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DNA sequencing stimulates student researcher

March 05, 2009

In high school, Charlene Bashore was a self-proclaimed "science nerd" and captain of her school's Science Bowl team. She decided to continue her education at Arizona State University because she found the atmosphere a complete change from Kennewick, the small, Washington town she called home. Plus, ASU offered Bashore a scholarship that would allow her to attend at no cost. "The chance to go to school somewhere new for no expense was exciting," she says.

Bashore is a biochemistry major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She began her undergraduate research experience in a general chemistry course where she was offered a position in the laboratory of Peter Williams, an ASU professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

"Dr. Williams has been incredibly patient and helpful throughout my time here at ASU," says Bashore. "The research I am doing is interesting, pertinent, and I am glad to be there."

Williams' lab group is a part of the National Human Genome Research Institute project. The goal is to develop a more cost-efficient, quick way to sequence DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic code for all living things. The lab's work with DNA sequencing focuses on a process called sequencing by synthesis. The process is used to determine the order of the nucleotide bases - adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine (A,G,C,T) - within a molecule of DNA. The nucleotides are a sort of genetic alphabet. Different combinations of these bases are used to make proteins, the building blocks of life.

"My aspect of the project deals with the enzyme DNA-polymerase, a molecular machine in charge of taking in the bases that constitute DNA (A,G,C,T) and pairing them up with those on an existing DNA strand," says Bashore.

"By feeding in fluorescently-labeled nucleotides we can measure if the added base corresponds to the base on the other strand," she explains. Bashore is looking at energy levels of the DNA-polymerase molecules and examining where they attach themselves to other molecules.

"With some work, I can measure the molecules gathered from our sequencing method," says Bashore. The skills she is learning now are important. They will help her in future projects to study the behavior of DNA-polymerase in specific situations.

Bashore plans to continue her research while working on a doctorate in molecular pharmacology or biochemistry.

"I am not entirely sure what I will end up researching after ASU, but it may relate to the work I am doing now," she says. "It is also just as likely that I may end up in a completely different field by the time I finish my graduate studies-I think that is exciting!" For now, Bashore has an interest in looking more at the biochemical facets of multi-drug resistance and how it can be overcome, investigating DNA repair mechanisms, or learning how to prevent harmful mutations in DNA.

In addition to her work in Williams' lab, Bashore has worked for the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. While at NIH, she looked at how different molecules bind to cell receptors. Cell receptors are the communication devices that regulate cells. Many medicines work by either stimulating or inhibiting these receptors. Bashore specifically looked at receptors in astrocytoma cells, a rare but very aggressive form of brain cancer.

Bashore's hard work has not gone unnoticed. She won the Dean's Circle Scholarship from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry during her sophomore year. She also won a Goldwater Scholarship for academic merit.

She is the current president of the Rotaract Club of ASU, the collegiate affiliate of Rotary International. Bashore also organizes various service projects and fundraisers. She has been president if the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS), and is a church musician at the Newman Center on the Tempe campus.

"The mere opportunity to be at a university, searching to figure out what I can and want to do, is incredible," says Bashore. "I feel amazingly lucky and blessed to be at ASU."