UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania – The principals facilities at the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences in Pennsylvania are more than just expert technicians – they are also researchers in their own right. And although their unique contributions are not always recognized within the broader community, faculty researchers who work in the core facilities are well aware of the many fascinating visions of these unsung heroes.
“With the breadth of research going on here and on Commonwealth campuses, our facility managers are accustomed to working on a range of projects that test their own technologies and expertise,” said Nigel Deaton, director of core facilities at the Hack Institutes.
One such individual is Nila Yenoor, director of X-ray Crystallography and Instrumental Biological Calorimetry Core Facilities. Yanuer’s extensive and unique experience in winning six NIH grants and supporting other faculty members has resulted in research grants totaling more than $40 million.
“The most exciting thing about working at a core facility is being able to participate in an amazing variety of research,” Yenoor said. “The core facilities are a model for teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration. I love the synergy of working with others.”
Orientation of two key facilities has enabled Yenoor to collaborate with researchers in the Penn State Departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, Materials Science, Food Science, Biology, Veterinary Science, and Bioengineering. These partnerships led to the determination of the X-ray crystal structures of 65 proteins, the binding thermodynamics of protein and DNA complexes and their morphology in the solution state.
With the Mineral Biochemistry Group in Pennsylvania, Lenore has established a first-of-its-kind facility for anaerobic structural studies. She has co-authored 54 peer-reviewed articles, plus the companion has made available the search for an additional 32 peer-reviewed publications.
Wiener’s work has led to an understanding of the reaction pathway of new enzymes including the chemistry of RNA methylthiolation (published in Nature with Bowker’s group) and a solution to the puzzle of opposing enzyme reactions in globin-conjugated sensing proteins (published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with Weinert’s group).
“The collaboration with Yennawar is fantastic, she played a pivotal role in helping to design the best possible experiment for getting information about our system,” said Emily Weinert, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Penn State. “She is also willing to train lab members and has led the acquisition of devices that expand the range of scientific questions that can be addressed internally.”
Yenoor has trained 59 postdoctoral students and fellows across multiple disciplines focusing on structural biology approaches including X-ray crystallography, biometry, small angle X-ray scattering, multiple angles, static and dynamic light scattering, circular dichromatic spectroscopy, and microelectron Diffraction and molecular modeling. Projects ranged from RNA studies with the Bevilacqua (Chemistry) lab to DNA in solar cells with the BREA (Materials Science and Engineering) lab.
“I’ve had the good fortune to work with Lenoir for many years,” said Philip Bevilacqua, a Penn State professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology. “It excels in running a state-of-the-art facility with traditional and unusual equipment. The basic facilities have been an indispensable part of my group’s research.”
Lenore’s influence extends beyond Pennsylvania as well. She has worked with 22 health care laboratories for the biophysical characterization of proteins, nucleic acids, and their complexes. Through a training grant from the National Institutes of Health, Lenoir and his team hosted eight teachers at a rural Pennsylvania high school to share molecular stories, including their structure and function as inferred by X-ray crystallography and molecular modeling.
“Neela really captures Huck’s mission beautifully,” said Andrew Reed, Director of The Huck Institutes enthusiastically. “Not only does it serve as a technical catalyst for interdisciplinary work, but it also develops young student scientists, engages external partners, and helps Penn State acquire the technology we need to stay on the cutting edge of life sciences research.”