Professor Leads Research Team on Gene Evolution and Mutation

By Erin Matheson ‘18
Science Columnist

Professor Aaron Leconte, photo courtesy of Keck Science.

Professor Aaron Leconte, photo courtesy of Keck Science.

In the science field, biochemistry is a growing major and interest to many, with applications ranging from pharmaceutical to biotechnology to many more.  Professor Aaron Leconte is the head of biochemistry at the W.M. Keck Science Center, which is shared among Scripps, Pitzer, and Claremont McKenna College.  He currently heads up a research group comprised of himself and seven students which focuses on gene evolution and mutation.

Professor Leconte’s lab focuses on engineering two different proteins: a DNA polymerase (a protein that makes molecules of DNA) and luciferase (a protein that performs a chemical reaction that generates light). The luciferase project is a collaboration with a research group at UC Irvine, led by Jennifer Prescher.  They work on separate, but related, questions in luciferase engineering, so the two labs share resources (expertise, lab-generated materials, etc.) as often as possible. “I’ve been able to bring students down to Irvine to visit the Prescher Labs, and it was a truly enlightening experience for them!” said Leconte.  Leconte will also be doing research at UC Irvine in the Prescher Lab during his junior research leave to learn some techniques and as possible from their research group.  “It has been a fun experience for both my students and me to get to frequently interact with a truly outstanding lab in our field,” said Leconte.

So far, Leconte has received funding with the Cottrell College Science Award in 2014 as funded by Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement. The Cottrell Scholar program develops outstanding teacher-scholars who are recognized by their scientific communities for the quality and innovation of their research programs and their academic leadership skills.. “I am using this generous award to pay for student summer research stipends as well as to buy supplies for research. I have also received funding from TriLink Biotechnologies; since our work focuses on increasing the utility of some of the materials that they make, they have generously agreed to provide some materials for our lab,” said Leconte. “I am a chemist, so I am interested in trying to build useful molecules.  Both of the project areas in my lab focus on trying to make proteins (my favorite useful molecular tool) that might help scientists and doctors diagnose and study diseases.”  The research that is being done by our professors and fellow students could help people in future.

“A research lab is only as good as the people doing the research!” Leconte said,  “I’m very lucky to be able to have worked with so many hard-working, bright, and ambitious students in my short time in Claremont. I’m proud of the very productive start that we have had, and I’m excited to see what my students do after Claremont!”