HRP SU21-15: Research Opportunity with Dr. Arthur Gunzl

Project Mentor

Dr. Arthur Gunzl
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences

Undergraduate Research Opportunity Description

Project Description Our research is on gene expression factors and mechanisms in the lethal human parasite and unicellular eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei (we work with a strain that is not infectious for humans). We investigate transcription and RNA splicing of pre-mRNA, processes that deviate substantially between trypanosomes and the human system. Current projects that are open for participation focus on a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) complex that is essential for protein coding gene expression and parasite viability as well as on the basal function of only two introns the parasite has retained for hundreds of million years of evolutionary time.
Participation in either project will comprise learning of cell culture techniques, molecular cloning, and a variety of biochemical, genetic and imaging techniques. While the focus will be on wet lab experience, there may be an opportunity for the application of next generation sequencing. On the theory side, there will be opportunities to understand the intricacy of the host-pathogen interaction.
Project Direction CDKs are known to be excellent drug targets in cancer and, therefore, it is likely that this class of enzymes in trypanosomes may be targeted in anti-parasitic strategies. We therefore want to express a recombinant CRK9 enzyme complex that can be used in screening of small molecule inhibitor libraries. In parallel, we want to analyze the signaling pathways of this enzyme to understand the regulatory mechanism.
While basically all eukaryotes have introns, very little is known about their basic functions. Through genome streamlining, trypanosomes have purged all introns from their genome except two. And these two introns have been conserved positionally for a very long time, indicating that they are fundamentally important to the organism. Understanding the functions of these introns may reveal an essential link between RNA splicing and another cellular process that is conserved among all eukaryotes.
Mentorship and Supervision Summer internship:
– At the beginning, personal lectures (1-2 per week) about trypanosome biology and our line of research.
– Participation in our weekly lab meetings including presentation of his/her results.
– Open Door policy whenever I am around.
– The student will be paired with an experienced postdoc to learn wet lab techniques and experiments. The three of us will meticulously plan the experimental strategy for the student and interpret/troubleshoot experimental results.
– The student will be required to maintain a detailed lab notebook about his/her work, and this will be monitored.
– The student will need to read research articles that relate to his/her project and discuss them with us.
– The student will be encouraged to attend seminars at UConn Health.
– The student will be required to write a research summary and/or generate a poster about project and results.
Student Qualifications Biology major
Knowledge of Molecular Biology is essential
Previous exposure to molecular techniques can be a plus
Summer Schedule Options Research Dates: May 24 to July 30, 2021
Schedule: M-F, 9am-6pm (flexibility within this timeframe)
*This opportunity cannot be pursued virtually and may be cancelled if there are pandemic-related restrictions on research for summer 2021.
Project Continuation Fall 2021, Spring 2022
Academic Year Time Commitment 6-9 hours/week
Possible Thesis Project Yes


Submit an online application for this research opportunity at The application deadline is Monday, February 1, 2021.

This application requires a cover letter, a resume or CV, and contact information for references.