A Summer of Scientific Discovery

Chemistry student cultures yeast to research rare neurodegenerative disorder
August 18, 2023

In the labs of Stratton Halls, junior chemistry major Bailey Hamm has been spending her summer researching yeast cultures.

At this year’s Northeast Regional Yeast Meeting on July 27, hosted by Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Hamm presented the findings of her research at Wells College.

“Bailey was one of three undergraduates at the conference and won the poster award for her presentation,” said Hamm’s advisor and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Health Sciences Lindsay Burwell. “She beat out grad students and post-docs presenting posters on their projects.”

With the help of her colleagues, Kayla Filiatrault and Cassie Pierce, the students are growing yeast cultures to learn more about leigh syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, leigh syndrome is a rare, inherited neurometabolic disease that can affect the central nervous system. The disorder can begin in infants between three months and two years old, and it can be caused by genetic mutations in mitochondrial DNA, which “interfere with the energy sources that run cells in an area of the brain that plays a role in motor movements,” and “causes progressive degeneration of motor functions.”

So far, Hamm’s research has found that the main human protein they work with involved in cellular respiration, the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, is complementary to the cultures they’re mutating.

“Basically, this means that we put a human gene into the yeast, like a little mutant, and it functions as normal,” Hamm said. “We can do this because [the genes of] humans and yeast are actually very similar, so a lot of the proteins are very conserved. In the future, we will also simulate the diseased version in the yeast and do drug screenings, which will hopefully tell us some possible treatment options for leigh syndrome.”

Hamm said culturing yeast through PCR testing was a continuation of research she had been doing for the past year. She said the process of working through the summer has taught her valuable time-management skills, and presenting at the NERY conference was a great opportunity to be in an uplifting and science-forward environment and share her knowledge with other scientists and researchers like her.  

“I’m using this experience as preparation for grad school, so it’s been really nice to learn how to plan out a project and work on it day-after-day without the mental clutter of classes,” Hamm said. “I love talking about my work because I really care about it, and I really like listening to others talk about the work they are interested in. It’s great preparation moving forward in this field and beyond Wells.”

Emma Vallelunga

Content Strategist

Emma is the staff writer and content strategist for the Wells College Marketing and Communications Office. She helps promote campus news, events, engagement opportunities, and stories about Wells worth telling the world. It's her job to get to know you, no matter who you are, where you're from, or how you identify. Tell the Marcom team your story at communications@wells.edu

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