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Chemistry Department News

Dr. Owen McDougal and Graduate Students Published in Toxins

Matt Turner, Leanna Marquart, Paul Phillips, Owen McDougal

Biomolecular Sciences Ph.D. candidate Matt Turner, chemistry MS students Leanna Marquart and Paul Phillips, and Dr. Owen McDougal recently published a review article in the journal Toxins titled, “Mutagenesis of alpha-Conotoxins for Enhancing Activity and Selectivity for Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors.” Dr. McDougal has been researching conotoxin peptides for the past twenty five years. This article highlights advances in the field of conotoxin peptides that provide a molecular template, which can be manipulated for advanced therapeutic drug development to treat diseases involving neurotransmission like Parkinson’s Disease, Alzeheimers, Schizophrenia, chronic pain, and nicotine addition. Highlighted in this body of work is a computational approach to therapeutic drug optimization utilizing the DockoMatic software developed by Drs. Tim Andersen and Owen McDougal at Boise State University over the past ten years. The graduate students that worked on this project spent nearly three years compiling the data and organizing it in a coherent and compelling manner for publication. This body of work is representative of the quality of student participating in graduate programs at Boise State University that have benefited from support by COBRE and INBRE, and access to the BRC.

Fall 2018 Graduates

Congratulations to Madilyn Paul and Andrew Hensiek, our Fall 2018 graduates!

Madilyn Paul and Andrew Hensiek

Elena Paz Munoz Receives Spring 2019 HERC Award

Chemistry senior Elena Paz Muñoz was recently awarded a 2019 HERC fellowship. This fellowship provides support for a student to work on a research project during the spring semester. Ms. Muñoz will work in Dr. Ken Cornell’s lab on a project she began last summer when she was supported by a Ralph Jones Premedical fellowship to investigate the consequences of MTA/SAH nucleosidase gene deletion on metabolism in pathogenic E. coli. Her work will focus on examining the ability of cells to synthesize biotin, and measuring the subsequent activity of the biotin-dependent enzyme acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) that is responsible for an initiating step in fatty acid biosynthesis. The results of her work will have implications for the development of novel antibiotics that target microbial metabolism.

Elena Paz Munoz

Elena Paz Munoz

Savannah Irving Successfully Defends Thesis

Savannah Irving of the Boise State Chemistry M.S. Program successfully defended her thesis titled “Optimizing the Synthesis of Self-Immolative Poly(hexyl isocyanate)”. Savannah is pictured with her advisor Dr. Scott Phillips from the Boise State Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, and her committee members Drs. Jeunghoon Lee and Adam Colson from the Boise State Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

Savannah Irving Group Photo

Kelsey Skluzacek Successfully Defends Thesis

Kelsey Skluzacek of the Boise State Chemistry M.S. Program successfully defended her thesis titled “Structure-Based Drug Design of Novel Therapeutics Targeting Oncostatin M”. Kelsey (far left) is pictured with her advisor Dr. Don Warner, and her committee members Dr. Matthew King, Dr. Cheryl Jorcyk, and Dr. Lisa Warner.

Kelsey Skluzacek

Omid Mohammad Mousa Completes Industry Internship with Burst Biologics

Biochemistry major Omid Mohammad Mousa recently concluded a 10-week summer internship with Burst Biologics, a local medical research company. His research focused on attempting to heal human wounds by regenerating human tissue. Omid was the first student from the Boise State Biomolecular Research Center to be placed in an industry partnership, which was made possible by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Omid Mohammad Mousa

Daniel Shin, Dr. Brown, & Dr. Nagarajan Published in ACS Chemical Biology

Graduate alumnus Daniel Shin (middle), along with Dr. Eric Brown (left) and Dr. Rajesh Nagarajan (right), have a new publication titled “Structure–Function Analyses of the N-Butanoyl l-Homoserine Lactone Quorum-Sensing Signal Define Features Critical to Activity in RhlR”. The article appears in volume 13, issue 9 of ACS Chemical Biology.

Eric Brown, Daniel Shin, Rajesh Nagarajan

Matthew Turner Published in Molecules

Matthew Turner

Matthew Turner

Biomolecular Sciences Ph.D. student Matthew Turner has a new publication out in Molecules. The article titled “Native V. californicum Alkaloid Combinations Induce Differential Inhibition of Sonic Hedgehog Signaling” can be read in the volume 23, issue 9 edition.

