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Chemistry Department News

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.

Dr. Rajesh Nagarajan Presents at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference

Rajesh Nagarajan

Dr. Rajesh Nagarajan presented “Beta-Ketoacyl-ACP Substrate Mimics for 3-Oxoacyl-ACP Utilizing AHL Synthases” at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Enzymes, Coenzymes and Metabolic Pathways in New Hampshire. The Gordon Research Conference highlighted a broad range of topics from mechanism and function to therapeutic applications in enzymology. Speakers participating at this conference included both established and emerging leaders from academia and industry to promote diverse perspectives and inspire stimulating productive discussions among attendees.

Dr. Brown, Dr. Nagarajan, and Mila Lam Published in Chemical Communications

Bacteria can “talk” to each other, and when the noise of this talk becomes chemically loud enough, infection results. Drs. Rajesh Nagarajan and Eric Brown with graduate student alumni Nhu (Mila) Lam conduct research that seeks to interrupt this chemical chatter by investigating a synthase enzyme that is involved in molecular signaling pathways. They recently published “Insights into β-ketoacyl-chain recognition for β-ketoacyl-ACP utilizing AHL synthases” in the July 13, 2018 edition of the journal Chemical Communications.

Brown, Nagarajan, and Lam’s abstract can be read here.

Dr. Brown, Mila Lam, Dr. Nagarajan

Dr. Mike Callahan and Phillip Hammer Published in International Journal of Astrobiology

Phillip Hammer & Mike Callahan

Professor Mike Callahan and Phillip Hammer (M.S., 2017; 2016-2017 NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow) published an article titled, “Radiolysis of solid-state nitrogen heterocycles provides clues to their abundance in the early solar system” in the International Journal of Astrobiology. The team also included researchers from the Earth-Life Science Institute and the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors, both at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Callahan and Hammer’s abstract on heterocycles can be read in full here.


Employee of the Month – June 2018

Greg Kator

Greg Kator

Grants Accountant

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is proud to announce that Grants Accountant Greg Kator was selected as the June 2018 Employee of the Month! Greg’s duties require him to continuously and seamlessly liaison with several university departments including Biology, Physics, OSP, Budget, and Foundation in order to execute the department’s financial plan. His easygoing personality makes him a natural when working with a diverse group of personnel on complex financial transactions spanning multiple business units of the university.

Recently, Greg’s efforts were critical to the successful budget planning for three new Lab Instructor positions. His attention to detail is top notch, and he is especially attentive to student employee pay issues and funding sources for research students. Greg’s versatility was noted long ago and he was tasked to assist in a similar role for the Biology and Physics departments, where those departments have commended his efforts.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry congratulates Greg on his selection as Employee of the Month!

Mila Lam Wins Boise State University Distinguished Thesis Award

Nhu (Mila) Lam, MS Chemistry Graduate Student

Nhu (Mila) Lam, 2018 M.S. Chemistry Alumnus, was selected as a winner of the 2017-2018 Boise State University Distinguished Thesis Award for the Biological Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Engineering.

Her thesis “Investigation of Catalytic Activity of Stable β-Ketoacyl-ACP Substrate Analogs in Quorum Sensing Signal Synthesis” impressed the selection committee for its originality and creativity.

In recognition of her accomplishment, Mila received $100.00 and her thesis will be submitted as the Boise State University nominee to the Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS) distinguished thesis award competition.

Ashley Poppe Attends Regional ACS Conference

Ashley Poppe ACS NORM 2018Graduate student Ashley Poppe attended the American Chemical Society 73rd Northwest Regional Meeting in Richland, WA to present her research. Her poster was titled “Investigation of Acyl-Carrier Protein Specificity in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Quorum Sensing Signal Synthase”.

Employee of the Month – May 2018

Stephanie Cochran

Stephanie Cochran

Lab Services Coordinator

Stephanie consistently demonstrates exemplary work performance across many areas in her role as Laboratory Services Coordinator.

She embraces change and tackles challenges with a positive attitude. She recently transitioned to lower division lab service coordinator, and lab coordinators easily give praise for her ability to accommodate last minute curriculum change requests. She has been especially quick, efficient, and helpful in making changes to lower division lab curriculum in time for summer classes, and has left colleagues satisfied with results.

Stephanie is a self-starter and often takes on tasks without anyone having to ask. When a project needs doing, Stephanie has a “bulldog-on-a-bone” mentality, throwing her energy into special tasks and consistently beating deadlines. She recently volunteered to take charge of evaluating a new chemical inventory system, including vetting vendor software and doing so with enthusiasm, energy, tenacity, and thoughtfulness.

Stephanie has long been assigned to the “swing shift” and worked onerous and inconvenient hours that last late into the evening and weekends. Her dependability in managing department activities after normal hours is unmatched. Stephanie has always stepped up to keep the department as safe as possible. She proactively seeks to help students with questions, lab breakage fees, equipment issue, and safety, and is all-around a very valuable asset to our department.

Dr. Owen McDougal and Tyson Hardy Presented at Annual BUILD Dairy Conference

Professor Owen McDougal and undergraduate chemistry major Tyson Hardy presented their research at the annual BUILD Dairy conference hosted by Oregon State University from May 30 to 31. The conference brings together over 100 students, faculty, government, and industry representatives from every aspect of dairy production from farm to consumer product. BUILD Dairy now provides over $100,000 in sponsorship for two research projects in McDougal’s lab. Students Tyson Hardy and, recently admitted Chemistry Masters student, Vannessa Campfield are the first of the BUILD Dairy funded researchers at Boise State University. Their work will lead to fast, economical, and easily implemented analytical methods to monitor levels of denatured protein during milk processing, and identify inhibitors of propionibacteria in milk used to make Swiss cheese. The BUILD Dairy program funds student research, connects students to industry internships, and facilitates career opportunities for dairy knowledgeable applicants.

Owen McDougal

Tyson Hardy