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Unraveling Proteins

Two Rensselaer researchers team up to conduct groundbreaking biotechnology research — and to attract more young people to their fields.

By Jill U. Adams

Wilfredo Colón and Christopher Bystroff make a formidable research team, bringing together their individual expertise in biochemical techniques and computer modeling to better understand why proteins sometimes become trapped in a specific structure — knowledge that could lead to early detection for diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Alzheimer’s. Colón, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology,and Bystroff, associate professor of biology, are prime examples of the multidisciplinary research teams supported by the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

“This is exactly what the biotechnology center was intended to do,” says Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering and acting director of the center. “To bring groups from different disciplines together.”

Rensselaer’s emerging biotechnology enterprise seeks to break down the traditional walls between researchers. “It’s interesting how few biologists really talk to chemists,” Linhardt says. “This way of working that we have now at Rensselaer basically cuts down those barriers.”

Colón and Bystroff are extending their collaboration to helping attract and mentor the next generation of researchers — especially young people from underrepresented groups in the sciences and academia. Students speak highly of the researchers as teachers and colleagues whose talent, energy, and commitment to leading-edge discovery is drawing promising undergraduates and graduate students to Rensselaer.

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