Students at the University of Hawaii, Kapiolani Community College and Leeward Community College have collaborated on the discovery of a common class of enzymes responsible for the aging of fruit and flowers.
In the future, knowing how to manipulate these enzymes could enable researchers to hold off browning and softening, thereby decreasing post-harvest losses and increasing shelf life. Since the enzymes also occur in humans and play a role in degenerative diseases such as arthritis and Alzheimer's, controlling the enzymes may lead to improved treatments for these conditions.
This team of students found that low activity in unripe fruit and healthy colored flowers results from an enzyme inhibitor known as cystatin. When the inhibitor divides, the enzymes are activated and start the aging process. Students used gene and protein sequencing to discover the enzymes known as cysteine proteases. They then fused the enzymes to fluorescent imaging agents and expressed them in single cells to activate the aging process.
These research collaborations provide opportunities for undergraduate and community college students to interact with professors, postdoctoral scientists and graduate students, and to use sophisticated equipment and resources not available in small colleges. The experience builds confidence and encourages community college students to transfer to baccalaureate programs in the biosciences, and biotechnology and chemistry disciplines. It also opens the door to advanced graduate-level study and new scientific careers previously unknown to them. To engage students from underrepresented groups in advanced genomics and molecular biology research, the project investigated plants deeply rooted in local culture, such as pineapples and flamingo flowers.
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