Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chemistry faculty receive NIH grant

Associate Professors of Chemistry Jeff Schwinefus (left) and Greg Muth recently received a $200,000 NIH grant that will fund nine student researchers over three years.
Associate Professors of Chemistry Jeff Schwinefus and Greg Muth recently received a grant of nearly $200,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study the folding of DNA and RNA.
The grant also provides plenty of opportunities for St. Olaf students to get involved in the project, with funding included for nine student research positions over three years.
The research looks at problems associated with how proteins or nucleic acids like RNA fold, and why they fold in the way that they do. Problems in folding can lead to diseases like dyskeratosis congenita (premature aging) and aplastic anemia (when bone marrow can’t replenish red blood cells), and they hope that this research on folding can lead to new information regarding these diseases.
Schwinefus says that the student researchers are a very important piece of the three-year project. "Students are critical to this project. We hope to generate a cadre of students who are trained to critically think about such biomedical issues," he says.
Elliot Schmidt '12, one of the first student researchers to work on the project, says the experience has helped prepare him for his future goal of studying chemistry in graduate school. "The most valuable thing I learned this summer is what research is really like. You are in uncharted territory. It is full of mistakes (sometimes quite expensive) and you're never quite sure what exactly you'll find," he says.

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