A&S Biology Major wins Undergraduate Research Prize

Posted on February 22, 2017 by

On October 16, 2015, an A&S undergraduate researcher, Ravi Rajendra, received the top student research poster award during the annual campus wide UCUR research symposium. Impressively, Mr. Rajendra is a Biology major with a concentration in pre-med studies, a University Honors student, and the current president of the student SGA. Ravi expects to graduate in May of 2017 and has already been preselected for medical school.

For the last year, Ravi has been working closely with Dr. Glen Borchert in the Department of Biology. Ravi is the second UCUR Research Award winner to come from the Borchert lab in two years. The Borchert Lab is primarily concerned with research involving noncoding RNAs. Research in the lab includes characterizing novel small RNAs in prokaryotic and eukaryotic species, understanding noncoding RNA contributions to disease, and identifying novel molecular markers and therapeutic targets for treating various oncologies.

It was previously believed that all types of RNAs were found exclusively inside the cell. Recently, however, exciting evidence has emerged that indicates the presence of RNA outside of cells enclosed in extracellular vesicles. This exRNA is implicated in facilitating extracellular communication between cells and regulating cellular processes. The basis of Mr. Rajendra’s ongoing UCUR project is to isolate and characterize extracellular RNAs (exRNA) found in  bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) from mice under different conditions including no stressor (control), high pressure environment, and mice treated with Pseudomonas bacteria (an opportunistic pathogen that accounts for the second most common infection in hospitalized patients). Ravi and the Borchert Lab, in collaboration with Dr. Mark Gillespie in the Department of Pharmacology in the College of Medicine, have now successfully isolated and identified differential concentrations of exRNAs based on the stressor applied and are currently attempting to obtain the genetic sequences of these exRNAs. Excitingly, early sequencing analyses of exRNA datasets find that the composition of RNA in exRNA containing vesicles closely resembles that of a regular cell leading the team to theorize that exosomes are produced by host cells to function as “decoy cells” and possibly reduce pathogenicity of viruses. Importantly, this project marks the first time that exRNA has been isolated at the University of South Alabama, and this work will likely lead to new insights into how the composition of exRNAs changes in response to stress on the cell, and what role(s) exRNAs play in immune response.

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