July 20, 2009

James Vasta ’10 Has Published Eight Papers in Scholarly Journals

Biochemistry major has participated in ongoing EXCEL research with Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, and Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology

Biochemistry major James Vasta ’10 (Ambler, Pa.) has taken full advantage of Lafayette’s focus on faculty-led undergraduate research.

His ongoing work with Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, and Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology, has led to eight publications in scholarly journals. He also has been accepted into a high-level summer research position in the department of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

Vasta’s work with Sherma and Fried has been published in Parasitology Research, twice in Journal of Planar Chromatography and Journal of Liquid Chromatography and Related Technologies, and three times in Acta Chromatographica.

The majority of his research has focused on the study of urine and feces in mice experimentally infected with the intestinal flatworm Echinostoma caproni. Vasta is involved in every aspect of the research from sample collection, to data analysis, to writing the manuscripts.

He used an analytical chemistry technique called high performance thin layer chromatography to determine the differences in the amount of compounds present in infected mice versus uninfected mice.

These parasites, according to Vasta, are good models for studying other debilitating diseases, like trematodiasis and schistosomiasis, which commonly infect humans in developing countries. The researchers hope to identify biological markers for these infections that would aid in the development of a user-friendly, analytical test for diagnosing them in humans.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vasta is learning techniques of both micro and molecular biology and using these new skills to answer questions regarding the metabolism of a species of bacteria called Salmonella enterica. These bacteria are important due to their ability to synthesize thiamin, or vitamin B1, which humans are unable to synthesize but need in their diet. The researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the biosynthesis of thiamin and develop methods so it can be more efficiently supplemented into the diet.

Vasta received a Goldwater Scholarship in 2008, the nation’s premier undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. After Lafayette, he plans to attend graduate school and obtain a Ph.D. He is still narrowing down his particular area of study from subjects such as chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology.

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