Synthesis and Application of L-phenylalanine-4′-azobenzene

Hello! My name is Marshall Padilla, and I am a chemistry major and sophomore here at the College. I will be working with Dr. Young in the Chemistry Department to develop an unnatural amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which in turn, are the workhorses of the cell. There exists twenty natural amino acids; but recently, researchers have began synthesizing unnatural amino acids. My amino acid (let’s call it AzoPhe for short) has a very peculiar property: when AzoPhe comes into contact with a specific wavelength of light, part of the molecule actually shifts, a feature called photoisomerability. This feature is useful, because when AzoPhe is inserted into a protein, and a specific wave length of light is shined on it, the amino acid will deactivate the protein. AzoPhe could also be utilized to block ion channels, which are important proteins that regulate ion concentration. After creating this amino acid, I will (hopefully) insert it into a protein called GFP, which is a fluorescent protein. If I successfully insert the amino acid into specific locations (residues) of the protein, I will be able to activate and deactivate the protein’s ability to fluoresce via AzoPhe’s photoisomerability. The ability to control a protein offers a powerful medical tool, as the misregulation and misexpression of proteins is often the root of health conditions.

For me, research is a chance to apply my knowledge. I have been learning in academic environments for many years, and this is my first opportunity to apply my schooling. With this experience, I will be able to start understanding the world around me and how I fit in. I will gain a better idea of what careers I want to be a part of, whether it is research related, or even science related. For me, it was always understood that I do not go to college because I know who I am and what I want to be, rather I go to college to discover who I am and who I want to be, and in my opinion, research will assist in me in uncovering these answers.

I am quite excited to be a part of this program, and I am eager to get to know and learn about the exciting projects that my other colleagues are undertaking. Feel free to ask me questions and introduce yourself to me!