Amir Salar Sepehri

Major: Biological Sciences
“The Study of Chemical Modification of Crotamine and its Interaction with DNA”

Amir Salar Sepehri

Transfer Student

Crotamine is a highly basic polypeptide from the venom of the South American rattlesnake, and it could serve to selectively target malignant cells, either by itself or as a carrier of nucleic acids. The long term goal of studying crotamine is to produce potential anti-cancer and anti-microbial drugs. This project will determine the nucleic acid binding site(s) on the protein by observing the effects of interacting DNA on chemical modification reactions of crotamine amino acid residues. My specific goal is to find where the DNA interacts with this protein, while at the same time displaying significantly lower toxicity and/ or higher selectivity for actively proliferating cells that are relative to the native protein. There are 42 amino acid residues in crotamine, and an aromatic segment of five amino acids, (31-35: Arg-Trp-Arg-Trp-Lys) on the surface. This protein is an excellent candidate for the DNA interactive sequence. Based on the previous work done in my mentor’s laboratory and our general information, it is known that there is a charge dependence of crotamine-DNA binding, which indicates the involvement of Lysine and/or Arginine residues. By using chemical modification, I intend to discover whether modification of Arginine and Tryptophan, which are only found in this region of crotamine, and Lysine will alter the DNA binding, cellular uptake, and toxicity properties of crotamine.

How did you find your mentor for your research project?
After transferring to UMBC last year, I started searching different research opportunities on UMBC’s website. That is where I found Dr. Karpel. I read the abstracts of some of his projects and sent him an e-mail with my resume attached. He was kind enough to respond to my email and set up a time for us to meet.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
Well, I did not know that I wanted to work on this particular project at first. However, I explained my interests to Dr. Karpel and what I could bring to his team. After a few meetings with him and learning more about what he does, I decided to work on this project.

Is this your first independent research project?
Yes, this is the first time that I will be working independently. I do have some research experience at the Department of Geriatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I work with a group of more than 25 people there.

Do you get course credit for this work?
I will not be getting any course credit for this in the upcoming semester (Fall-2014). However, since this project will take two semesters, I might be able to get a few credits for it during next semester through the partnership between the Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Education.

How much time do you put into it?
I usually spend around 10 hours per week in the lab.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
My mentor, Dr. Karpel encouraged me to apply for the URA program. I also had heard about the program in one of the research workshops that was conducted by Ms. McGlynn in early September.

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
Before applying for the URA, I had completed all of the Biology core courses in addition to a few upper-level Biology courses such as Cell Biology and Biochemistry. The concepts that I learned in that Biochemistry course helped me very much in understanding my project.

Was the application difficult to do?
The application process itself was pretty straightforward, but the URA application was the first time in my academic life that I had to write a professional proposal and I had some difficulties doing it. However, my mentor Dr. Karpel, and Ms. McGlynn helped me throughout the process and gave me feedback on how to make it better.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?
Dr. Karpel was very helpful throughout the process. I wrote the application independently, and he reviewed and edited the drafts.

What else are you involved in on campus?
I am a member of the Pre-medicine club and the transfer representative at the Honors College Council. I am also the Transfer team leader at the Honors College, where I mentor new transfer students.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
I would encourage every student to take a part in any kind of research they may be interested in. Doing research is a great way to apply the concepts that we learn in the classroom as well as discovering new ideas. Also, I would tell the students not to be afraid to approach the faculty members and ask them about their research projects.

What are your career goals?
I plan to pursue an MD degree in medical school after graduating from UMBC.

Did you transfer to UMBC from another institution? Where?
Yes, I transferred from Howard Community College in Fall of 2014, after completing the first two years of my undergraduate degree and getting my Associate Degree.

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