The School of Biology recently welcomed Harris Academy 6th year pupil Belkis Bekir to undertake a Nuffield Research Placement in the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC). Supported by the Nuffield Foundation, Nuffield Research Placements provide over 1,000 students each year from state-maintained school or college in the UK with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. The majority of the placements go to students from low-income households or those who do not have a family history of going to university.
Belkis carried out her four-week placement in the MacNeill lab, working on a project aimed at gaining a greater understanding of the workings of a highly unusual DNA ligase (DNA ligases are enzymes that are able to join DNA and which are essential for DNA duplication and for repair of damaged DNA) encoded by a bacterial virus (bacteriophage) that has been suggested as a potential weapon in phage therapy applications.
Belkis performed site-directed mutagenesis to alter the gene encoding the DNA ligase and tested the resulting altered proteins for their biochemical properties, in doing so demonstrating for the first time an essential role for a specific feature of the protein in maintaining its overall structure and activity. This striking result will be pursued further by the MacNeill lab in the coming months. Belkis presented the results of her work in poster form at the Nuffield Trust Celebration Event at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh on September 2nd 2019.