Summer Centered: Solving the Protein Puzzle in the Charkoudian Lab
Bayan (Nicholas) Mostaghim ‘23 and Kevin Li ‘24 spent the summer studying acyl carrier proteins in Haverford’s organic biological chemistry laboratory.
For the second summer in a row, Bayan (Nicholas) Mostaghim ‘23 and Kevin Li ‘24 are on the front line of research at Haverford. In the East Wing of the Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center (KINSC), the pair is working in the lab of Lou Charkoudian, associate professor of chemistry. Their work, funded by the KINSC, helps to place Haverford at the forefront of organic biochemistry research.
Mostaghim and Li are both chemistry majors with biochemistry concentrations; the former is additionally minoring in religion. They work in the Charkoudian lab with three other students: Christina McBride ‘23, Vy Le ‘24, and Kenneth Hsu ‘25. While each student has their own unique project and area of focus, Mostaghim and Li’s research interests happen to meet at a particularly important juncture: they are both studying acyl carrier proteins (ACPs).
“I am studying previously uncharacterized ACPs and their protein 'teammates,' ketosynthase chain-length factors, from non-actinobacterial bacteria strains,” said Li. “Together, these proteins are known to interact to build diverse and pharmaceutically relevant molecules.” In particular, these molecules can act as antibiotics or anti-cancer agents in humans.
Mostaghim, meanwhile, is studying the conformations of the most understood ACP, as it appears in E. coli, and how it can be used to engineer new chemicals that are useful in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I am studying how the small 3D structural changes of the ACP relate to its critical function of carrying chemicals in the ‘protein teams’ that make molecules that are critical for life, similar to how a conveyor belt carries things in an assembly line,” Mostaghim said. “Do certain seemingly small changes in the ACP's 3D structure impact its function, or maybe which ‘assembly line station’ it goes to next?”
Since both students have worked in the Charkoudian lab since last summer, they are also responsible for providing mentorship to the students who are newer to the lab. Their wealth of experience in organic biochemistry research and courses has also given them the opportunity to help Charkoudian revise the syllabus for “Organic Biological Chemistry,” a fundamental class for chemistry students.
In addition to being interested in the subject, both students value Charkoudian as a mentor, both in chemistry and in life.
“Lou is an amazing mentor who is incredibly knowledgeable and supportive, and her research team creates a positive learning environment where we are all excited to learn, and not afraid to fail,” Mostaghim said.
In addition to Charkoudian, Yae In Cho, a postdoctoral researcher, has also been an influential instructor in the lab.
“[Cho] serves as a great role model to show us undergraduate researchers what it means to be a top-notch scientist,” they agreed. This summer, the pair hopes to learn more about lab techniques that have not been covered in the courses they’ve taken. Mostaghim hopes to use that experience to get involved at the overlap between medicine and research.
“This research gives me a solid foundation of concepts and techniques that are important for many areas of biochemistry-related biomedical research and it helps me understand what it actually means to ‘do science,’” he said.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.