Link: University of Iowa

Archive for August, 2015

Highlights of the 6th Annual Biochemistry Retreat

Monday, August 24th, 2015

The Department of Biochemistry held their 6th Annual Retreat on August 22, 2015, in the University Capitol Centre. The retreat featured 10 oral and 35 poster presentations.

The first and second place Graduate Student Poster Award went to Jennifer Bays (DeMali Lab) and Will Hacker (Elcock Lab), who recevied a Lois Bigger Ghering Travel Award to attend a scientific conference of their choice. The third place Graduate Student Poster Award went to Arpit Sharma (Taylor Lab). The first and second place Postdoctoral Fellow and Staff Poster Award went to Casey Andrews (Elcock Lab) and Joseph Laird (Baker Lab). The first and second place Undergraduate Poster Awards went to Ossama Abu-Halawa (Pufall Lab) and Sarah Gardner (Baker Lab).

Retreat2015Posterwinners reduced

Back row (from left): Joseph Laird, Arpit Sharma, Will Hacker, Casey Andrews, Ossama Abu-Halawa
Front row (front left): Jennifer Bays, Sarah Gardner

Brenner receives ASBMB Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education

Thursday, August 20th, 2015


Dr. Charles Brenner, the Roy J. Carver Chair and Head of Biochemistry at the University of Iowa, has been selected to receive the 2016 ASBMB Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education, given annually to a scientist who encourages effective teaching and learning of biochemistry and molecular biology through his own teaching, leadership in education, writing, educational research, mentoring or public enlightenment.

Late in 2011, Dr. Brenner observed that the new MCAT, which was rolled out in April of 2015, would test core concepts in biochemistry for the first time and that this would have ramifications well beyond MCAT test takers. In his writings on this subject, Dr. Brenner pointed out that US colleges and universities enroll approximately 3 million new US  college freshmen per year and that as many as 500,000 begin the premedical sequence by enrolling in general chemistry. However, only about 165,000 of these students go on to take organic chemistry and 45,000 of these students apply annually to medical school for approximately 19,000 seats. Thus, the courses that are designed for premedical students actually engage a huge swath of students that end up doing something else. Thoughtful revision of the premedical curriculum has the potential to improve general education, the preparation of future researchers, educators and business people, and the preparation of health professionals (Brenner & Ringe, ASBMB Today , p. 12, 2012, Brenner, Biochem Mol Biol Ed, p 1, 2013 & Brenner, J Chem Ed, p. 807, 2013).

Specifically, in premedical curricular guidelines that were initially published in ASBMB Today, Dr. Brenner and Dr. Dagmar Ringe of Brandeis University began by recommending that the typically mandated year of biology provide a strong foundation in molecular genetics and biological information flow. Second, they recommended that chemistry courses move from the classical synthetic, organohalide orientation to one which emphasizes the reactivity of functionalized carbon and biomolecules in aqueous solutions. Third, they emphasized that a laboratory course is essential but that it could be offered in any department or discipline, so long as it includes instruction in data analysis. Finally, they wrote that premedical students take at least one semester and preferably two semesters of biochemistry in order to have the grounding to work in modern medicine.

Nationally, these recommendations appear to be having some impact. Where biochemistry courses are available, enrollment has burgeoned and in small colleges, faculty in chemistry and biology departments have begun offering biochemistry. At the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, the two semester biochemistry series is the expectation for pre-health students. At many other colleges and universities, chemistry and biochemistry coursework is being developed that will create a more continuous pedagogical basis for understanding molecular science.

In her letter of nomination for Dr. Brenner, Dean Debra Schwinn wrote “Dr. Brenner is powerfully and constructively engaged locally and nationally in medical education. At his urging, the Carver College of Medicine made undergraduate biochemistry a formal premedical requirement and with his effective influence, there has been a substantial preservation of biochemistry in the first semester of our new integrated medical curriculum. Indeed, educational leaders here at Iowa all read and appreciated his involvement in the national dialog on the need to reemphasize molecular science in the education of current and future medical students (Kennelly, et al., Acad Med 88, p. 1405, 2013).”

Dr. Brenner will present a plenary symposium lecture entitled “Biochemistry and molecular biology education in a transforming academy and a molecular world” at the ASBMB Annual meeting, April 2-6, 2016 in San Diego, CA.


Price lab featured on the August cover of Molecular Cell

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

MOLCEL_59_4.c1.inddDavid Price‘s lab was featured on the August 20 cover of Molecular Cell. The article entitled “THZ1 Reveals Roles for Cdk7 in Co-transcriptional Capping and Pausing,”shows how a Cdk7 inhibitor, THZ1, dramatically impacts CTD phosphorylation, co-transcriptional capping, pausing, and P-TEFb-dependent productive elongation by disrupting an ordered exchange of factors after initiation. These results provide mechanistic insights into the anti-proliferative and super-enhancer-selective effects of THZ1 seen by others. Kyle Nilson, (Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Student in the Price Lab) was first author of this work. John Brogie (Biochemistry Graduate Student), Michael Turek (Biochemistry Undergraduate Major), and Jiannan Guo (Former Biochemistry Postdoc, Price Lab) also contributed to this work. The cover design by Kyle Nilson features and experiment “performed” by Nicholas Mullen (Biochemistry Undergraduate Major).

