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Chemistry Department
Biological Research_Students.

Biochemistry/Biology Research

Faculty Research Interests Organic Icon

Faculty members at USNA are not only engaged in the traditional teaching/learning processes typically associated with undergraduate institutions, but they are also a world-class faculty in terms of involvement in research. Midshipmen have many opportunities to participate in research or capstone project courses, especially during the 1st class year. Below are brief summaries of the research interests of the current Biochemistry/Biology faculty at USNA. More detailed summaries for the faculty are found at each faculty member's website (see links below): 

  • Asst. Prof. Leighanne Basta

    Research Interests
    Professor Basta's lab is primarily interested in studying bacterial enzymes involved in cell wall biosynthesis toward opportunities for antimicrobial development.

  • CDR Lawrence Kennedy, USN

    Research Interests
    Research will focus on finding a suitable inhibitor of the human enzyme CYP1B1, a member of the cytochrome P450 super family of enzymes. This particular enzyme has been strongly linked to both breast and uterine cancer, particularly the more invasive types. Successfully inhibiting the activity of this enzyme may lead to improved methods of defeating breast and uterine cancer.

  • Assoc. Prof. Daniel P. Morse.

    Research Interests
    All multicellular animals produce enzymes that can alter the sequence of their own RNA molecules. The biological roles for such “RNA editing” include: correcting errors in mitochondrial DNA sequences; regulating cholesterol metabolism; and producing multiple forms of receptors for various neurotransmitters. I am interested in the biological roles for a family of enzymes called “Adenosine deaminases that act on RNA” or “ADARs”. These enzymes convert adenosine (A) to inosine (I) within double-stranded regions of RNA.

  • Asst. Prof. Ina O'Carroll

    Research Interests
    The O'Carroll lab employs various molecular biology and biochemical methods to understand the mechanistic details of HIV type 1 (HIV-1) replication. HIV-1 is a retrovirus, that is a virus with an RNA genome which is converted to DNA and subsequently integrated into the genome of the infected cell. Camouflaging as a host gene, the retroviral genome is then replicated by the host cell’s transcriptional machinery. I am particularly interested in understanding how the newly synthesized, unspliced HIV-1 RNA genome is exported from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. This step is essential in HIV-1 replication and, thus, an ideal target for the development of novel therapeutics.

  • Prof. Brian Rehill

    Research Interests
    My research focuses on ecology, especially the chemical mediation of animal-plant interactions. For example, I collaborate on a project that investigates the relative roles of plant genetics and chemistry on community and ecosystem processes, using hybrid cottonwood trees and their associated fauna. Other projects study plant chemical effects on herbivore physiology, possible effects of climate change on plant-animal interactions, and the variability of plant chemistry in nature. As part of this work, student projects can include significant amounts of natural products and analytical chemistry.

  • Prof. Jamie L. Schlessman

    Research Interests
    Protein structure-function studies, using x-ray crystallographic and biochemical methods, are my research focus. I am determining the crystal structures of a series of mutants of Staphylococcal nuclease to probe the effects of inserting ionizable residues into the protein interior. Another project involves the isolation of proteins from psychrophilic bacteria, which live at near-freezing temperatures. These proteins will be studied to identify potential molecular adaptations to cold environments.

  • Prof. Virginia F. Smith

    Research Interests
    Two main avenues of biochemical research include: 1) understanding the interactions of small molecules, peptides, and nanoparticles with biological membranes, and 2) understanding how redox processes and metal-ion binding alter protein structure. Our lab uses a range of scientific methods, including bacterial cell culture and overexpression of recombinant bacteria, protein purification and characterization, and various spectroscopic and calorimetric techniques. I also have a parallel interest in the scientific imagery and concepts expressed in the poetry of Robert Frost.

  • Assoc. Prof. Charles R. Sweet

    Research Interests
    The Sweet lab focuses on the chemistry and potential applications of microbial natural products, including biofuels from extremophilic algae, antibiotics from airborne microbes, and endotoxin molecules from arctic bacteria. Current work includes isolation and growth of organisms using the techniques of microbiology, discovery and structural determination with organic and analytical chemistry, and characterization of novel bioactive compounds using both biological and chemical techniques.

  • Asst. Prof. Elizabeth Yates

    Research Interests
    Research focuses on studying amyloidogenic proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), prion encephalopathies, etc. These diseases are commonly classified as protein-misfolding or amyloid diseases due to their association with the rearrangement of specific proteins to non-native conformations which can promote aggregation and deposition. I am especially interested in studying the physical/nanomechanical properties of lipid membranes, and how they modulate lipid-protein surface interactions and amyloid aggregation associated with neurodegenerative disease. The interaction of these proteins with various lipid surfaces has potential protein-misfolding disease implications. Various biophysical techniques are used in the lab ranging from colorimetric, biosensing assays to atomic force microscopy (AFM) to surface phenomena measured utilizing a Langmuir trough.
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