Name: Matt Luchansky, '08
Major: Chemistry and Economics
Academics: Ethyl and Albemarle Science Scholarship
Activities: Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
Academic Skills Center Tutor
American Chemical Society Student Affiliate
CVSA Soccer

Describe your research project. What are you hoping to accomplish?

The title of my research is Characterization of a Putative Glutamine Binding Protein from Thermotoga Maritime, and my project is concerned with the purification and subsequent characterization of what is thought to be a periplasmic binding protein from the thermophilic bacterium Thermatoga maritima. Since Thermatoga maritima thrives in geothermal vents on the ocean floor, its proteins must be extremely stable so as not to denature at temperatures near 100°C. Though the protein that I work with has not been previously studied, its high level of stability is of great interest for creating a durable, robust biosensor that could function in vivo or over a wide range of temperatures.

For the past two years, I have been trying to purify the protein product of TM0593 for the purpose of studying its stability, structure, and binding affinities. I have tried a variety of purification strategies, none of which have been completely successful to date. This summer, I have used PCR to add an NdeI and a BamHI restriction site on either end of the TM0593 gene. The PCR product was cloned into pET21a in-frame with a C-terminal histidine tag, and then the recombinant plasmid was isolated from E. coli Top 10. The purified recombinant plasmid was then transformed into the E. coli Rosetta strain, an expression strain which contains the pRARE plasmid to overcome rare codon problems. Currently, I am attempting to overexpress the protein product of TM0593 for purification using thermoprecipitation and Ni-NTA column affinity chromatography using the C-terminal His tag. Once I obtain the desired protein in a high enough level of concentration and purity, I will characterize its stability with circular dichroism, determine the protein’s native function, and study its structural characteristics. All of this information will be useful for the construction of new biosensors that are more durable and can detect specific analytes.

What made you decide to pursue undergraduate research this summer?

I have been involved with this project since the fall of my sophomore year, but this summer is the first time that I have worked full-time on the project. I decided to pursue undergraduate research not just because of my interest in science, but the hands-on nature of research provides a vital complement to classroom learning. The summer research setting gives me the time to pursue my project without being distracted by school work and other activities, allowing me to be more efficient and focused on my lab work.

How did you get involved with your research advisor?

During my freshman year, after reading some of the research bios on the chemistry department website, I decided to try to work with Dr. Dattelbaum because his research seemed interesting and because he was a new professor with room in his lab. I thought that working in the lab of a new, young professor would be exciting, and I have not been disappointed with the great environment in Dr. Dattelbaum’s lab.

What prepared you for the research this summer?

My prior research in Dr. Dattelbaum’s lab, as well as some research at the University of Pittsburgh in the summer of 2005, has provided me with knowledge of some important biochemistry techniques that I use on a daily basis this summer. My chemistry and biology classes have given me a foundation to understand the reason and theory behind the methods that I employ.

What’s in store for you after graduation?

After graduating from Richmond, I hope to either directly attend graduate school for chemistry or attend after working for 1-2 years. I eventually would like to make use of my economics background as well by finding a job in the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, which has aspects of research and business.

A full day of research lies ahead of you. What’s on your iPod?

In the Dattelbaum lab, we actually make use of Ruckus or the radio. We listen to quite an assortment of music: mostly alternative or classic rock, some pop here and there, and a classical music hour in the afternoon.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

I have received a high-quality and comprehensive education at Richmond that has provided me with a large breadth of knowledge in addition to a deeper level of understanding in a couple of specific areas. My liberal arts education has provided me with the tools to ask important questions and has improved my ability to think critically and consider diverse perspectives when approaching any situation. I have had the opportunity to work alongside and speak candidly with professors who are experts in their respective fields, which adds an important dimension to my educational experience. I have the confidence that I am well prepared for both graduate school and entering the workforce.