Research by MIT undergrad helps crack chemical mystery

Monday, August 8, 2016 - 14:31 in Biology & Nature

When Martin McLaughlin ’15 arrived at MIT as a freshman in the fall of 2011, he had a plan in mind. McLaughlin wanted to work in the lab of Catherine Drennan, an MIT professor of biology and chemistry, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, who uses X-ray crystallography to study proteins. And so McLaughlin, with Drennan’s approval, started doing research in addition to taking a normal course load, as part of MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). The project he focused on was challenging: figuring out precisely how an enzyme called lipoyl synthase (LipA) acts as a catalyst in reactions that produce lipoic acid. Our metabolisms need lipoic acid to convert food into energy, but the process through which it is naturally produced has been unclear. Specifically, McLaughlin, as part of a larger research team featuring scientists from MIT and Penn State University, was trying to understand one thing above all....

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