Two undergraduate students from the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith were honored with presenting their research at the 2019 conference of the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Oct. 26-27 at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Harmeet Kaur Chohan and Jeremiah Smith presented their findings to more than 400 students and faculty assembled at the conference.
Chohan, a sophomore chemistry major from the Philippines, presented her research results on a tumor suppressor gene as a poster, “Non-Covalent Interaction of the Potent Ligands against Serine/Threonine Kinase 11 (STK11) Mutants.” Chohan joined a research team led by Dr. Mohammad Halim, assistant professor of Chemistry at UAFS, this past August.
“Although Harmeet is just a sophomore, she is very motivated and passionate for her research and regularly worked evenings and weekends,” Halim said. “The diverse research experiences in bioinformatics and mass spectrometry will help Harmeet to pursue her graduate study on biomedical science/engineering or secure a position in the pharmaceutical/biochemical industry.”
Chohan said working with Halim spurred her interests in research.
“During my junior and senior years in the Philippines, I never thought about doing research,” she said, “but everything changed when Dr. Sayo Fakayode, head of physical sciences at UAFS, introduced me to Dr. Halim. His research interests are very close to mine, and I am looking forward to continuing fantastic research with him. In addition, with a friendly environment, UAFS has developed me into a better researcher while boosting my confidence and achievement.”
Chohan will continue working with Halim to express the STK11 mutants and see how these potent ligands interact with and revive the mutants by mass spectrometry-based proteomics analysis.
Smith, a freshman biology major from Little Rock, presented his research on the “Impact of Tallgrass Prairie Restoration on Soil Microbiome.” Mentored by Dr. Jeff Shaver, associate professor of biology at UAFS, and Dr. Chizuko Iwaki, assistant professor of mathematics at UAFS, Smith’s presentation garnered the interest of faculty and students from other institutions in the state, which is helping expand UAFS’s research capacity for the Tallgrass Prairie Restoration project, led by Shaver and Jay Randolph, superintendent of Ben Geren Golf Course. This study has been supported by two $5000 Arkansas INBRE core facility voucher awards. For the initial study, the 16s rRNA sequencing and analysis support were provided by Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Loop Genomics. Reagents for soil microbial DNA isolation and antibiotic-resistant gene analysis were provided by miniPCR.
“The research experience that I have gained in only a few short months has been invaluable,” Smith said. “I was able to join a research project and share my results because of the devoted faculty of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.”
Smith will continue his research in the summer of 2020 with Shaver and Dr. Fiona Goggin from UA Fayetteville to study the effect of chloroplast membrane saturation on the abundance and structure of chloroplast DNA and the susceptibility of plants to aphid infestation.
The Arkansas INBRE Research Conference has grown steadily since beginning in 2002. Key features of the conference include a distinguished keynote speaker, faculty speakers from Arkansas, research and career workshops, student poster and oral presentation competitions, and vendor displays of state-of-the-art equipment. The program’s goals are to increase the number of higher education faculty in Arkansas with active funded research programs in biomedical science and to increase the number of undergraduate students in the state who pursue careers in biomedical science.
“One of the most important skills any scientist can have is an ability to analyze data collected from samples or through experimentation,” said Iwaki. “Presenting work at a conference is valuable because it can help students learn how to interpret their results and share them by using oral and written communication skills. I strongly recommend undergraduate students take the opportunity to participate in research projects like this because it will help them to determine an area of interest in their field and give them a head start on their career as a researcher.”
The Arkansas INBRE is funded by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences under the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The IDeA Program was established to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical and behavioral research.
Shaver’s research efforts will continue with the support of a $5,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The grant money will be used to fund consumables and small equipment to be used with the two EPSCoR DNA Biotechnology Kits currently housed in the UAFS STEM Center in conjunction with the Adopt-a-Professor program, UAFS Festival of Science, independent student research projects and training students in the Biology with Teacher Licensure program.