July 31, 2023

Thirteen Susquehanna University student researchers participated in the Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Symposium, with one student’s presentation rising to the top with the help of a common baking ingredient: yeast.

Samit Barua Chowdhury ’24, a biochemistry major from Bangladesh, won the Best Poster Award in the Natural and Life Sciences category for his research into the role of a particular protein and its impact on cellular activities in baker’s yeast cells.

From literature and previous experiments, Chowdhury and his faculty mentor, Michael Parra, assistant professor of chemistry, determined that the protein of interest, histone H2A.Z, plays a role in regulating the expression of certain genes involved in key processes in yeast cells, such as growth and nutrient uptake.

“Through a series of experiments, we found that the gene that codes for the H2A.Z protein interacts with other genes and that the deletion of this gene could lead to an increased sensitivity of the yeast cells to antifungal drugs and genotoxic stressors,” Chowdhury explained.

He and Parra have grown different strains of yeast cells, each with a unique mutation, to help them identify and understand how the presence or absence of one or a set of genes could alter the overall expression of other genes. Chowdhury said their findings could be used to further understand the roles of these histone proteins in other multicellular organisms.

Histones, the proteins around which DNA is wrapped in eukaryotic cells, regulate DNA-templated processes such as DNA replication,” Parra said. “Understanding this helps us understand how cellular division works. Because the process in yeast is similar to that in humans, it will help in our understanding of cancer.”

The benefits of research presentation

The Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Symposium brought together more than 100 students from Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, Bucknell and Commonwealth universities, as well as Geisinger Health System. Posters were entered for awards in four categories — arts and humanities, social sciences; engineering and computing; natural and life sciences; and studies of health and wellness across disciplines. Winners were determined based on criteria from a team of three to four faculty judges per discipline.

“The culmination of scientific research is the dissemination of the information. The Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Symposium allows students to practice this skill,” Para said. “They are asked to give a two- to five-minute summation of their research and present it in the form of a poster. This skill is critical for the scientific community.”

Every step of Chowdhury’s research resulted in a lesson learned, he said.

“No matter how many times I repeat an experiment, I am just getting better at it and discovering ways I can improve,” he said. “Being constantly in a lab environment gave me the experience of what it’s like working full-time as a researcher and exposed me to obstacles and hardships unique to the setting; failures are a common thing while doing research, and success will only be seen once the failures are gracefully embraced and carefully examined.”

Chowdhury is still determining his next steps after graduation by weighing graduate school or industry options.

“Graduate school is all about research, so getting that experience early on at an undergraduate level helped me grow accustomed to working in a lab for long hours,” he said. “Likewise, the skills learned in the lab are incredibly useful when considering a career in medicine or pharmaceuticals. Being exposed to experimental techniques and procedures just makes it easier to settle down in a much bigger institution at a higher level.”