CSUPERB Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award Finalist | Spotlight

CSULA grad student to de-‘bug’ antifreeze proteins

Brown is selected as Eden Award finalist at the CSU Biotechnology Symposium

What is arginine?

Arginine is one of the 20 amino acids and it builds up proteins that are essential for life.

Why beetle bugs are used for this research?

Beetle bugs produce antifreeze proteins, which allow them to survive in ice cold temperature or winter conditions.

For background on CSULA grad student Donja Brown’s lab project with CSULA Professor Xin Wen, go to /

Picture of Donja Brown in the biochemistry lab.
CSULA biochemistry major Donja Brown is a 2011 Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award finalist.

The answer to a CSULA graduate student’s research on antifreeze protein is found in a bug. Studying the role of arginine residues in enhancing an antifreeze protein from the beetle Dendroides candensis, biochemistry major Donja Brown hopes to understand how the protein works as an adaptive mechanism for many organisms in cold environmental conditions.

According to Brown, “The results of the research will prove valuable for a variety of applications, such as crops grown in cold weather, food that is frozen for storage and transport, and tissues preserved for transplant.”

“Antifreeze proteins,” Brown explained, “allow plants, animals and bacteria to survive in sub-zero environments by stopping ice crystals from forming.”

Photo of Professor Xin Wen and grad student Donja Brown.
CSULA Professor Xin Wen (l) and CSULA graduate student Donja Brown (r) working on the enhancement mechanism by small organic molecules on a beetle antifreeze protein activity.

Brown, who has been selected a 2011 Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award finalist, will present her research project during the 23rd Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium on Saturday, Jan. 8, 9:25-9:40 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency Orange County. Hosted by the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB), the symposium aims to make connections between innovative life science research and the impacts it has on society, to highlight cutting-edge biotechnologies, and to inspire students for success in the global economy.

Brown, whose goal is to ultimately pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor, said, “I previously earned a B.A. in psychology at San Diego State University, but I decided I wanted to learn more about the brain and biology in general at a molecular level, with the eventual goal of performing scientific research.”

Image detailing the proposed tertiary structure of DAFP1 showing the likely positions of arginine residues.
Image of the modeled tertiary structure of an antifreeze protein from the beetle Dendroides candensis, showing the positions of arginine residues. (Biochemistry, 2009, 48, 9696)

Through a National Institutes of Health grant for the Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions (RIMI) Program at Cal State L.A., Brown has the opportunity to be involved with hands-on, breakthrough research. As a member of CSULA Professor Xin Wen’s research lab, she is studying “Antifreeze Protein Enhancers: Identification and Mechanisms.” In addition to Brown and Professor Wen, the research team includes Yinlin Wu (CSULA), Ravinder Abrol (Caltech), Eric A. Houghton (CSULA), Vonny Juwita (CSULA), and William A. Goddard III (Caltech).

In a personal statement, Brown noted: “Science research is necessary for improving the lives of humans, and for understanding the world around us. Without science research, there would be no new knowledge acquired. …I feel privileged and excited to be part of the science world, and to take my place on the frontiers of knowledge.”

The Eden Award, to be presented to one of the finalists during the symposium, is designed to foster excellence in graduate student research throughout the CSU system in biotechnology-related research. It is named after San Francisco State Professor Don Eden who held his students, colleagues and himself to the highest standards of excellence in research. Professor Eden’s own research was in biophysics and physical biochemistry.

Faculty honor:

On Saturday, Jan. 8, 5:30 p.m., Cal State L.A.’s Biological Sciences Professor Howard Xu will be presented the 2011 Andreoli Biotechnology Faculty Service Award during the CSU Biotechnology Symposium Awards Banquet and Program. This award honors a CSU faculty member who has made outstanding contributions to the development of biotechnology in the California State University. The award is named after CSULA Professor Anthony Andreoli who believed that it was his responsibility to do everything he could in order to provide similar opportunities for others. For details: /univ/ppa/newsrel/csu-biotech2011.htm.

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