Professor Mertz Named 2023 MDH CURES Community Faculty Fellow

Submitted by Chuck Steenburgh on November 03, 2023 - 10:42 am
November 03, 2023
By Chuck Steenburgh

Pamela Mertz, PhD, professor of chemistry & biochemistry, has been selected as a member of the 2023 Malate Dehydrogenase CUREs (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences) Community Faculty Fellow Cohort. Under the program, she attended a two-day workshop this past summer at Suffolk University in Boston, and throughout the two-year fellowship will receive tailored mentoring, access to a variety of community resources and funding for supplies and equipment. In year two, she will serve as a mentor for the next cohort. The project is funded under a National Science Foundation Grant (Award # 2119918).

"A CURE is an important opportunity for students, as it allows them to participate in undergraduate research as part of their coursework," said Professor Mertz. "Often, undergraduate research can only be experienced as part of a capstone project or a selective summer internship. The CURE approach provides students with greater access to undergraduate research as part of their education, and it can occur very early in the student’s college career, even in the first year. This can have a positive impact on developing a science identity, motivation, and retention of students in STEM, especially  for first-generation students and students from historically marginalized or underserved communities."  At St. Mary’s College, a CURE can help prepare students for a successful SMP project.

Malate Dehydrogenase (MDH) is an enzyme that plays an important catalytic process in the citric acid cycle, a central metabolic pathway, and is particularly useful in undergraduate research as it is stable, inexpensive to work with, and is involved in processes well-known to students studying metabolism.

Professor Mertz's students are already involved in a CURE this semester in the Biochemistry I lab course. They have isolated human mitochondrial and cytosolic MDH proteins from bacterial cultures and analyzed purity and activity.  They are currently developing hypotheses that focus on the action of inhibitors (metabolites) that influence the role of MDH in metabolism.  They will design experiments to test their hypotheses in the lab.

One of the characteristics of the MDH CUREs collective is that students can participate in larger, collaborative research projects. Students within a course might be working on individual pieces of a larger project, which in turn contributes to other work done at other colleges and universities.

Professor Mertz stated that she will contribute to a series of mini-review papers written by members of the MCC CUREs Community to be published in an MDH-themed issue of "Essays in Biochemistry" in 2024.