York undergraduate nets top prize for oral presentation on the role of microRNA in reproductive biology

Jacob OBrien
Jacob OBrien
Jacob O'Brien
Jacob O’Brien

Undergraduate biology student, Jacob O’Brien, has won first prize for his oral presentation at the Southern Ontario Reproductive Biology (SORB) workshop held at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON.

O’Brien works with Faculty of Science biology Professor Chun Peng, whose research focuses on women’s reproductive health, particularly the role of microRNA in normal placental development, pregnancy complications and ovarian cancer.

Although postdoctoral fellows and PhD students who work with Peng have won numerous oral and poster presentation awards at SORB, this is a first for an undergraduate student in her lab. “Jacob is a highly talented and motivated student and I am delighted that he won the award,” says Peng. “This is a reflection of the quality of undergraduate theses in the Department of Biology at York University.”

MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that the amount of specific proteins in a cell primarily by interacting with messenger RNAs and impacting protein synthesis. O’Brien’s undergraduate thesis was to determine how a microRNA, miR-218, regulated placental cell gene expression.  Specifically, he developed a miRNA-DNA target prediction algorithm to determine which DNA sequences miR-218 interacts with. The algorithm can be applied to other microRNAs and therefore will be a useful tool in microRNA research.

“My work, I hope, will positively benefit the biology community by further increasing the knowledge of regulatory mechanisms that control protein levels within the immensely complex system we call the cell,” says O’Brien.

The annual event provides a venue for professors, graduate and undergraduate students to connect with other colleagues in their field and present their research in the area of reproductive biology.