Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Biochemistry is the study of the molecular basis of cellular function. It has evolved into the common language for translating the advances of molecular biology into cellular and chemical terms. In the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, we study a broad range of cellular activities, from gene transcription to the structure and function of proteins, DNA, RNA, and lipid membranes. Like all biologists, we attempt to correlate structure with function, but at a molecular level of detail, defining not only the structures that govern function, but also the chemical reactions involved.

The field of biochemistry brings together the areas of molecular genetics, cell biology, and each of these headings can be further subdivided into the classical areas of enzymology; structure and function of nucleic acid proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids; metabolism; and biogenetics.

Our faculty provides students and postdoctoral fellows with a research experience aimed at understanding fundamental mechanisms and the structural basis of cellular processes. The advances of the next decade will rely on a blend of structural biology, molecular biology, and molecular genetics. We integrate these fields on topics that span from regulation of gene expression and chromatin structure, to cell signaling, cell cycle control, RNA, and protein structure and function, and receptor-ligand or enzyme-substrate interactions. We utilize prokaryotic, nematode, and mammalian model systems and incorporate advanced genomics and proteomics approaches and instrumentation. We encourage you to contact us and visit our website and state of the art facilities, and learn more about research programs and graduate education.

Most Recent Awards

Dr. Brett Keiper

Dr. Brett Keiper was awarded a research grant from the National Science Foundation to study protein synthesis in germ cells and embryos. The three-year, $635,000 NSF grant addresses how new proteins are made that differentiate cells as fetal development and gametogenesis proceed. Experiments will use transgenic C elegans (worms) as a model system to define roles in vivo for the mRNA translation factors (eIF4E and eIF4G). Recently there has been increased attention on RNA viruses such as Zika virus that infect gametes or embryos and disrupt mRNA regulation to cause microcephaly and other fetal abnormalities. The project involves collaborations at Lincoln Memorial Univ. and ECU’s Dept of Internal Medicine, with a goal to model developmental defects as well as reproductive tract cancers and screen for ways to treat them.

Dr. Tonya Zeczycki

Dr. Tonya Zeczycki received a $50,000,one-year grant from the American Parkinson’s Disease Association to study how the conformations of alpha-synuclein, a protein responsible for plaque formation in the brain of patients with Parkinson’s, are altered after post-translational modification by transglutaminase 2. The research supported by this grant will focus on determining why some modifications promote protein aggregation and plaque formation, while others have a protective, or anti-aggregation, effect. Her research could lead to novel and tractable therapeutics that force alpha-synuclein to adopt the aggregate-incompetent conformations.

Nate Fry

Nathaniel (Nate) Fry, a PhD graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Kyle Mansfield, recently published an article entitled “N6-methyladenosine is required for the hypoxic stabilization of specific mRNAs” that was highlighted on the cover of the journal RNA.  Nate’s article describes how a chemical modification (N6-methyladenosine, m6A) of mRNA directs its fate during periods of low oxygen (hypoxia).  Nate’s results showed that during hypoxia, m6A content on specific, hypoxia-related mRNAs is increased which in turn, stabilizes the mRNA preventing its degradation. The m6A then contributes to the recovery of translational efficiency of those stabilized mRNAs after hypoxic stress, presumable aiding in the cell’s recovery from the harsh conditions. Overall, Nate’s paper describes a new function for m6A in regulating the cellular response to hypoxia and suggests exciting new possibilities related to the treatment of diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and cancer. The project was completed in collaboration with Dr. Christopher Holley’s lab at Duke University Medical Center.

Matthew MacDougall

Matthew R. MacDougall, of Dr. Myles Cabot’s lab, East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute, and the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Brody School of Medicine, presented a talk, entitled “Alterations in Sphingolipid Metabolism Attribute to Resistance to Cornerstone AML Therapies” on September 10, 2017, at the XII International meeting of the Sphingolipid Club (SLC), Trabia (Sicily, Italy). The SLC was founded in October 2001, by a group of Italian scientists with the idea to bring together researchers interested in sphingolipid biology, biochemistry, chemistry, pathophysiology, and clinical aspects. The meeting has since grown in breadth and scope and is now attended by scientists and physicians from around the world. For his talk, Matthew received a Young Scientist Award, which was especially notable, as he was in competition with PhD students and postdoctoral scholars. Mathew has a BS degree in Chemistry from UNC, Pembroke, and has been working in Cabot’s lab since 2014, collaborating with groups at UVA Cancer Center and Penn State Hershey Cancer Center, on chemotherapy resistance in AML (acute myeloid leukemia). We congratulate Matt for this outstanding achievement and for representing the ECU medical research community with the highest of standards.

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