Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
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Nicholas Aksu, a BMB student and Undergraduate Researcher, takes part in Poster Exhibition:

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Nicholas Aksu, originally from Lancaster Pennsylvania, is a Junior majoring in biochemistry within the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) Department.  He has always had an interest in the mathematics and the mechanisms involved in biology. Because of its investigation of these interests along with a multitude of other topics Aksu decided to pursue his education in BMB.  It was the large variety of research being conducted within the department coupled with it’s incredible faculty and staff as well as the research opportunities available to undergraduates that drew him to Penn State.

Aksu works as an undergraduate researcher in the Zhang Lab under the direction of Xin Zhang, a professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has taken advantage of the many Penn State opportunities that are available to students and most recently participated in the Eberly College of Science Undergraduate Poster Exhibition.  His poster was entitled “Effect of Metabolites on Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation of hnRNPA1” and details his work within the Zhang Lab.  His research investigates the effects of molecules that are building blocks to other molecules that have been shown to have an effect on the liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) of hnRNPA1, a protein whose mutants have been associated with ALS.  LLPS is the segregation of proteins and other cellular components into microenvironments in the cell, similar to how water and oil separate.  His research seeks to reveal the mechanisms the cell uses to regulate LLPS.



So, what’s next for Aksu?  He plans to apply to medical school at the end of 2018.  Ideally he would like to continue his pursuit of clinical research while learning how to treat patients suffering from disease.  He believes this approach would allow him to have the largest positive impact on as many lives as possible.

The Zhang Lab:

The work done by the Zhang Lab is at the intersection between chemistry and biology. Many important biological questions cannot be fully addressed due to the lack of proper methodologies. The Zhang Lab aspires to tackle these questions by developing and applying novel chemical tools.

The lab’s main focus is protein misfolding and aggregation that occur in stressed cells with deficient proteostasis.  These molecular events have been associated with a variety of diseases that are termed as protein misfolding diseases.  Protein aggregation is a multiple step process that involves misfolded soluble and insoluble aggregates. It is unclear which of these conformations could lead to cytotoxicity that is associated with diseases. To tackle this question, the lab has developed innovative chemical methodologies that allow the community to visualize and differentiate, in live cells and organisms, the many conformations through the process of protein aggregation. Their work combines expertise from synthetic chemistry, in vitro biochemistry and cell biology to not only to provide a tool set for the community, but also to define (in live cells) biochemical nature of species in protein aggregation and their mechanism of action in disease initiation and progression. Learn more about the Zhang Lab.