Undergraduate Julie Fogarty Wins Commended Synthetic Biology Presentation Award

Julie Fogarty (center) at Rice University's Regional Undergraduate Chemistry and Biochemistry & Cell Biology SymposiumUndergraduate Julie Fogarty won the Commended Synthetic Biology Presentation Award at Rice University’s Regional Undergraduate Chemistry and Biochemistry & Cell Biology Symposium. Her winning presentation was titled “Engineering Low Affinity Protein-Protein Interactions by Functional Presentation on the Phage Coat Protein P8.”

“I am extremely honored to win this award,” said Fogarty. “This was my first major scientific presentation outside of the department, so the award validated my ability to convey what I do in the lab and why it is important. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without help and feedback from my graduate student mentor, Kevin Entzminger, Professor Jennifer Maynard and Maynard Group members.”

Fogarty is studying the T-cell receptor of the immune system and it’s ligands, molecules that binds to other chemical entities to form a larger complex. These molecules have potential applications in cancer treatments, autoimmune disorders, and vaccinations.

T-cell receptors are molecules that act as a part of the immune system to recognize and clear pathogens from the body. They are specific to a particular pathogen making them ideal targets for new drugs and therapeutics. However, like many interactions in the body, T-cell receptors bind to their pathogen with low to moderate affinity, meaning they unbind relatively quickly. This presents a challenge for studying the interactions and gaining useful information within a short amount of time.

Fogarty is trying to characterize the display T-cell receptor molecules on the outside of a virus particle to increase the number of T-cell receptors in close proximity to one another. This way, when one unbinds another is close by to rebind to the pathogen. This produces a pseudo higher affinity and allows more time to study the interactions. If Maynard’s Group can better understand these interactions, they can target them with small molecules and other drugs to treat illnesses.

The annual Regional Undergraduate Chemistry and Biochemistry & Cell Biology Symposium provides a venue for students to give oral presentations on their undergraduate research projects. The event gives students the chance to win awards and cash prizes for outstanding presentations, as well as the opportunity to interact with distinguished faculty.

This year there were 45 participants, each giving a 15 minute presentation evaluated by Rice University faculty on how well they understood the project, why it’s relevant and the presenter’s ability to clearly convey scientific information. The competition is open to undergraduates from any university who are studying chemistry, biochemistry or cell biology.

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