The University of Bridgeport Faculty Research Council has awarded three Seed Money Grants to advance early stage research by full-time faculty in fields ranging from genomics to marketing.

The grants, worth up to $6,000 each, are awarded each fall and spring semester to support faculty as they gather preliminary data for additional grant applications to external funders.

Seed Money Grant recipients for the fall 2014 are:

  • Christian Bach, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, and Co-Investigator Prabir Patra, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, “Gene Expression Capability of SP1 Upstream of the Firefly Luciferase Gene.” ($5,936)
  • Nikki Lee-Wingate, Ph.D., Marketing, “The Effect of Word of Mouth Communications on Consumer Fairness Perceptions.” ($3,095)
  • Amanda K. Petrus, Ph.D., Chemistry, “Time Traveling with Vitamins: Investigating the Origins of B12 Biosynthesis in the most Ancient Roots of the Tree of Life.” ($5,970)

About the projects:

“Gene Expression Capability of SP1 Upstream of the Firefly Luciferase Gene”

James Watson and Francis Crick solved the double-helix structure of DNA more than 60 years ago, but the field of genomics remains vast and unchartered. DNA, the recipe for who and what we are, is comprised of pairs of twisted strands containing four chemical units, or nucleotide bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). But how do genes work when specific proteins bind onto certain nucleotide sequences to turn them on and off?

Answering that question could provide scientists with powerful tools to fight a range of illnesses, and it’s the root of the research by biomedical engineering Assistant Professor Christian Bach and co-investigator Prabir Patra, chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at UB. “What I really want to know is how nature regulates the binding,” says Bach. “In our experiments they bind everywhere killing cells. We have absolutely no clue how nature works doing the right thing.”

The Seed Money Grant awarded to Bach and Patra will help them as they work to determine how the three-fingered protein called SP1 specifically binds to a limited number of nine nucleotide sequences. That, in turn, might help figure out how to target specific genes and single locations in the human genome for protein binding.

“We have to figure out how to design a three-finger protein that binds to just one location in the human genome?” Bach asks. “Genome regulation is the bigger picture because when you regulate the genome you can control everything, from cancer to ageing.”
“The Effect of Word of Mouth Communications on Consumer-Fairness Perceptions”

If Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter today, Hester Prynne wouldn’t have to wear a massive scarlet letter A on her dress: she’d have the Internet to worry about. Its dizzying reach and speed makes it a cinch to damage a reputation. But it’s not just individuals who feel the sting of a bad rap: companies can lose millions when negative online reviews go viral.

That fascinates Trefz School of Business Assistant Professor Nikki Lee-Wingate, whose research examines how consumers view each other online and how those perceptions influence the way they feel about companies.

“Due to the explosive growth of Internet usage, consumers are able to express their personal thoughts to a global community of readers,” says Lee-Wingate, who teaches marketing. “The problem is that these thoughts are often ridden with emotions, and emotions are contagious. Because of that, companies suffer, sometimes far too much, and with ungrounded criticism.”

Consumers who feel similar to authors of online reviews are more likely to hold negative attitudes about a company, due to emotional contagion, she notes. Those who feel dissimilar are less likely to be influenced.

To that end, her research explores various management techniques, such as clearly informing readers of the similarities and dissimilarities among writers and observers of emotional reviews, as potential means for companies to practically mitigate damage wrought by negative online reviews.
“Time Traveling with Vitamins: Investigating the Origins of B12 Biosynthesis in the Most Ancient Roots of the Tree of Life”

What’s not to love about Vitamin B12?

This uber-vitamin—found in meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy but not plants—keeps red blood cells healthy, guards against heart disease and cancer, and boasts a slew of other perks. Conversely, a B12 deficiency can lead to problems ranging from depression to poor memory, asthma, impaired vision, fatigue and more. That’s why doctors commonly prescribe B12 supplements to individuals who are at risk of being B12 deficient, including vegetarians, breast-feeding women, and smokers.

But making supplements isn’t easy. That concerns biology Professor Amanda Petrus, whose research turns to bacteria for help.

“B12 is a very complicated molecule, and bacteria have worked out a very efficient way to make it,” says Petrus. “For example, if we make it in a lab, we have to follow about 70-plus steps. Bacteria can do it in 30, and they have all had the time of evolution to figure out the process.”

Scientists have a partial understanding of how bacteria make B12, but questions remain. Petrus said she and UB chemistry professor Sergio Bibis and Yale University post-doctoral fellow Kristen Swithers aim to “fill in some of the holes in our understanding about B12 production and synthesis in bacteria.”

That, in turn, could shed light for more efficient ways to produce B12. Says Petrus: “Currently, supplemental B12 is made in the lab through fermentation of select microorganisms, but there are a lot of different organisms that can make B12, too, and they probably have tricks up their sleeves that could help improve and streamline B12 production.”
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu