St. Hilaire Participates in Undergraduate Research Day at the Texas Capitol

Event Highlights Student Research Experiences

Undergraduate researchers from numerous universities filled the halls of the Texas Capitol in Austin on March 4.

Brian St. HilaireBrian St. Hilaire, a junior biochemistry major, was one of two University of Houston undergraduates selected to represent UH at Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. St. Hilaire conducted research under the direction of Hye-Jeong Yeo, an associate professor of biology and biochemistry in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Students participating in the event presented their scientific research posters and had the opportunity to meet with legislators. The program theme, “Transforming Texas Through Undergraduate Research,” highlighted how research conducted by undergraduate students positively impacts the state and its residents.

St. Hilaire’s poster, “Structural Studies of the Novel Lipoprotein Cj1649 of Campylobacter jejuni,” covered work he accomplished in Yeo’s lab during a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. He worked on this research project for three months.

Campylobacter jejuni is a major cause of human gastroenteritis worldwide,” said St. Hilaire, who is also a member of the Honors College. “However, little is known about infectious mechanisms of this bacterium.”

St. Hilaire’s research focused on gaining a better understanding of the structure and function of Cj1649. The lipoproteins of C. jejuni have no apparent similarity to other lipoproteins that are better known.

“To determine the structure, I’ve developed a method for purification and crystallization of Cj1649,” he said. “Next steps are to optimize the crystal growth condition to determine the structure of the protein.”

With the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, there is a growing interest in the “tools” that bacteria have, in this case a lipoprotein.

“These tools give the bacteria their infectious qualities and could be a new target for antibiotics,” St. Hilaire said “Furthermore, there is a great interest in studying not only the ones that haven’t been previously examined but also those that don’t resemble other “tools” of better understood bacteria.”

St. Hilaire, who will graduate in spring 2016, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of structural biology. This summer, he will working on a research proposal as part of an application to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

“I’m interested in research that has applications to medicine,” said St. Hilaire, who would like to obtain a research position in industry after attaining a Ph.D. and later return to UH to teach.

The research day event was coordinated by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors, the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc., and the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Undergraduates representing more than 50 general academic institutions across Texas attended.

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics