ARRA Helps Define Molecular Structure, Career Direction for New College Grad

Last year, San Diego State University’s Sanford Bernstein, Ph.D., was looking to expand his efforts to examine UNC-45, a protein essential for the proper structure and functioning of the molecular motor myosin, which powers muscle contraction. Clarke Gasper, B.S., a talented and newly minted college graduate, was looking to begin a career in the life sciences. With the help of a summer supplement award funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and administered by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), both men are achieving their goals.

Dr. Bernstein's research group at San Diego State University. Mr. Gasper is seated in the front row, second from the left, in front of Dr. Bernstein.

Dr. Bernstein’s work involved better understanding how UNC-45 interacts with its target protein myosin. His team, in collaboration with colleague Tom Huxford, Ph.D., had isolated and crystallized the protein, and then determined its structure. Gasper joined his team for the summer, and helped push the work forward. He developed a new DNA molecule that produced a mutant version of UNC-45, isolated and crystallized the protein, and even helped to obtain X-ray diffraction patterns that allowed the team to solve its structure. This new information about the UNC-45 mutant, Dr. Bernstein says, will increase knowledge of the normal protein.

"Understanding how UNC-45 works may allow us to harness its function in protecting muscle from biological stress or ameliorating diseases caused by protein-folding defects," says Dr. Bernstein. "Clarke’s contributions helped us to move our research forward dramatically."

Gasper said his time researching the protein was "definitely the most amazing [research] experience thus far." Although his summer research time was brief, it changed his career path. Gasper enjoyed his research so much that he intends to apply to and attend a Ph.D. program to receive advanced training before embarking on an independent career. As for employment, he says that the summer position "helped me get an edge in this competitive job market." He currently works on protein expression at the California Institute of Technology.

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The activity above is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). More information about the National Institutes of Health's ARRA grant funding opportunities can be found at To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit

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