"Research Initiation Award" - The Genetic Code of Protein Molecules
Research Initiation Awards (RIAs) provide support for junior faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are starting to build a research program, as well as for mid-career faculty who need to re-direct and re-build a research program. It is expected that the award helps to further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, improves research and teaching at the researcher's home institution, and involves undergraduate students in research experiences.
The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB)'s HBCU-UP RIA project updates scientific knowledge on the biosynthesis of the 20 genetically encoded amino acids of the standard genetic code. The project's major objectives are to: (1) explore the current assertion that the 20 standard amino acids of the genetic code comprise a mixture of early versus late amino acids, (2) analyze the metabolic pathways at work in living organisms so as to provide clear information into ancient molecular evolution and (3) to mentor undergraduate students in biological research and support retention in the biological sciences.
The hypothesis of this project entitled "The Genetic Code of Protein Molecules" is that, the network of metabolic pathways for amino acid biosynthesis contains plausible molecular fossils. The research investigates and determines whether any evidence exists that connects pathways of amino acid metabolism to claims for early versus late amino acids and also whether metabolic pathways found in living organisms are an accurate guide to ancient evolutionary events. The investigation uses the following procedures:
-identification of the enzymes associated with each step of amino acid biosynthesis,
-identification of which of these enzymes occur within all three domains of life;
-verification of which enzymes are missing from one or more domains of life;
-reduction/simplification sequence data sets for each step of a metabolic pathway and building phylogenies for the enzymes of each step of an amino acid biosynthetic pathway;
-identification and elimination of examples of lateral gene transfer.
Contemporary data from databases such as KEGG, MetaCyc, EcoCyc, REACTOME, Molecular Ancestry Network (MANET), and Pathway Localization (PathLoc) databases will be used.
The project contributes to disease-related research in plants and pests. UAPB is an Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) institution. Thus, the project will build research capacity and capability at this institution (a minority-serving institution) and within the state in computational biological sciences. In addition, the project contributes to increasing a diverse scientific workforce for the nation.