We're delighted to announce that Abigail Turner, who graduated earlier this year with a First class honours degree in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry), has a first-author paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

A major contribution to the paper was Abi’s Part III research project conducted during Michaelmas and Lent Term 2017-18, under the supervision of Dr Katherine Stott in the Department of Biochemistry.

The project concerned the biophysical properties of a protein called histone H1. This protein helps package the genetic material DNA into chromosomes. In particular, the region of histone H1 that Abi studied is an example of an 'intrinsically disordered protein', which remains highly flexible and disordered, even after binding to DNA. This is unusual behaviour and the PNAS paper is the first characterisation of such an interaction.

Using a variety of analytical methods, Abi showed that even though the histone H1-DNA complex is disordered, it can spontaneously assemble into droplet-like structures that have some similar properties to liquid crystals. Furthermore, the organisation of these assemblies can be dramatically altered by adding phosphate ions onto the protein. This is important because phosphorylation of histone H1 is known to loosen DNA packaging in the cell and allow other regulatory proteins to interact with the DNA. The liquid droplet state could further facilitate the diffusion of regulatory molecules into and out of the chromosome fibres. Further details about the work and its significance are described here: https://www.bioc.cam.ac.uk/news/higher-order-from-high-disorder.

Dr Tony Jackson, who was Abi’s Director of Studies last year, and supervised her for 1B Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, says: “I am very impressed and very happy for Abi. To get a first-author paper in PNAS is a remarkable achievement at such an early career stage. She has the making of a first-class scientist”.

Her project supervisor Dr Katherine Stott added: “Abi was a fantastic addition to the lab. She brought enthusiasm, curiosity and a healthy pragmatism to the project which ultimately paid off with some ground-breaking results. Her achievements should inspire all
undergraduate project students to realise that what they are doing is real research. Even a small, self-contained project can yield significant advances to our understanding of the world around us."

Abi is currently studying for her PhD in the Department of Chemistry at University College, London.

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