Phi Kappa Phi Travel Award | Apr. 5, 2013 | Cal State L.A. | Spotlight

Double major’s research aimed at sexual differentiation

Trang is one of two CSULA students to garner the 2013 Phi Kappa Phi Travel Awards

CSULA students selected for the 2013 CSU Student Research Competition

Robert Brown, M.A., Political Science
“The Path to Insurgency: A Comparative Analysis of Afghanistan, Colombia, and Angola” (faculty mentor: Emily Acevedo)

Wendy Dorenbush, M.A., Anthropology
“Lost Settlements: Rediscovering the Maya Settlement and Landscape of Cahal Pech, Belize” (faculty mentor: James Brady)

Garth Herman, M.S., Electrical Engineering
“Hybrid Routing Algorithms for Navigation Control of a Semi-Autonomous Robotic Platform” (faculty mentors: Charles Liu and Helen Boussalis)

Andrea Herrera, M.S., Biology
“Determining the mechanism of inhibition of mitochondrial Ca2+ overload by the cocoa flavanol (-)-epicatechin as a means of conferring cardioprotection during ischemiareperfusion” (faculty mentor: Katrina Yamazaki)

Michael Martinez, B.S., Chemistry
“Identification of Benzo[a]pyrene Diones as Net Sensitizers of Singlet Oxygen” (faculty mentors: Krishna Foster and Matthias Selke)

Krystal Messer, M.A., History
“Taken for a Ride: How General Motors Drove the Pacific Electric Railway Out of Business” (faculty mentor: Choi Chatterjee)

Azizkhan Pathan, Joseph David Wells and Benjamin Liu, B.S., Mechanical Engineering
“Experimental Sounding Supersonic Rocket Design” (faculty mentor: Darrell Guillaume)

Usama Tohid, M.S., Mechanical Engineering
“Parametric Analysis of a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell in Single-phase and two-phase Regimes” (faculty mentor: Arturo Pacheco-Vega)

Kathy Trang, B.A., Psychology and B.S., Biology
“Alternative Splicing: Sexual Differentiation at the Transcriptome” (faculty mentor: Houng-Wei Tsai)

Tony Ye, M.A., Psychology
“Cognitive Inflexibility After Adolescent Methamphetamine Exposure” (faculty mentor: Alicia Izquierdo)

Pictured: Kathy Trang.

Intrigued by such medical cases as the one of David Reimer, who was sexually reassigned when he was a baby and raised as a female, Cal State L.A.’s biology/psychology major Kathy Trang delved more earnestly into her research.

With a focus on behavioral neuroendocrinology, Trang has been conducting a compelling study on the neural and genetic mechanisms regulating sexual differentiation.

“Many psychologists at one time believed that gender identity was malleable up to 18 months of age,” said Trang, “therefore infants like Reimer were reassigned and presumed to develop normally. However, that wasn’t the case, and Reimer ended up committing suicide. This made me interested in investigating this field of study even further.”

Trang, along with Professor Houng-Wei Tsai of CSU Long Beach, worked on the hypothesis that sexual dimorphic expression of splicing factors regulates gene expression post-transcriptionally.

“From the study, our data demonstrate the importance of both age and sex on the expression of splicing factors found in the developing brain,” said Trang. “This ultimately suggests a role for alternative splicing in controlling brain sexual differentiation and resultant sex differences in cognitive behaviors and neurological diseases.”

As more neurological diseases and mental disorders are linked to splicing defects, the role of alternative splicing in regulating brain function has become increasingly probable.

According to Trang, for genes to exert biological effect, they must be translated into proteins. Before translation, however, DNA is transcribed into a premature mRNA that contains regions called introns, which must be removed. The process responsible for this removal is called splicing.

She explained, “However, different combinations of regions may be removed or retained through a process called alternative splicing, thus allowing for multiple protein products from the same genes.”

For her research, entitled “Alternative Splicing: Sexual Differentiation at the Transcriptome,” Trang was recently awarded a $500 Phi Kappa Phi Travel Award, as did psychology graduate student Tony Ye for his research on “Cognitive Inflexibility After Adolescent Methamphetamine Exposure.”

Trang and Ye are two of only 12 CSULA students selected to represent the University at the 27th Annual CSU Student Research Competition to be held at Cal Poly Pomona this May.

The CSU event each year follows the annual Cal State L.A. Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity, which is organized by CSULA’s Office of Research Development. The aim of the campus symposium is to encourage all Cal State L.A. students—undergraduate and graduate in every discipline—to showcase their papers, projects and research endeavors.

“I am beyond impressed with Kathy’s intellectual maturity as demonstrated in her research and her knowledge in philosophy, psychology and biology,” said CSULA Professor Matthias Selke, who is Trang’s thesis adviser. “This honor is more than well deserved.”

A Dean’s List student, Trang is a member the Early Entrance Program Club and the Tea & Sex (Prometheus Today) club on campus. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in transcultural psychiatry upon completing her double degrees at CSULA.

“Because expression of sex and gender varies so much cross-culturally, I became enthralled in understanding how culture becomes biologically embodied and what implications of these are related to sex and gender,” said Trang. “Therein lies my goal to integrate social science with neuroscience in my academic pursuit.”

Picture of CSULA delegates for 2013.
CSULA students selected to represent the University at the CSU Student Research Competition: (top, l-r) Robert Brown, Tony Ye, Usama Tohid, Joseph David Wells, Azizkhan Pathan, Krystal Messer, (bottom, l-r) Andrea Herrera, Kathy Trang, Benjamin Liu, Wendy Dorenbush, Garth Herman and (not pictured) Michael Martinez.

Find out more at the following links: