Work experience for deferred students

14th October 2021

News, Student news

In August 2020, with A-Level exams cancelled and results determined at the last minute on the strength of centre assessed grades, a small number of Wadham’s undergraduate offer-holders were asked to defer their places for a year due to capacity constraints in University laboratories.

Mauricio’s contribution to our research has been instrumental to establish a protocol to purify RAP2.12, a key component of oxygen sensing in plants.

Francesco Licausi, Wadham Tutor in Biology

  • Mauricio Tronca

    Mauricio Tronca (Biology, 2021)

Thanks to a generous donation from a Wadham alumnus, the College was able to offer support for these students to ensure that they remain academically engaged and would gain useful experience from which they would benefit when they came to enrol in October 2021.

One such offer-holder, Mauricio Tronca, secured a lab placement during Trinity Term with Francesco Licausi, Associate Professor in Plant Sciences and one of the College’s tutors in Biology. During Mauricio’s placement he worked to genetically modify bacteria to produce a protein that can be purified and viewed using a technique called X-Ray crystallography (also used to discover the structure of DNA).

Mauricio also completed several projects including processing 95 different strains of E. Coli, extracting the DNA from all of them and running a restriction to see if the DNA was correct on some of them.

Explaining his research he said: “Understanding the ways in which the protein works … can help with real-world problems, such as crops being grown in flood prone areas which can lead to countless potential food being ruined. Through understanding these proteins, crops in areas of poor food security can be modified to be resistant to floods, helping feed the developing world.

“In plants there are a set of proteins called ERFVIIs (ethylene response factor 7s) which control a response to low oxygen. The protein we are looking at is RAP 2.12 (Relating to Arabidopsis Thaliana), which is one of these ERFVIIs. Under normoxia (20% oxygen), the protein is destabilised, going through a N-degron pathway of protein degradation (the protein is broken down). However, under hypoxia (2% oxygen) there isn’t enough oxygen to oxidise the protein, and thus it is not degraded and can enter the nucleus, binding to a promotor in DNA and initiate transcription of a certain gene.

“We managed to find the ideal conditions to grow the bacteria in order to produce this protein. (Now what needs to be done is grow a large volume of bacteria, extract the protein and purify it, but sadly I won’t be there to see that!).”

Outside the lab, Mauricio explored Oxford, enjoying the rabbits of Port Meadow and the architecture in the city. In addition, the Biology tutors organised an informal gathering in the Fellow’s Garden where Mauricio met current student biologists to talk about experiences and exams.

”Having Mauricio as an active member of my research team has been a true delight” comments Francesco “He not only manifested a vivid curiosity for the topic of oxygen sensing in plants, but he learned very rapidly to master all the techniques required to carry out the tasks assigned to him. In just few weeks he reached an independence level in the lab that I would normally expect from undergraduate students towards the end of their curriculum.  Mauricio’s contribution to our research has been instrumental to establish a protocol to purify RAP2.12, a key component of oxygen sensing in plants. This is a necessary step towards the determination of the three-dimensional structure of this protein, essential for our research. Moreover, I am confident that this internship has cemented Mauricio’s interest in plant sciences and advanced molecular biology and broadened his perspectives of academic development as an undergraduate in Oxford.”

Mike Froggatt, Tutor for Admissions adds: “We’re very grateful that, through the generosity of our alumnus, and despite all the hurdles thrown up by the pandemic, Mauricio was able to spend three months in Oxford, gaining valuable lab experience. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Mauricio’s enthusiasm for biology, which appears undiminished by all the events of the past eighteen months. It was wonderful to see him  in this year’s freshers’ week talks, alongside the other first-years, and I have no doubt the time spent in Francesco’s lab will benefit him greatly as he gets stuck into his degree here at Wadham.”

  • Bacterial strains

    (Left) Some of the 95 bacterial strains Mauricio was tasked with processing. (Right) "Glowing bacteria - alongside the protein we wanted to see we made the bacteria grow a green fluorescent protein for a visual representation. (Very cool)," comments Mauricio.

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