Diego Prado, a senior biochemistry major from Montevideo, Uruguay, was one of three recipients of the William H. Nichols Fellowship from the New York Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS). This is the inaugural year of the fellowships, which awarded students $4,000 for 10 weeks of summer research. They will also receive an additional $1,000 at a banquet in 2016.
Diego spent the summer working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Scott Lefurgy on research involving enzymes and how they select specific molecules to react with from a mixture of competing chemicals. The research model they used is octopine dehydrogenase, an enzyme found in bay scallops. This enzyme catalyzes a reaction between an amino acid and an alpha-keto acid to produce octopine, one of a class of compounds that is useful in the development of some drugs and specialty chemicals.
The goal of Diego’s research is to determine which features of the enzyme are important for recognizing its target molecules, and to change the enzyme’s molecular preference so that it will act efficiently to produce drug precursors. He has been using site-saturation mutagenesis and screening to determine which features can be altered successfully.
Following graduation Diego is planning on pursuing a PhD in cell and molecular biology, with an emphasis on cancer research.
The Nichols Fellowship, named for a founding member and former president of the ACS, is designed to support the advancement of New York area college juniors who are interested in chemistry, biochemistry and aligned fields. Recognizing that the New York Local Section area houses a broad portfolio of cutting-edge STEM research laboratories, this program strives to provide the authentic research experiences and mentoring needed to prepare the next generation of world-class chemists.
This summer opportunity is open to all college juniors (rising seniors) who are majoring in chemistry, biochemistry or chemistry related fields and who plan to do research during the summer intersession at an institution located within the New York Local Section geographical area (all boroughs of New York City plus Rockland, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and the area east of the Hackensack River in Hudson and Bergen Counties, New Jersey).