Earlier this year, former ROUTES Scholars Ariel Aiken and Jadesola Akanji were co-authors of their first publication, “The response of Escherichia coli to the alkylating agents chloroacetaldehyde and styrene oxide,” which summarized many of the studies and findings gleaned from their time working in Dr. Penny Beuning’s lab.

In the recently published study, the research team looked at the alkylating agents CAA and SO, which may lead to detrimental DNA mutations that can ultimately cause negative public health effects such as cancer. Alkylating agents (CAA and SO) are genotoxic chemicals that react with DNA, potentially forming damaging cytotoxic or mutagenic adducts, and are often found in the environment as a byproduct of industrial processes. The researchers found the alkylating agents yielded a wide range of responses in DNA damage repair genes and identified genes important for an appropriate response to the agents, highlighting potential aspects of DNA damage that need to be studied further and on an individual basis.

To complete this study, scientists conducted TELI assays and knockouts to identify genes sensitive to CAA and SO that are involved in DNA damage. The knockouts chosen for survival assays were determined by the TELI results. Additionally, researchers used a survival assay to test for cellular sensitivity to the alkylating agents of strains lacking key DNA damage repair genes.

Alkylating agents are environmental contaminants and this publication brings attention to how impactful they can be to specific genes. The work done in this study can also provide a basis on which to widen the range of hazardous waste byproducts studied in the region as well as to examine how heritable DNA mutations caused by the pollution are affecting the long-term survival of the population.

“Overall, awareness is key!” says Ariel. “It is important for individuals that currently work in or around industrial plants that may use or release potentially toxic chemicals to be aware of what is in their environment. Also, every individuals’ exposure and safety should be a priority for those making decisions. Additionally, those who are the descendants of individuals that may have been exposed should be made aware as well due to the potential heritable nature of the type of DNA damage present here.“

Ariel graduated in December 2017 with B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience and is currently in her second year at the University of Massachusetts Boston pursuing her Ph.D. in the Developmental & Brain Sciences Program, where she works in the Lab of Neurogenetics & Genomics. During the second half of 2016, Ariel worked as a co-op in Penny’s lab on the “Determination of E. coli cellular function that contributes to survival upon exposure to alkylating agents” project. During her co-op, Ariel was responsible for conducting survival assay protocols, constructing knockout bacterial strains through phage mediated transduction, data analysis through excel, presenting experimental results, as well as training undergraduate and high school interns participating in the project.

Jadesola Akanji graduated in May 2018 with a degree in Biochemistry and a minor in International Affairs. After graduation, she worked as a Research Technician and is now a Product Development Analyst in the medical industry. Jadesola also worked alongside mentor Penny Beuning in the DNA Damage lab the semester following Ariel in early 2017, continuing the work Ariel started on her co-op; she continued working part-time as a lab assistant in Penny’s lab until she graduated the following year. While in this role, Jadesola was responsible for helping produce medical compounds in plant cell cultures to produce an alternative source of the plant-derived drugs, conducted individual research, analyzed data, gave monthly reports, and presented findings to colleagues in the field.

Congratulations to Ariel and Jadesola for their first publication!

This website was supported by Award Number R25ES025496 from the National Institute Of Environmental Health Sciences. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute Of Environmental Health Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.