A grant has been awarded to Wellesley College under the direction of Dr. Vardar-Ulu to acquire a Bruker Daltonics Autoflex Speed MALDI-TOF/TOF mass spectrometer, with the capability for MS/MS Peptide sequencing, MALDI imaging, and matrix-free targets for small molecule analysis for interdisciplinary research at an undergraduate college. A mass spectrometer is an instrument that can very accurately determine the mass of intact proteins, fragments of proteins (peptides) or even their building blocks (amino acids). In the past ten years, mass spectroscopy has become the method of choice for biologists, biological chemists, and chemists studying the structural and functional features of large molecules. Since the acquisition of the first mass spectrometer Omniflex MALDI-TOF in 2003 (also acquired through the NSF-MRI program), mass spectrometry has become a key element in the research programs of many of the Wellesley College faculty and has been impetus for the development of discovery-based teaching laboratories for several courses at the college. However, this instrument is now a discontinued platform that can no longer meet the current research and training needs of the faculty and students. This new instrument will not only enhance the existing research capabilities, but also provide additional capabilities for new research in this rapidly advancing field.
The goal of this project is to allow undergraduate students and faculty from several departments both within and outside the college to engage in collaborative efforts to address important research questions in biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. As summarized below, the described projects are very diverse in their scope and will utilize many of the new features of this instrument as well as its routine uses. Several projects involve organisms whose genomes have been solved and will use the MALDI-TOF to identify novel proteins within interacting complexes, while others will benefit from the additional new capabilities this instrument offers such as protein sequencing and MALDI Imaging. Project 1 (chemistry) will use MS to identify the exact cleavage site from the potential autolysis of a crucial signaling molecule (Notch protein) while Project 2 (Biology) will verify phosphorylation sites within Saccharomyces cerevisiae proteins that specifically require cytoplasmic mitotic cyclins for phosphorylation. Projects 3 (biology), 5 (chemistry), 7 (neuroscience) will use MS to identify proteins that interact with the blue light receptors PHOT1 and PHOT2 in leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana, intracellular targets of histone-derived antimicrobial peptides, and novel proteins in the steroid receptor complex from female mouse brain, respectively. Project 4 (Biology) will use the new MALDI imaging feature to image the internal tissues of insects while project 6 (chemistry and biology) will use it to demonstrate the feasibility of using gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) as targeted vehicles for biomedical research. There are also specific plans to enhance the curricular uses for the instrument in the undergraduate lab settings at both intermediate and advanced levels through a discovery-based laboratory in proteomics, as well as in organic chemistry and biochemistry.
The scientific merit of these projects and their focus on the teaching and research training of female undergraduates, speaks directly to the intellectual merit of this proposal. Wellesley's productive record in the education of women scientists, along with its recent progress in attracting more underrepresented minorities to the sciences, bodes well for the sustained and broad impact of this instrumentation on research and training, and justifies its acquisition as a critical investment in the next generation of scientists. The encouragement of talented young women to choose careers in the sciences will ultimately strengthen the infrastructure of the scientific community in the United States and yield benefits to all members of our society. The primary mission at Wellesley College is the undergraduate education of women who will make a difference in the world. This commitment has taken on a special meaning in the sciences where women have traditionally been underrepresented. The permanent faculty of 14 in the Department of Biological Sciences, 12 in Chemistry and 4 in the Neuroscience program maintain high standards for both research and research training for undergraduates with extramural funding supporting productive research programs that also are focused on training undergraduate students. Therefore, the mass spectrometer will not only have an impact on research training, but will also enhance the research environment for a high proportion of our faculty. The results of these research efforts will be broadly disseminated via abstracts, reviewed publications and by active participation of students and faculty at professional meetings. The benefit to society as a whole will be the increased participation of women in the scientific community of the United States and increased scientific literacy in the population.