Justin Roberts, an undergraduate student in John Engen’s lab, has been awarded a 2013/14 Provost Undergraduate Research Award.

Roberts has been working on the solution dynamics of the Tec family of tyrosine kinases. These are enzymes found in every living organism. They attach phosphorus to residues on other proteins, which acts as a molecular power switch to turn enzymes in the body on and off. Kinases are vital to cellular communication, and as Roberts explains, “their function has far reaching implications.

For example, if the signaling pathway that is used to tell cells to grow is always on, then tissues will become cancerous.”

His focus is Src Homology 3 (SRC) domain, which is involved in binding signaling partners. He uses mass spectrometry to determine how the domain moves and breathes in solution.

Roberts is first author on a research paper that he will submit in the spring. He also hopes to present his research at the 2014 American Society for Mass Spectrometry, which is in Baltimore in June.