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Washington and Lee University

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Diane Lee '11

Researches Degradation Pathways for Nonfunctional rRNA

Diane Lee is a senior biochemistry major from Oakland Gardens, N.Y. She is presenting her research on NRD, a post-translational degradation pathway for nonfunctional rRNA, at W&L's Science, Society and the Arts conference on March 4, 2011.

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Describe your research project. How did you become interested in the topic?

The research that I am doing for Dr. LaRiviere involves the ribosome, the cellular machinery that makes all the proteins in our bodies and are therefore important to the growth and survival of organisms. The functional activity of the ribosome arises from several different ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) that are incorporated into the overall structure of the ribosome - these rRNAs are the necessary functional components of ribosomes that are directly involved in efficient protein production. When these rRNAs acquire mutations that abolish function, these nonfunctional rRNAs are still incorporated into ribosomes to produce structurally intact, but functionally defective ribosomes. These defective ribosomes produce misfolded or truncated proteins that may be toxic to the cell. Discovered previously, most eukaryotic cells possess an intrinsic cellular degradation pathway called nonfunctional rRNA decay (NRD) that degrades these aberrant ribosomes. My project was to further elucidate the mechanism by which this degradation occurs and the cellular factors involved using DNA microarrays.

When did you perform this research?

I began my research with Dr. LaRiviere over the summer of 2010 and continued on to do an honors thesis in my senior year.

What have you learned from your research?

I've learned this lesson several times: every detail is important. Consequently, meticulous note taking has become quite a beneficial skill. Beyond this, however, patience is definitely the biggest lesson learned.

How has your research experience changed your understanding of science?

Research experience has made science more fun now that I've begun to learn some of the laboratory skills necessary to do good science. I've also learned to be more discerning between good and bad scientific data.

What was your favorite part of the process?

Sleuthing, and getting results.

How will this research experience help you in the future?

This research experience will not only make my resume more impressive, but it will also help me to fulfill my goals of contributing new and useful information to our current body of scientific knowledge.