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Falvey Scholars 2022: Erica Mallon CLAS ’22

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Erica Mallon ’22 CLAS, 2022 Falvey Scholar (Photo by Andrew McKeough)

The Falvey Scholars Program is an annual program established by Falvey Library to recognize outstanding undergraduate research. Now in its 20th year, the program is a collective initiative of the Library and the Center for Research and Fellowships. The recipients of this award are selected from a pool of candidates nominated by Villanova faculty and reviewed by Library staff.

This year, eight students received awards, their work reflecting the breadth and depth of undergraduate research at the University as well as the support the Library, its resources and staff, provide student-scholars.

This blog is the sixth of seven installments, which will introduce our scholars and cover their research in their own words. Look for additional coverage of the Falvey Scholars in the fall issue of Mosaic.

Congratulations to all of our Falvey Scholars, past and present!


Scholar Summary

Erica Mallon ’22 CLAS

Project Title: “Dsk2 interacts with polyubiquitinated substrates to reciprocally induce sedimentation”

Faculty Mentor: Daniel Kraut, PhD, Associate Professor, Chemistry

Hometown: Madison, Conn.

Other Honors: Alpha Epsilon Delta Health Pre-Professional Honors Society; Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society


Describe your research in your own words.

My research concerns the role of the Dsk2 shuttle protein in proteasomal degradation as well as interactions between Dsk2 and polyubiquitinated proteins, which reciprocally induce sedimentation. The purpose of my research is to provide further understanding of the role of Dsk2 in the cell. The proteasome is the major molecular machine in the cell responsible for protein degradation. Shuttle proteins are important but not necessary for protein degradation to occur: they help to escort polyubiquitinated target substrates to the proteasome to be degraded, and it appears that the role of the shuttle proteins can change dynamically under differing cell conditions.

The first goal of my research was to ascertain the importance of shuttle proteins on the unfolding ability (the rate and efficiency of protein degradation) of the proteasome by removing and subsequently adding back in the shuttle proteins to the assay conditions. I found that removing Dsk2 from the proteasome resulted in decreased efficiency of degradation for mixed K48/K63-linked substrates, and adding back in purified Dsk2 could restore the efficiency. Additionally, while conducting this research, I found that the Dsk2 shuttle protein actually induced aggregation of polyubiquitinated proteins and caused them to come out of solution.

After further investigation, I found that Dsk2 and polyubiquitinated proteins reciprocally induce sedimentation, and sedimentation levels are dependent on the substrate’s ubiquitin chain. Additionally, Dsk2 can undergo liquid-liquid phase separation, which is enhanced by polyubiquitinated substrates.

How did the Library’s staff impact your research and academic experience?

During my freshman year’s Research Methods course, we attended workshops in the Library, during which the Library staff taught our class how to use Falvey’s resources, such as the databases and citation tools, in order to conduct background research for a class assignment.

Learning how to navigate the Library’s online resources was very helpful in many of my future classes when I have needed to conduct research and acquire reputable journal articles. I used the knowledge all throughout my college career, especially while writing my thesis and conducting background research for my current research. The staff was very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, and their guidance has been extremely useful to me for this project and my overall academic experience at Villanova.

How did Falvey’s resources and databases impact your research?

The Falvey Memorial Library resources were an integral component of my research for my thesis. The databases tool was one which I frequently used to browse articles while writing the introduction of my thesis.

For example, ScienceDirect (Elsevier) and PubMed were two databases which I frequently explored when looking into background information about the proteasome and shuttle proteins. I was also able to use the “Search Everything” tool for general background articles and Zotero as a citation tool for all of my research.

Finally, the Library building itself was my main working location when writing and creating figures for my thesis. As one of the best spaces for quiet study on campus, Falvey’s individual study desks on the 3rd floor were ideal for when I needed to get a lot of work done on my thesis.

What’s next for you?

I will be doing a year of service with AmeriCorps next year as a way of giving back to the community, and then I hope to attend dental school.

Will you continue this research direction?

This summer, I returned to my research lab and continued working on my project before handing it off to a new lab member.


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Last Modified: July 11, 2022