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News Release

Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160 | Fax (410) 516-5251

April 10, 2001
CONTACT: Michael Purdy

Local Student Presents Research at
Undergraduate Award Ceremony

Jideofor Aniukwu, from Huntsville, Ala., was among 43 Johns Hopkins University students to receive a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award for the 2000-2001 academic year. Results of Aniukwu's research, titled "Isolation and Characterization of Xenopus laevis BAF," were presented at an awards ceremony on Thursday, April 5. Aniukwu is a graduate of Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Ala

Aniukwu's studies centered on a protein known as "barrier to autointegration factor," or BAF. Scientists originally identified BAF while studying retroviruses such as HIV, and determined that BAF helps the virus integrate itself into a host cell's genes without integrating into its own DNA, improving the virus' ability to survive.

Biologists call BAF "highly conserved" because its amino acid sequence is nearly identical in a wide range of organisms, from the worm C. elegans to fish to humans. The fact that life has retained BAF over such a long span of evolution suggests BAF might have an important and fairly basic function worth knowing about, and Aniukwu is testing a theory about what that function might be.

"It's been shown that BAF can bind to both DNA and to proteins located at the inner membrane of the nucleus, where the DNA is stored," Aniukwu explains. "Interaction between the inner membrane of the nucleus and DNA is important during cell division. DNA gets 'packed up' during the process of cell division, and we think BAF may help 'unpack' it at the end of the process."

To check the theory, Aniukwu, a junior in biology, is isolating BAF from the eggs of a frog, Xenopus laevis. He had some trouble with his initial plan to isolate BAF, but with the help of mentor Katherine Wilson, an associate professor of cell biology and anatomy, soon had a successful "plan B" under way.

"When I realized that plan A was not working, it was a big blow, but I'm realistic, it's science, and not everything is going to work out," said Aniukwu. "I just get to learn a whole new set of experimental techniques by going to plan B."

"Jide is now an experienced member of the lab, with a long-term interest in basic biomedical research," Wilson said. "He does excellent work, and is familiar with the trials, tribulations and joy of research."

Aniukwu plans to enter an M.D./Ph.D. program when he graduates.

The Johns Hopkins University is recognized as the country's first graduate research university, and has been in recent years the leader among the nation's research universities in winning federal research and development grants.

The opportunity to be involved in important research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of an undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins. About 80 percent of the university's undergraduates engage in some form of independent research during their four years, most often alongside top researchers in their fields.

The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards is one of these research opportunities, open to students in each of the university's four schools with full- time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the G.W.C. Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing. Since 1993, about 40 students each year have been awarded up to $2,500 to propose and conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards, begun by then provost Joseph Cooper and funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's commitment to research.

Return to Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards news release.

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