Current Research

This project will establish a new two-year academic program that builds connections between science, business, technology, and engineering at the start of undergraduate studies, highlights how discoveries lead to applications, and engages curiosity through team-based inquiry.

Engaging students early in their undergraduate careers is critical for effective synthesis of information, development of reasoning, understanding core concepts, and mastering skills needed for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. An emphasis on active learning reinforces substantive facts, the inquiry process, and relationships between science and society.

Central to this approach is the idea that context and application of knowledge are more important than information alone. Because meeting future global challenges will require people from multiple unrelated specialties with abilities to synthesize, leverage, and communicate knowledge, STEM curriculum must help students connect the dots. Providing real-world context for scientific concepts helps students frame the material of introductory courses, builds a broad view of science, and demonstrates the value of collaboration.

This project will establish the Biotech Explorers Pathway (BEP) and continue the use of undergraduate research teams in research projects and a research-oriented protein chemistry lab course. The major objective of this project is to establish a new two-year academic program (i.e., BEP) at Washington University in St. Louis that builds connections between science, business, technology, and engineering at the start of undergraduate studies; highlights how discoveries lead to applications; and engages curiosity through team-based inquiry that guides students from examples toward idea generation and project development.

The BEP will provide starting students in the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Business with experiences in intellectual entrepreneurship that foster learning scientific concepts, an understanding of the breadth and depth of biotech, and teamwork to generate, develop, and evaluate project ideas. Through collaboration, the BEP will cultivate students who apply the scientific process and understand the impact of science on society as they build careers aimed at solving global challenges.

The second goal of this project is to support the use of undergraduate teams in the Jez lab and an upper-level protein chemistry lab course (Bio4522). Research teams help advanced students make the transition from mentee to mentor by reinforcing scientific knowledge, providing peer teaching experiences, and developing interpersonal skills necessary for successful careers in academic science, biotech, medicine, and other pursuits. This tiered mentor approach also maintains project continuity that links short-term experiences together. Within the teaching lab, teams of students focused on semester-long research problems leads to generation of experimental results as a platform for learning new methods.

Research in the Jez Lab

The next 50 years will be a milestone in human history, as we grow from 7 billion to 9 billion people.  The impact of this change on medicine, the environment, agriculture, and energy use represents the single greatest challenge for the next generation.  Understanding how organisms respond to environmental changes that alter molecular function and organism fitness is critical for meeting these impacts.  Research in the Jez lab seeks to broadly understand how environmental changes re-model biochemical pathways at the molecular, cellular, and organism levels with the aim of engineering these systems to address nutritional, agricultural, and environmental problems.  By exploring connections between environmental changes, metabolic/cellular organization, and protein structure, function, and regulation we address the following questions:

• What are the biochemical networks involved in responding to specific environmental stresses and developmental signals and how are they organized?

• How do different biochemical circuits regulate these pathways?

• What are the connective systems that allow for integration and cross-talk between metabolic and signaling pathways?

• Can we re-engineer metabolic and developmental pathways and the links between different control systems to improve organism performance under environmental stresses?

A fundamental challenge for plant biologists is to understand how plants respond to their environment to maintain growth, development, and propagation.  Environmental changes lead to multiple adjustments across metabolic, signaling, and gene expression pathways.  Although much is known about the classical regulation of plant metabolism by control of substrate levels, feedback inhibition, and allostery, multiple studies suggest that higher levels of regulation play important roles in orchestrating adjustments in metabolism to meet cellular demands.  The core aim of our research is to identify biochemical circuits that regulate these pathways and to understand the connective systems that allow for integration and cross-talk between dynamic layers of control.  Major projects currently focus on the biochemical control of plant hormone signaling responses, metabolic regulatory networks and environmental connections in plants and microbes, and discovering pathways for the development of anti-parasitic compounds of potential medical, veterinary, and agricultural value.

As of February 26, 2015

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