/ Chemistry Department

Pikaart Research Group

Environmental Microbiology

Dr. Pikaart conducts research with students, non-profits and local/state government to validate microbial testing methods in the local watershed, and internationally testing microbial, chemical and sediment retention in filters distributed in developing countries for point-of-use drinking water purification.

Biochemistry Pedagogical research

Dr. Pikaart is involved in ongoing collaboration with like-minded biochemists from around the country working to bring computational and wet-lab protien science to the biochemistry teaching lab. Together they have developed a protein biochemistry course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) to determine enzymatic function of proteins of unknown activity. This work leverages the results of the Protein Structure Initiative, a 15-year NIH-funded effort which concluded in 2015 with the publication and distribution of more than 5,000 previously uncharacterized proteins. The great majority of these are “orphans,” with high quality structures and pre-cloned expression plasmids available, but no research on their enzymatic function or role in native organisms. The BASIL consortium of undergraduate biochemistry faculty and students seeks to identify functional properties of a subset of these uncharacterized proteins, seeking to unify structure and function relationships. The current biochemistry laboratory class at Hope College has expressed and purified eight of these proteins, finding that structural information can guide, although not predict entirely, functional predictions regarding substrate specificity.

The significance of this work was recognized by the award of NSF funding to seven of the institutions listed above, including Hope, for an initial two-year period (July 2015–June 2017) through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program.

This consisted of seven separate, but linked collaborative proposals with each faculty member serving as PI at his/her institution. As this grant moved ahead, we submitted another set of collaborative proposals for the next level of IUSE funding and are now funded for three more years of work (Sept 2017–Aug 2020).

Our efforts for the current funding phase are directed toward three outcomes:

  • Dissemination in the form of implementable research-based modules to the wider biochemistry faculty community,
  • Assessment of the effectiveness of the BASIL CURE in maturation process of students as
  • Pursuing further biochemistry on the proteins we have begun to dissect