Senior biochemistry major Anastasia Murthy presented the latest results of a two-year-long research project on bacterial mating at the April 16 Chemistry and Biochemistry Student Research Conference, a capstone to an undergraduate academic career that includes published research.

Her presentation described research revolving around the protein machinery that bacteria use to spread DNA in a process called conjugation or mating. The research will contribute to our understanding of disease-causing bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis, the cause of anthrax, on a molecular level. Her work also addresses the question of how certain strains become resistant to antibiotics. Murthy worked with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which is harmless to humans.

Murthy was one of nine students presenting senior thesis work from research projects and internships at the conference.

“This research experience is really what being a scientist is all about,” said Rachael Kipp, chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. “It allows our students to experience scientific research, from designing an experiment all the way through publicizing results at a conference.”

Slashing bacteria’s tires

Murthy’s presentation discussed how she identified the important parts of mating proteins in bacterial cells through a mutation process called mutagenesis. She found that one mutation disrupted the cellular localization, or its ability to get where it needs to go, while five other mutations did not. She boils it down by using a car as an example.

“Certain parts of a car are more important than others. Say you take a tire off a car. It’s going to have a much harder time getting anywhere than if you took off one of the mirrors,” Murthy said.

Murthy completed the research in partnership with Professor Melanie Berkmen and biology major Naira Aleksanyan, using skills she learned in advanced lab courses.

“One of Anastasia’s best qualities is her excitement for and desire to conduct research,” Berkmen said. “When I have needed a new protocol pioneered, I always ask Anastasia. She enjoys the challenge of figuring out something new. And she excels at it.”

Gassed up and ready to go

After graduation, Murthy will begin a doctoral program in biochemistry at Brown University.

“The personal nature of this program brought me opportunities, and I think it will continue to do so in the future. I was able to build relationships with my professors,” she said, citing one-on-one time with professors, particularly Berkmen, and Suffolk’s small class sizes.

Another Murthy project from Berkmen’s lab was published in December 2014 in the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education with the title "An Inquiry-Based Laboratory Module to Promote Understanding of the Scientific Method and Bacterial Conjugation."

“Anastasia is a superstar at Suffolk University, with exceptional potential to succeed,” Berkmen said. “She is exceptionally bright, motivated, mature, and creative.”

Murthy’s capstone project also was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) in Boston and the Northeast Undergraduate Research and Development Symposium (NURDS) this spring.