Huang (Fuentes lab) and the H.G. Khorana Scholar Award was presented to Laura Fischer (Wold lab), recognizing their exceptional understanding of biochemistry and its value to society.

Congratulations to everyone named above and all of our 2018 graduates!


Kelli Sylvers Receives AHA Predoctoral Fellowship

Monday, April 30th, 2018


Kelli Sylvers, Biochemistry graduate student in Dr. Brandon Davies’ lab, has received an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship. The AHA Predoctoral Fellowship is intended to support “promising students” in pre-doctoral or clinical health training programs. Kelli’s proposal entitled, “Lipase inhibition by ANGPTL3 and ANGPTL8” will be funded at the maximum amount for two full years. The project focuses on understanding how two proteins, ANGPTL3 and ANGPTL8, regulate HDL and triglyceride metabolism. High triglyceride levels and low HDL levels are associated with cardiovascular disease. The project asks two important questions: 1) How does ANGPTL3 inhibit its targets lipoprotein lipase (the protein responsible for clearing triglycerides from the blood) and endothelial lipase (a protein that reduces HDL levels in the blood). 2) Does ANGPTL3 require ANGPTL8 to inhibit EL (the Davies lab has previously shown that ANGPTL3 requires ANGPTL8 to inhibit LPL). To answer these questions, experiments have been designed to study protein binding and protein activity as well as studies using a mouse model lacking ANGPTL8 to understand the effects in a living organism. Targeting ANGPTL3 or ANGPTL8 has the potential to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering plasma triglyceride levels. This research may enhance our ability to target these proteins in a way that would have less side-effects or unintended consequences for patients being treated for cardiovascular disorders.

Preston Anderson Publishes in Cell Stem Cell

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Preston Anderson, a Biochemistry senior undergraduate student in John Engelhardt’s Lab,  is the first author on a paper published in Cell Stem Cell. The paper entitled, “Submucosal Gland Myoepithelial Cells are Reserve Stem Cells that can Regenerate Mouse Tracheal Epithelium” describes research on glandular myoepithelial cells (MECs). These cell were found to to be flexible and develop into replacement cells in their local environment.

“We demonstrated that MECs can self-renew and differentiate into seven distinct cell types in the airway,” says study co-first author Preston Anderson, a UI undergraduate working in the lab of John Engelhardt, UI professor and department head of anatomy and cell biology. “No other cell type in the lung has been identified with this much stem cell plasticity.” (Noon News – April 12, 2018)Congratulations Preston and the Engelhardt lab!

Dr. Dieckman awarded Nebraska EPSCoR First Award

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Dr. Lynne Dieckman (Creighton University) former Biochemistry Post-Doc (Musselman Lab) and Molecular and Cell Biology Program PhD Student (Washington lab) is the recipient of the Nebraska EPSCoR FIRST Award. This is a one year award that includes a 100% match from Creighton University. The purpose of this NSF funded award is to help early career faculty compete for an NSF CAREER grant.

The National Science Foundation EPSCoR FIRST Award will fund Dr. Lynne Dieckman’s project entitled “Understanding Protein Interactions that Link DNA Replication and Nucleosome Assembly.” All living things, from simple microbes to higher plants and animals, depend on the stable transmission of biological information from parent to offspring. Genomic instability results from alterations in gene expression, which is controlled largely through the organization of the genes in eukaryotic chromosomes – i.e., the packaging of DNA into nucleosomes. The eukaryotic genome must be accurately organized into nucleosomes immediately following DNA replication. This process is called replication-coupled nucleosome assembly, and is mediated by two key factors: CAF-1, the protein complex that induces the formation of nucleosomes on newly synthesized DNA, and PCNA, the ring-shaped sliding clamp that recruits and regulates proteins during replication and nucleosome assembly. Studies show that the direct interaction between CAF-1 and PCNA is essential for the coupling of DNA replication and nucleosome assembly. However, how these two proteins interact and regulate replication-coupled nucleosome assembly is not clear. The major goals of Dr. Dieckman’s lab are to determine the biochemical and structural basis for binding between CAF-1 and PCNA, and how this interaction regulates CAF-1 activity and maintains genomic integrity. These studies will lead to a greater understanding of the link between DNA replication and nucleosome assembly, how the activity of CAF-1 is mediated by PCNA, and how disruptions of this regulation lead to aberrant gene expression.

Department of Biochemistry’s 70th Anniversary Celebration & 9th Annual Scientific Retreat

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Mark your calendars for the Department of Biochemistry’s 70th Anniversary Celebration and 9th Annual Scientific Retreat, featuring a special session with former Department Heads Drs. Alan Goodridge and Arthur Spector.  All events will be held at the new Hancher Auditorium

For a schedule of events and to register, go to:

Registration deadline is July 20, 2018


Dr. Sarah Hengel Awarded Grant

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Sarah Hengel, Ph.D. (PhD mentor: Maria Spies), was awarded a two year Diversity Supplement as part of NIH grant R01ES024872 entitled “Replication Fork Dynamics and Repair by RAD51 paralogues after DNA Alkylation”.  Dr. Hengel, a recent graduate at the University of Iowa is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studying DNA repair and cancer with Dr. Kara Bernstein.  By determining what environmental factors contribute to who may develop cancer, Dr. Hengel aims to prevent cancer for people harboring mutations in the DNA repair genes called the RAD51 paralogues. Individuals with mutations in RAD51 paralogues are predisposed to breast and ovarian cancers.  However it remains unknown how exposure to environmental toxicants contribute to cancer development in these individuals. DNA alkylating agents are ubiquitous in our environment and can damage DNA. The RAD51 paralogues are important to repair the DNA damage caused by DNA alkylation.  Dr. Hengel’s project is to biochemically define and characterize how the RAD51 paralogues recognize damaged DNA and promote its repair to prevent cancer.

Congrats Fall 2017 Biochemistry PhD Graduates

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Shuxiang Li, a Biochemistry PhD student mentored by Dr. Adrian Elcock, received a PhD on December 15,2017 entitled, “Computer simulations exploring conformational preferences of short peptides and developing a bacterial chromosome model”. Shuxiang has accepted a postdoctoral position with Dr. Wilma Olson’s Laboratory at Rutgers University.


Liyang Zhang, a Biochemistry PhD student mentored by Dr. Miles Pufall, received a PhD on December 15, 2017 entitled, “Defining the DNA Binding Energetics of the Glucocorticoid Receptor”. Liyang has accepted a position with Integrated DNA Technologies.

Congrats Shuxiang and Liyang!