Sam Nicholes and Faculty Mentor: Julianne Grose, Microbiology and Molecular Biology
The impetus behind my project was to contribute in a small but meaningful way to the growing body of research for cures and treatments for cancer. Cancer is fundamentally unwanted cell growth and proliferation. Metabolic processes that take place on the cellular level are the key to finding solutions to the many worldwide problems of cancer. My project looked at some of these metabolic processes in order to help identify the control mechanisms that cause these processes to function normally or to behave aberrantly. The goal was to identify a cellular pathway that could be used as a potential target for drugs that are effective against metabolic diseases, including cancer.
In order to carry this out we had to ask important questions and tackle some initial problems. In order to identity new pathways that govern cellular metabolism, we needed to block or knockout known pathways, which would allow secondary pathways to become active, allowing us to detect and identify them. Yeast is a commonly used organism for research in molecular biology, and has many cellular similarities to humans. Any conclusions that we can make can be easily relatable to humans as a result. We designed a strain of yeast that knocked out one of the main metabolic pathways and resulted in yeast that could not undergo proper metabolism and whose growth was severely hindered. This strain also served to be a basis of comparison, as well as strains of yeast that did have normal metabolic processes. These comparisons allowed us to be more conclusive in our findings.
To some yeast strains that we hindered, we inserted parts of the yeast genome that contained an unknown portion of metabolic genes. These genes would either confer or restore normal metabolic capabilities, or remain inert within the cell. After insertion of genome sections we allowed the yeast culture to grow through several rounds of nutrient rich and nutrient poor conditions. Cells that regained metabolic properties were able to survive the nutrient poor conditions, while cells that had an inert metabolism faired poorly and were not able to proliferate in harsher conditions. We collected the cells that were able to recover normal processes and isolated the genome sections that we had earlier inserted to test them for the genes and what abilities they conferred.
After independently completing 10 of these experiments we have been able to identify 10 potential pathways that we can use for further experimentation and analysis. Even though this is not even a scratch to the surface of the bigger and vaster problem of cancer and related disease, it is still a step in the right direction.
This experience served as a personal highlight of my experience at BYU, both academically and spiritually. It was challenge to work through and troubleshoot problems that would arise along the way, and collaboration with others was key to helping work through theses issues. I also grew to better understand God’s hand in my life as he helped me understand the technicalities and difficult nature to the scientific principles that I was learning and applying as well as how faith is instrumental and key to the scientific and learning process.
I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I was given to undertake this research with my mentor, Dr. Grose, as well as for the opportunity to gain an education through BYU. Dr. Grose has already published many research articles that are based on cellular respiration and metabolism. She has gained a lot of experience in this field and I’m grateful to have been able to learn from her and participate in this research that she is passionate about.
My main academic and career goal right now is to attend medical school so that I can continue to not only be involved in research, but also take what I have learned from research an apply it to my patients and be able to help them and their families. Because of the gracious funding through donors, my education is more affordable.