Summer research on protein structure could help address degenerative diseases

Eva Schaible in chemistry lab

The effects of oxidative stress on protein structure was the summer research of Eva Schaible ’19 of Green Bay, Wisconsin. She collaborated with Professor of Chemistry Colleen Byron.

“Numerous processes that produce energy in a human cell involve the transfer of electrons from one protein in the cell to another,” Byron says. “In the oxygenated environment of the cell, however, some of these electrons can leak out of proteins and react with the plentiful oxygen to produce free radicals of oxygen which are quite reactive. One result of the production of these oxygen free radicals is to alter the lipids in the cell membranes, which then go on to react with cell proteins, changing their structure and function.”

Schaible took the next step in Byron’s research by working with a specific protein involved in fatty acid metabolism and working to determine which sites on the protein structure are altered by that oxygenated membrane lipid. Schaible is incubating the specific protein she is working with in oxidized lipid, then breaking the protein into smaller amino acid sequences. Once she has done this, she looks closely at which amino acid sequences have been changed by the oxidized lipid.

“This research is important in the realm of oxidative stress and causative agents of many degenerative diseases,” Schaible says. “4-Hydroxy-2-nonenal is only one possible reactive oxygen species that could be causing the negative effects of oxidative stress; however, understanding its reactivity with proteins, such as the electron transport flavoprotein, can help us understand how this damage happens and thus how it can possibly be prevented. This research can help us create drugs to counteract the disease pathway and decrease the severity of aging and many diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and more.”

This collaborative work is preparing Schaible for future research; “Dr. Byron is extremely knowledgeable both in biochemistry content but also in instrumentation and research techniques,” Schaible says. “She does a great job of facilitating student research while encouraging independence and self-sufficiency in all projects.”

Next summer, Schaible hopes to be accepted into another undergraduate summer research program at a larger university. She says she is excited to broaden her research experience, continue to learn research techniques, and expand on her experience of collaborating with peers in the field of biochemistry.

After finishing her chemistry-biology degree at Ripon College, Schaible plans to attend medical school.

Payton Blessing ’19
Eden Prairie, Minnesota