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SURF: Announcements of Opportunity

Below are Announcements of Opportunity posted by Caltech faculty and JPL technical staff for the SURF program. Additional AOs for the Amgen Scholars program can be found here.

Specific GROWTH projects being offerred for summer 2018 can be found here.

Each AO indicates whether or not it is open to non-Caltech students. If an AO is NOT open to non-Caltech students, please DO NOT contact the mentor.

Announcements of Opportunity are posted as they are received. Please check back regularly for new AO submissions! Remember: This is just one way that you can go about identifying a suitable project and/or mentor.

Announcements for external summer programs are listed here.

Students pursuing opportunities at JPL must be
U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

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Project:  Impact of variable active site residues on response regulator phosphorylation and dephosphorylation kinetics.
Disciplines:  Biology, Chemistry
Mentor:  Robert Bourret, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, (BBE),, Phone: 919-966-2679
Mentor URL:  (opens in new window)
Background:  NOTE: This project is being offered by a Caltech alumnus and will be conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (See notes below about Chapel Hill.) Also, because of funding limitations, only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible.

We study the molecular mechanisms of signal transduction in prokaryotes. Microorganisms encode and process information about their environment using transient protein phosphorylation. We are particularly interested in how different members of a large family of closely related signaling proteins manage to catalyze phosphorylation and dephosphorylation reactions with rate constants that span a million-fold range in spite of their overall similarity. We believe that variable residues close to the conserved active site are likely responsible, but so far we can explain only two to three orders of magnitude in the range. Reaction kinetics are biologically important to ensure synchronization of an adaptive response to a changing stimulus.
Description:  The publications listed below describe results with three variable positions in response regulator proteins. We are currently investigating two more positions. A good, self-contained summer project would be to test specific hypotheses about how combinations of variable positions might lead to large effects on reaction rates. A summer student would use site-directed mutagenesis to change particular amino acids in the proteins that we study, purify the mutant proteins, and measure the rate constants of self-catalyzed phosphorylation and dephosphorylation reactions by fluorescence spectroscopy. This work would involve bioinformatics for mutant design, molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics.

Page, S.C., Immormino, R.M., Miller, T.H., & Bourret, R.B. (2016) Experimental analysis of functional variation within protein families: Receiver domain autodephosphorylation kinetics. J. Bacteriol. 198, 2483-2493.

Immormino, R.M., Silversmith, R.E. & Bourret, R.B. (2016) A variable active site residue influences the kinetics of response regulator phosphorylation and dephosphorylation. Biochemistry 55, 5595-5609.
Student Requirements:  Lab experience and molecular biology and biochemistry classes would be helpful, but we can work successfully with anyone who has completed freshman year at Caltech. Biology or Chemistry majors would be the closest match, but if a student from a different field wanted to join us, that would be fine. Our lab has utilized people with very diverse backgrounds, including ChE, CS, and humanities.

Notes about Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill is a small town dominated by the university, so most apartment leases are tied to the academic year. UNC is on the semester system, with classes starting in mid-August. Thus finding temporary housing that matches SURF program timing may require some extra effort, and may require looking outside of Chapel Hill.

Although Chapel Hill itself is small, the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill (Research Triangle) area is home to about a million people, with plenty of both rural and urban things to do outside of lab.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    Caltech students only 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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