Biochemistry major Kailey Beer works on a research project in Owens Science Hall on June 29, 2020 in St. Paul.
Mark Brown

NSF Awards $500K for St. Thomas Chemistry Research

Codrina Popescu, PhD, chemistry professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, was a co-recipient of a prestigious $500,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation to study iron trafficking and regulation in bacteria.

University of St. Thomas chemistry professor Codrina Popescu, PhD, and undergraduate students Andrew Probst and Tess Phillips, who worked on iron regulation and other research projects.

The grant supports continued opportunities for undergraduate students to contribute to research at the University of St. Thomas. Popescu, who received the grant in collaboration with Huangen Ding, PhD, from Louisiana State University, worked with undergraduate biochemistry student Kate Valdes to analyze Mössbauer spectra of proteins isolated in Ding's labs to decipher the role certain iron-sulfur proteins play in bacteria and mitochondria.

The research team's findings were originally published in a collaborative paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC). The paper was selected as Editor's Pick in November 2020, a distinction that recognizes the top 2% of manuscripts JBC editors will review in a year.

A recent article in Dalton Transactions also includes two St. Thomas undergraduate co-authors, Dao Pham and Andrew L. Probst, who were part of Popescu's research in a different area.

The study of iron regulation in bacteria has deep relevance for our fundamental understanding of life, Popescu said. The analysis of the Mössbauer spectra conducted in the St. Thomas laboratory revealed the presence of a [2Fe-2S] cluster in an important protein, called Fur for ferrum uptake regulation.

With the grant, this continued research at St. Thomas is involving more undergraduate students and has expanded into whole cell Mössbauer spectroscopy, aiming to identify the spectroscopic signature of the Fur protein among other iron proteins in the cell.