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Mathew Tracey takes 1st Place in the Undergraduate Research Exhibition, Physical Sciences Category

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“Small Oligonucleotide Models of the Twister Ribosome Active Site Reveal No Intrinsic Activity of CA and UA Linkages”

Mathew Tracey 1

Tracey is entering his senior year at Penn State.  Science has always been an interest for Tracey because it is the study of the unknown. “While things that are unknown or foreign to us can be frightening or off-putting, being able to work through the problems and the dense shrouds of mystery that surround these problems feels incredibly rewarding” commented Tracey. It is this constant pursuit of finding new information that really drew him to science. In high school, he discovered how much he enjoyed chemistry. He found understanding how the world works on a molecular level and realizing that the functionality of the world is based on a bunch of incredibly fast, microscopic reactions just mind blowing.  Seeing this chemistry in a biological context was even more fascinating. The ability to understand and to describe life processes through chemical reactions became infinitely intriguing to him. Recognizing that these complex reactions and interactions happen constantly in organisms as small as bacteria to as complex as us humans has gained him much respect for all forms of life.

Mathew Tracey 2Tracey conducts his research in the Bevilacqua Lab under the direction of Dr. Philip Bevilacqua.  Tracey had taken Dr. Bevilacqua’s CHEM 110H class the fall semester of his first year and had gotten to know Dr. Bevilacqua throughout the semester. After taking his final for the class, Tracey went to pick up his exam to see how he had done and Dr. Bevilacqua told him that he was looking for a student in biochemistry that would be interested in doing research. Tracey has been working with Dr. Bevilacqua since the Spring of 2016.

Most people know the biological scheme of DNA goes to RNA which then makes a protein that can carry out functions in a cell. However, there are certain RNAs, known as ribozymes that can participate in chemical reactions similar to protein enzymes. Tracey’s project focuses on understanding the reaction mechanism of a particular self-cleaving ribozyme known as twister. Twister is interesting because, as of yet, its biological function is unknown and its exact mechanism for achieving its cleavages is fairly unclear. His work so far has focused on using shorter RNAs that resemble the twister active site to serve as models for twister. Tracey tests various different conditions on these model RNAs while monitoring the reaction rate and progress in hopes of understanding the twister ribozyme itself. This work is exciting because, due to its implications on understanding the twister ribozyme’s cleavage mechanism and how it would allow future researchers to determine its biological role as well as other uses for this ribozyme, such as RNA therapy to help cure or treat diseases.

After graduation from Penn State, Tracey plans to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in either chemistry or biochemistry. As for where, he is not entirely sure, but hopefully that he will know soon.  Tracey, who is also a Chinese major, is also considering utilizing his knowledge and taking a gap year beforehand to teach English in China.