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Sara Azeem

Major: Biological Sciences
Minor: Philosophy
“The Study of rbfA Suppressor Mutations and the Contribution of RbfA to Ribosomal Biogenesis”

Sara Azeem

Ribosomes are molecular machines that polymerize amino acids into polypeptide chains, which form proteins. The prokaryotic ribosome consists of a large subunit, 50S, and a small subunit, 30S. The small and large subunits bind together to form a stable, long-lived, protein-RNA complex, and require specialized proteins for assembly. Ribosome assembly involves many steps and uses assembly factors and enzymes that facilitate the process. There are mutations that lack assembly factors and enzymes, causing improper assembly of the ribosome. Ribosome binding factor A, RbfA, is a cold shock protein that is involved in the maturation of a functional small subunit. When rbfA is deleted (ΔrbfA), the ribosome is not assembled properly, causing the cells to be cold sensitive and slow growing. Nord et al. (unpublished) found suppressor mutations that suppress the cold-sensitive, slow-growing phenotype of the ΔrbfA mutations. We will sequence the entire genome to identify what genes can mutate to a suppressor. Identification of the suppressors gives insight on the role of assembly factors and the process of ribosomal biogenesis.

What research experiences have you had?
I have been working in Dr. Philip Farabaugh’s lab since 2013. I have also done research at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

How did you find the research opportunity?
Entering as a freshman at UMBC, I really wanted to get involved in research and I knew that there were many research opportunities at UMBC. I searched on the UMBC Biology and Chemistry department websites and read about different research projects conducted by professors. In addition, I spoke with upperclassmen about whose lab they were working in and about their projects. I emailed the professors whose research focus I really liked and met with them in person.

Who did you work with on this project?
In lab we all work together, but my Principal Investigator (PI) is Dr. Philip Farabaugh and my graduate student mentor is Ms. Monika Bhatt.

Do you get course credit for this work? Paid? How much time do you put into it?
I did receive course credit and I am taking a seminar review class that I recommend students to take that I believe will help them dig deeper in their research. I received a URAS award, as well. Times varied depending on what project I was conducting, but on average 10-13 hrs/week.

What academic background did you have before you started?
I finished my freshman year and was starting my sophomore year at UMBC when I started in the lab.

How did you learn what you needed to know to be successful in this project?
I read papers and my mentor and PI helped me to understand more about the project. However, actually having hands-on experience is what helped me learn a lot more about the project, as well as trial and error.

What was the hardest part about your research?
The most challenging part of research is choosing the right methodology. However, I have an amazing PI and mentor who have helped me with this throughout all my projects.

How does this research experience relate to your work in other classes?
The goal of Dr. Farabaugh’s lab is to determine how errors in protein synthesis are regulated. In many biology courses, such as Genetics, we learned a lot about protein synthesis and proof-reading mechanisms. However, having hands-on experience in lab gave me a more in-depth understanding of protein synthesis that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to obtain from just class.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
I recommend students to take the time to speak with upperclassmen and also with their professors about research opportunities. I also recommend going to the myriad of research-oriented events that are held on campus, such as the Undergraduate Research Symposium and URCAD, and network with the students and faculty there. Further, students should speak with the MARC, HHMI, Meyerhoff faculty, as they may be able to give help or advice about finding a lab. Most importantly, find labs that focus on something that you’re interested in, read papers on the lab’s focus to learn more, and don’t be afraid to personally go to the lab you’re interested in and ask questions to the graduate students or PI.

What are your career goals?
I envision myself as a physician, improving access to health care systems, educating patients and physicians, guiding patient treatments, bringing compassionate medical care to those in need, solving my patient’s tribulations, and cracking the code of his or her disease.

What else are you involved in on campus?
I am President of an organization that I co-founded called the Food Recovery Network, whose mission is to recover food from the dining services on campus and donating it to local homeless shelters. I am also involved in the Muslim Student Association (MSA), am a photographer for the Retriever Weekly and TA for Cell Biology.

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