Bio Chemistry Research at the Academic Health Center 4

By Leslie Angela Blanco

Staff Writer –


Students under the department of chemistry and biochemistry are working on DNA related research over the summer from May until August. Some of the research that this entails is finding ways to develop a method of identifying drugs and compounds in the body, developing a method to test and screen antibiotics for their effectiveness, and changing a protein to be used as an antibiotic in order to kill cells.

These experiments, conducted at Academic Health Center 4, are all under the supervision of  Doctor Fenfei Leng, an associate professor of Biochemistry, whose interests include DNA research such as transcription-driven DNA supercoiling and HMGA-2 DNA interaction.

Selected students with good academic standing are given an opportunity to do research under the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. These include undergraduate students, graduate students, and even a few high school students.

Majors ranging from biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering are participating in different types of biochemistry research under the direction of Leng.

Students are also doing research on behalf of Kalai Mathee, professor of Molecular Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. The AHC4 building provides advanced research labs, study rooms for graduate students, office spaces and classrooms.

Before completion, the project had already won awards for design excellence from the American Institute of Architects and the Society of American Registered Architects. It has lived up to its name so far and has proven to be successful in providing students and faculty a progressive learning environment as well as a premier research and classroom space.

Maria De Cabrera, a graduate student working on a Ph.D. in chemistry is currently doing research that consists of purifying the CRISPR protein.

“I started working at the lab last semester in January,” De Cabrera said, “and I was working on testing a certain type of antibiotic. We were looking for a way to screen how well that antibiotic works so that when new antibiotics get discovered they can get screened for their effectiveness.”

When shedding light on her current project, she said, “we’re working on something a little different, we’re working on how if you change the [CRISPR protein] it can bind to DNA and be used to kill cells as an antibiotic.”

In terms of continuing her research beyond the summer, De Cabrera said,

“If it continues to be interesting for me then yeah I’ll keep doing it probably into my Ph.D. I actually think it could be a Ph.D project. It just depends on where it goes and if the government continues to fund it because all of these labs are government funded.”

Gabriela Ortega, an undergraduate student majoring in chemistry is working on developing a method of identifying drugs in the body and compounds via DNA and protein interactions.

“Basically there are millions of compounds that can be modified and studied through our method,” said Gabriela Ortega. This is important in order to detect compounds that form tumors and cancer in the body, and in detecting this, they can help modulate them further.

Ortega is still deciding on whether she’ll like to continue researching this project after the summer.

“Dr. Leng told me that if I didn’t like it I could just do it for the summer, but so far I really enjoy it and am thinking of staying for the fall and for however long he needs me.”

In regards to opportunities in working at the labs and doing research under professors for students that are interested, she said, “There are opportunities that a lot of people don’t know about but if you’re a good student and you have the time to put in then I would definitely reach out to professors and ask them if you could join their labs.”

Leng, who specializes in bacteria genetics and Biochemistry, and who also oversees these projects has much to say about his students and the work they are doing.

“I am very happy to have them in my lab to do different projects. We are pretty busy working in the summer and I’ve actually been the one who is serving the assistants (students).”

These projects will also make contributions for the World’s Ahead University.

“We are going to continue to make contributions to FIU and the scientific community. We are here to train our students. That is our mission,” Leng said.

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