Jessica Ames

OU Major: 
Chemical Biosciences
Research Mentor: 
Christina Bourne
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

During my junior and senior years at OU, I worked in Dr. Christina Bourne’s Chemistry/Biochemistry lab. Dr. Bourne’s lab studies toxin-antitoxin systems. TA systems, as they are often called, are made of proteins and/or RNA and are non-secreted; they stay within the cell. TA systems offer cells a mechanism of regulation in stressful environments. These stressors – such as extreme temperature, nutrient starvation, or antibiotic tolerance – allow the toxin to become free from its partner antitoxin. The toxin can then disrupt important cellular processes such as transcription, translation, and replication.My role in this project focused on further characterizing one such toxin. I determined the binding kinetics between the toxin and its antitoxin and further studied its role in inhibiting DNA Gyrase – an enzyme crucial for DNA replication. Additionally, I was able to investigate a new function of this toxin after the lab discovered it was capable of cleaving DNA. Investigating this nuclease function involved identifying key residues thought to be involved in the function and mutating them to another, non-reactive residue. The further characterization of this toxin was crucial for better understating how these TA systems function in bacteria, and it raised questions regarding the current annotations of TA systems

Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students:

Undergraduate research has taught me more lessons than I could have ever imagined (inside of the lab and out!), and I’m really excited about the doors it has opened for me. If I had to distill what I’ve learned to a few key points, they’d be as follows:1. Good mentors are key.Find a mentor who not only is doing research that you are interested in, but one who is also interested in your growth and development as a scientist. Just as important as research interests aligning is personalities meshing. Find a supervisor who you get along with! With this being said, it’s important to do your homework on this matter. Talk to other students who have worked with a research supervisor to see if the lab would be a good fit for you.2. Be engaged and take ownership of your project.In your first research project, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed really quickly. Every day, you’ll be learning new words, skills, and techniques. Ask questions when you don’t understand things or when you get stuck, talk to more experienced lab members, and make an effort to be involved in lab related activities (presenting at group meetings or even a conference!). It is important to note, though, that managing classwork and labwork can be a challenge (trust me, I learned the hard way). Be mindful of the time management skills that will be necessary when balancing the two.3. Be okay with failure.Failing is a part of research. Get used to that now. In fact, failure means you took a risk, and great things can happen when you take risks! Don’t be afraid to present a poster at a conference. Don’t be afraid to make a suggestion to your supervisor. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before. I guess I should say that it’s okay to be afraid to do those things, but do them anyway! You cannot grow if you never leave your comfort zone.

Awards and/or presentations:
Awards:
Fellowship for the Viral and Bacterial Adhesin Network Training (ViBrANT), a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, to conduct doctoral studies at the Pasteur Institute (09/2018)
Extending Bioengineering and Structural Biology from U. of Oklahoma to Exeter - A National Science Foundation supplementary grant to OK-LSAMP enabling the student to conduct research at the University of Exeter in Exeter, UK (05/2017)
Undergraduate Research Scholarship in X-Ray-based Structural Biology (04/2017)
 
Presentations:
Curiosity to Creativity Symposium (07/2018) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Not Quite Par for the Course: How the AtParE4 Toxin is Challenging the Par-type Annotation (poster)
o Best visual impact
o Most Effectively Communicated
Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Structural Biology Symposium (06/2018) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Investigation of the Novel Functions of the Bacterial Toxin AtParE4 (poster)
o Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation
Senior Thesis and Four-Year Research Experience Poster Session (05/2018) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Investigation of the Novel Functions of the Bacterial Toxin AtParE4 (poster)
Curiosity to Creativity Symposium (04/2018) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Investigation of the Novel Functions of the Bacterial Toxin AtParE4 (poster)
o Most Effectively Communicated
National Conference on Undergraduate Research (04/2018) – University of Central Oklahoma (Edmond, OK, US), Investigation of the Novel Functions of the Bacterial Toxin AtParE4 (poster)
Great Plains Infectious Disease Meeting (11/2017) – University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS, US), Structure-Function Studies of a Bacterial Toxin (poster)
Louis Stokes Midwestern Center for Excellence (10/2017) – (Indianapolis, IN, US), A Sweet Vaccine-It Just Clicks! (poster)
OK-LSAMP Annual Research Symposium (09/2017) – Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK, US)
A Sweet Vaccine-It Just Clicks! (oral presentation), Optimization of an Engineered Polysaccharide Pathway for Click Chemistry (poster)
PhD and PostDoc Internal Seminar Series (07/2017) – University of Exeter (Exeter, Devon, UK), A Sweet Vaccine-It Just Clicks! (oral presentation)
Frontiers in Life in Environmental Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences Conference (06/2017) – University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, UK, Optimization of an Engineered Polysaccharide Pathway for Click Chemistry (Poster)
Curiosity to Creativity Symposium (04/2017) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Mapping the DNA Gyrase:ParE Toxin Interface Using Chemical Crosslinking (Poster)
West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium (04/2017) – Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA, US), Mapping the DNA Gyrase:ParE Toxin Interface Using Chemical Crosslinking (oral presentation)
o 3rd Place Biochemistry Oral Presentation
American Chemical Society Wabash Valley Local Section Undergraduate Research Conference (10/2016) – Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN, US), Mapping the DNA Gyrase:ParE Toxin Interface Using Chemical Crosslinking (Oral presentation)
NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates in Structural Biology Poster Session (07/2016) – University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK, US), Mapping the DNA Gyrase:ParE Toxin Interface Using Chemical Crosslinking (poster)