Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
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Joyce Lee: Receives Summer Discovery Grant

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Summer Discovery Grant Recipient

Joyce LeeBiochemistry and Molecular Biology student, Joyce Lee, was awarded the Undergraduate Discover Grant to support her research project in the lab of Scott Selleck.  Joyce is a senior focusing on the biochemistry option.  Her research project is titled, “A Genetic Study of Chaperone Protein DnaJ-2 in the Drosophila Neuromuscular Junction.”  The Selleck lab uses Drosophila as a model organism to study the development of the nervous system. More specifically, the lab researches genes required for the proper development and organization of the post-synaptic membrane at the larval neuromuscular junction.

Joyce is working on a previously unstudied gene, referred to as DnaJ-2, that was identified in a screen for genes that affect the proper localization of glutamate receptors at the post synaptic membrane.  DnaJ-2 is a member of the DnaJ protein family, and based on sequence analysis, it is likely a chaperone protein. Her current work has focused on generating and characterizing a mutant lacking a functional copy of this gene.  This mutant will become a valuable tool for further study of DnaJ-2.  She is also looking at the relationship between DnaJ-2 and Akt in the pathway for proper localization of glutamate receptors. Akt is a protein kinase at the center of many signal transduction pathways in the cell, and previous research in the Selleck lab has shown that it is critical for the proper localization of glutamate receptors at the post-synaptic membrane.  Reducing expression of DnaJ-2 and Akt both produce similar phenotypes of mislocalized glutamate receptors, suggesting that they may be involved in similar pathways. The ultimate goal of her research is to better understand the mechanisms controlling the development of synapses and apply this information as a model for human diseases involving improper functioning of synapses.

What would you tell a friend who wants to get involved in research?

I encourage everyone to get involved in research. Science can only truly be learned through hands-on experience in the lab.  In lectures or lab classes, we learn facts that other people have discovered, but real science is uncovering new truths. My experience has helped me apply the core concepts I learned in class and develop the critical thinking skills necessary for scientific research.

In addition, research is great preparation for any scientific career regardless of whether it is in academia, medicine, industry, etc. Penn State students are lucky to attend a university with such excellent research opportunities for undergraduates, so we should all make an effort to take advantage of the resources available to us.  

After graduation, Joyce plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and continue her studies in human diseases.  Ultimately, she plans to pursue a career in academia, research, and teaching.