September 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Student Researcher Has Bioinformatics Findings Published

Demarest, NJ: When it comes to helping others through scientific research, Academy of the Holy Angels senior Julia Malnak can testify that age is not an obstacle. Malnak recently participated in the Waksman Student Scholars Program at Rutgers University, and had her bioinformatics findings published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information database. In addition to her in-depth study of duckweed DNA at Rutgers, she is also part of an ongoing Alzheimer’s research project at Montclair State University.

The three-week Waksman program allowed Malnak to hear lectures by Rutgers professors and scientists from the Center for Integrative Proteomics Research before conducting her own DNA sequence analyses of duckweed. WSSP views this quick-growing, high-starch aquatic plant as a potential aid in bioremediation situations, since duckweed is known to extract and degrade contaminants found in water.

“The Landolita punctata plant (a form of duckweed) has possible medical uses and is a possible biofuel because of its high starch content,” the Montvale resident added.

“I used the laboratories in the Waksman Institute to isolate and estimate the base pairs in the Landolita punctata,” she said. “After the DNA was purified, it was sent to be sequenced. When the data returned, I used bioinformatics to determine that the DNA sequence coded for a lipid transport protein in the Landolita punctata plant.”

Waksman scientists reviewed her findings and determined that the DNA sequence and Malnak’s bioinformatics work could be published in the NCBI database.

While she was working at Rutgers, Malnak purified multiple DNA sequences and had four that were sequenced.

“I was not able to use two because the purified pieces sometimes become fragmented and it is not possible to determine which protein the DNA codes for,” she explained.

Malnak is currently working on a second DNA sequence, and is simultaneously continuing her work with a biochemistry professor from Montclair State. Malnak explained that she contacted several science professors who work locally so she could further explore her interest in chemistry, and found a mentor at Montclair.

“His project is to study the protein alpha-synuclein, which is linked Alzheimer's disease,” she noted. “His project studies the aggregation of the protein, because that leads to Alzheimer's.”

Malnak said her work involves growing and isolating protein so its aggregation can be studied.

“I have learned many techniques in the field of biology and chemistry with his help. So far, no major discoveries have been made, but I will continue to work for him during the year,” she added.

Malnak developed a love for science as a middle school student at Lacordaire Academy in Montclair. As an eighth grader, she created a science fair project concerning hereditary patterns in fingerprints. When it came time to choose a high school, Malnak selected Holy Angels due to the strength of the Academy’s science program.

“I like research because I think this is my way of helping people,” she explained. “Aiding the professor in Alheizmer's research, I am making a contribution to people with Alheizmer's. I hope I can continue research as my career because the rewards of helping others are truly satisfying.”

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.


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