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CUNY Research Scholars Program Student Profile: Sheila Sarkar

December 21, 2017

As a CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) student, my goal is to explore the multidisciplinary nature of science in a project setting and to delve deeply into research and scientific writing. Before joining CRSP, I did not have a science background but was exposed to the scientific inquiry process in enterprise-level technology and applied a hypothesis testing model to determine how products work by experimenting, revising, and reproducing outcomes. My CRSP research, under the guidance of Associate Professor Lauren Wickstrom at BMCC, centers on constructing computational models and my projects have spanned understanding the link between xenoestrogens and cancer to my current focus of investigating the role of water in the adherence of the Candida fungal pathogen to host tissue. As a computational biophysicist, Professor Wickstrom facilitates a unique opportunity to bridge science, technology, and writing through her projects.

The Candida fungal pathogen is a newsworthy source of life-threatening nosocomial infections and its cell-adhesion proteins on its surface enable it to stick to and colonize our bodies. Understanding the mechanism behind this widespread adherence to host tissue is key to developing methods to prevent infectious disease amidst a larger paradigm shift of viewing drug-resistant fungi on par with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. X-ray structural data from a Candida protein-peptide complex suggests that a network of water bridges the cell-adhesion protein of the pathogen and a peptide in a body cell. The goal of our work is to determine whether these water molecules influence the ability of Candida to stick to host cells. We investigated this hypothesis by performing all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of the ALS-9 protein-peptide complex in explicit solvent and observed that this complex is stable in solution based on the structural fluctuations of the protein and peptide. Future work will investigate the reproducibility of these results and comparing the conformational dynamics of the ALS-9 protein-peptide complex in an explicit and implicit solvent where we expect the peptide to bind weakly to the protein without bridging water molecules. We hope these results and previous studies generate alternative strategies for designing anti-fungal drugs.

Through CRSP, I have developed an understanding of the commitment it takes to be a successful research scientist. The CRSP experience has not only provided an interdisciplinary understanding of health-related issues but allowed me to present at conferences, mentor a high school STEP student, and build a foundation for my other working roles such as a chemistry teaching assistant. It has been exciting to take advantage of conference opportunities to build up my structural, technical, and biological understanding of the sciences. CRSP can help initiate and guide the learning and professional experience of CUNY students in any data-driven science.