Boise State Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry undergraduates Roberto Cruz, John French, and Jared Mattos and Professor and Chair Owen McDougal are co-authors on the article.


Dr. Brown, Dr. Colson, and Alumni Published in Crystallographic Communications

Many life forms have evolved enzymes to help cut up molecular bonds that hold protein together during digestion. How exactly enzymes cut these protein peptide bonds is an area of study that is not well understood. Dr. Eric Brown and Dr. Adam Colson, along with graduate alumnus Josiah Elsberg and undergraduate alumnus Nicholas Spiropulos recently published research that examines the zinc containing active site of two enzymes that cleave long proteins. Their research paper, “Crystal structure of a homoleptic zinc(II) complex based on bis(3,5-diisopropylpyrazol-1-yl)acetate”, in Crystallographic Communications, August 2018 edition, examines the structures of the chemistry around the zinc active sites and how they participate in hydrolysis reactions of peptide amide bonds.

Elsberg, Spiropulos, Colson, & Brown

Josiah Elsberg, Nicholas Spiropulos, Adam Colson, Eric Brown


Dr. Matthew King Part of Multi-University Research Team to Receive $6 million Award from the National Science Foundation

Some of Idaho’s, Nevada’s, and Wyoming’s most nationally recognized scientists have secured a $6 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to predict and manage the interactions between toxic plants and the animals that consume these plants. The project, titled “Genomes Underlying Toxin Tolerance” will be known as GUTT. The GUTT team will reveal how herbivores and their gut microbes tolerate defensive toxins produced by the wild plants they consume. Our understanding of plant toxins and herbivore tolerance is important for:

  1. conservation biologists that manage native plants and herbivores
  2. the ranching and agricultural community that rely on plants to feed livestock and rely on chemicals to defend crops from pests
  3. the medical community that relies on plant-derived chemicals to manage human health.

A better understanding of plant-herbivore systems requires the expertise of many scientists with different specializations who will advance science and education by cooperating across state boundaries. This cooperation will require integration of genomics, chemistry, physiology, evolution, microbiology, population ecology, and modeling expertise in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming to identify how variation in toxin tolerance influences the physiology, behavior, and population dynamics of wild mammalian and avian herbivores. In addition, our GUTT team will work with high school teachers and use Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences in introductory biology, chemistry, and math courses to train, inspire, recruit, and retain a diverse workforce capable of applying genetic understanding of toxin tolerance in animals and microbes to conservation, agriculture, and human health. The research and educational activities will grow capacity for Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming faculty, students, and community partners to more effectively manage toxic plants and the animals and microbes that interact with these plants.

The GUTT team will leverage the expertise and facilities at established research institutes and centers in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming such as the Biomolecular Research Center at Boise State, the Center for Modelling Complex Interactions (CMCI) at the University of Idaho, the William Judson Boone Science Center and Harold M. Tucker Herbarium at the College of Idaho and the Northwest Knowledge Network (NKN) in Idaho; The Animal Nutrition and Microbiology Laboratory, the Nevada Genomics Center, the Nevada Cytometry Center, the Mick Hitchcock Nevada Proteomics Center, and the Nevada Genomics Center in Nevada; the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputing Center, the UW Agricultural Experimental Station, the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning and the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center in Wyoming.

The GUTT project expands research, teaching, and leadership capacity at five institutions across three states, including two predominantly undergraduate institutions: College of Idaho and College of Western Idaho. The GUTT Workforce Development plan leverages leaders in innovative research and transferable educational practices to build inclusive research and education capacity for 18 early career faculty that represent marginalized groups in science. The training programs will help Western states and our agency partners increase participation from underserved populations, low-income, rural and/or first-generation college students, and women through diversity programs, citizen science, and outreach.

The scientific leadership team includes Jennifer Sorensen Forbey and Eric Hayden, Associate Professors in the Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University; Marjorie Matocq, Professor, and Lora Robinson, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Nevada Reno; Rongsong Liu, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics & Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Matthew King, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Boise State University, will lead the molecular modeling efforts for the project.