The article is also featured in a preview by Drs. Frédéric Coin and Jean-Marc Egly entitiled “Revisiting the Function of CDK7 in Transcription by Virtue of a Recently Described TFIIH Kinase Inhibitor.”

Congratulations Price Lab!!

7th Annual FUTURE in Biomedicine Program

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015


The FUTURE in Biomedicine program, founded in 2009 by Madeline Shea, is developing a statewide network of scientist-educators and a pipeline of prospective students for our graduate and clinical program. The 7th annual program brought 25 faculty Fellows and students from primarily undergraduate institutions in Iowa to conduct research and pursue collaborations with UI faculty through summer laboratory work and weekly professional development activities. The Fellows also received support to use our state-of-the-art research core facilities such as those in genomics, crystallography and NMR.

Honts_Drake_SheaLab_2015Of the 13 Faculty Fellows, four worked with host professors in Biochemistry. Dr. Gary Coombs from Waldorf College worked on the role of lamins in regulating muscle function and metabolism with Professor Lori Wallrath. Dr. Heriberto Hernandez from Grinnell College worked on the role of thermodynamics in the formulation of pharmaceuticals with Assistant Professor Mike Schnieders. Dr. Hernandez was supported by the Ruth Ann Henriksen Fellowship that honors Dr. Henriksen, a Ph.D. graduate of our department who pursued her academic career at East Carolina University. Two Fellows from Drake University – Adina Kilpatrick in Physics and Jerry Honts in Biology – pursued a joint collaboration on Tetrahymena calcium-binding proteins with Professor Madeline Shea.

Hernandez_Grinnell_Schnieders_2015Two additional Faculty Fellows are Biochemistry Alumni – Dr. Ugur Akgun, now on the Physics faculty at Coe College had been a postdoctoral fellow with Shahram Khademi, and Dr. Heidi Sleister in Biology at Drake University was a former BSURF student.

Coombs_Waldorf_Wallrath_2015In addition, Ms. Dulce Chavez from St. Mary-of-the-Woods was the first recipient of the Gioannini Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship honoring our former colleague Dr. Theresa L. Gioannini, who held a joint appointment in Biochemistry. Mr. Adam Page, of Kirkwood Community College, conducted research with Professor E. Dale Abel, a joint appointee in Biochemistry, and Adam’s participation in the activities of the FUTURE in Biomedicine program were arranged by Ms. Juanita Limas, the faculty Director of the LSAMP program at Kirkwood who earned her B.S. in Biochemistry doing research with Professor Lori Wallrath.

2015_0720_3DPrinting_Pufall_Honts_008Members of the Department of Biochemistry featured prominently in the weekly activities of the FUTURE in Biomedicine program. These included a session when Professor Dan Weeks described preparation for our Ph.D. programs, a workshop on “3-D Printing in Research and Education” presented jointly by UI Biochemistry Assistant Professor Miles Pufall and Jerry Honts of Drake University, and a Career Panel on making the transition from postdoctoral fellow to teaching faculty, including two Biochemistry postdocs – Dr. Lynne Dieckman formerly in the Musselman laboratory and Dr. Casey Andrews in the Elcock laboratory. In the prior academic year, Dr. Andrews had a mentored semester-long teaching experience at Loras College with 2014 FUTURE Fellow Adam Moser.

Kilpatrick_Drake_Shea_2015The research being conducted in partnerships developed through the FUTURE in Biomedicine program is being published in peer-reviewed journals, and presented at national conferences. This reciprocal network is encouraging excellent candidates to apply to our training opportunities and openings for research assistants and postbac internships. The FUTURE program is committed to advancing closer ties with our alumni in the years ahead.

Price Lab Publishes in Molecular Cell

Monday, August 10th, 2015

The Price Lab has recently published an article entitled “THZ1 Reveals Roles for Cdk7 in Co-transcriptional Capping and Pausing” in Molecular Cell. Kyle Nilson, (Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Student) was first author of this work. Nilson et al. use THZ1, a Cdk7 inhibitor, to uncover defects in Pol II phosphorylation, co-transcriptional capping, pausing, and productive elongation. THZ1 disrupts an ordered exchange of factors after initiation, blocking capping and pausing. These results provide mechanistic insights into the anti-proliferative and super-enhancer-selective effects of THZ1 seen by others. Congrats Price Lab!