Jennifer Sun graduated from Rutgers University in May 2013 with a B.A. in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry and a minor in Chemistry. She has been working with Professor Dismukes since the summer of 2011 and will begin graduate school at Yale University this fall. Jennifer is the recipient of various awards, including the Waksman Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Henry Rutgers Scholars Award for outstanding senior thesis (2012-2013).
Q: Please briefly describe your research. My research focuses on the study of Photosystem II and its ability to repair itself upon damage by reactive oxygen species, which form due to excessive sunlight in a process called photoinhibition. We have recently examined cyanobacterial Photosystem II components, which are unlike those of all other photosynthetic organisms. In particular, these cyanobacteria possess different isoforms of the D1 protein, which is continuously degraded and synthesized to regulate Photosystem II activation. The cyanobacteria D1 isoforms are in fact exchanged depending on the light intensity Photosystem II experiences, and these two isoforms have been shown to not only prevent excessive photoinhibition, but also accelerate and enhance the recovery of Photosystem II reaction centers.
Q: How did you come to be involved in this research? I met Professor Dismukes after I decided to switch from Pharmacy to SAS - Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in order to pursue research. I had been working with Professor Gaugler in the Center for Vector Biology, so I developed an interest for environmental improvement efforts. As I was looking for a more chemistry-oriented research topic with the same goals, I came upon Professor Dismukes' lab, which shared my interest for helping the world become a cleaner place for the forthcoming generations.
Q: Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? The knowledge of the operation of cyanobacteria D1 isoforms can guide the design of genetically modified phototrophs with increased rates of light utilization and, thus, increased biomass accumulation. These transgenic algae would provide an alternative source of the fatty acids used in biodiesel, instead of the current practice of processing food sources like corn. In addition, abiotic WOC-mimicking catalysts have been designed to mimic structures found in nature, and their application in a thin layer to a membrane allows the conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy. Our research could lead to enhancement in the development of these catalysts for hydrogen fuel cell production through the mechanistic understanding of the core's assembly.