HPU Professor Receives Two Chemistry Grants from the National Science Foundation

Oct 17th, 2018

HPU Professor Receives Two Chemistry Grants from the National Science Foundation

The first grant helps better understand exercise-induced stress on cellular function and the second grant focuses on how plants react to stressors.

HIGH POINT, N.C., Oct. 17, 2018 – The National Science Foundation has awarded a High Point University chemistry professor with two grants to continue student-run laboratory research and course development.

Dr. Andrew Wommack, assistant professor of chemistry in the David R. Hayworth College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded a $172,000 grant from the Chemistry of Life Processes Program within the NSF’s Division of Chemistry.

This grant will support nine HPU undergraduate research students as they investigate biochemical signaling related to how peptides and proteins use disulfide bonds. The disulfide bond links the amino acids in these biopolymers to form rigid and defined shapes. However, under the right conditions the disulfide bond is broken, which causes the protein to change shape and oftentimes change functions. These sulfur-to-sulfur bonds serve important roles in biology ranging from protecting sensitive molecular structures, signaling between and within cells, and regulation of metabolic pathways.

Characterizing these intricate chemical mechanisms is important to better understand exercise-induced stress, cellular function during aging, and stages of disease. In addition to inventing new chemical methods for exploring how disulfide bonding affects biological processes, Wommack’s project directly impacts the training of undergraduate research students.

“I am very honored to have received this independent award, which is an unprecedented grant for the chemical sciences at HPU,” says Wommack. “Awards like these convincingly show the meaningful work that HPU faculty and students are engaged in and serve as a testament of the continued commitment from the HPU administration to foster a vigorous culture of scholarship for our students.”

In August 2018, Dr. Wommack joined a $418,000 grant from the NSF in collaboration with Dr. Leslie Hicks, assistant professor of chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill and Dr. Sorina Popescu, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Mississippi State University.

The project focuses on how plants react to internal and external stressors to maintain and adapt their physiology on a cellular and biochemical level. Using chemistry, cellular biology, and whole plant analysis, the interdisciplinary team is uncovering how plants recruit biochemical responses to environmental challenges. The potential impacts of these fundamental investigations will contribute to our understanding of how native plants and food crops survive changing climate and ecology.