VDS Stream Teaches High School Students about Proteins

During the fall of 2015, a group of fifteen high school freshmen at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy of Austin came together to learn about protein synthesis from some dedicated FRI undergraduate researchers. The program which spanned three separate after school sessions was led by Tony García, a B.S. major in Human Biology and a member of the Virtual Drug Screening (VDS) stream of the FRI. Tony was accompanied by his fellow VDS researchers: Priya Patel, Renee French, Vicky Gomez and Grace Truong. Funding was provided as a mini grant of $500 by The Protein Society which Tony applied for and received.

On the first day of the program, students carried out a classroom activity where they transcribed and translated a DNA sequence into its corresponding amino acid string. They then attached plastic R-group models to a foam “mini-toober” backbone (3-D Molecular Designs), folding it to form a complete tertiary structure protein unit.

On the second day, the students were introduced to PyMOL® protein visualization software, which they used to manipulate a ligand and see how it was boundto an active site of a protein target. This was a class favorite, and according to one student “PyMOL® was really cool and unique to work with.”

On the third day students used PyMOL® to contemplate the specific application of antibiotic drug screening. Students were asked to predict which of a series of docked ligands would best inhibit the tyrosine phosphatase protein of T. Brucei, a microorganism which causes African sleeping sickness.


Through daily questionnaires given before and after the activities, García and his colleagues noticed a “marked improvement” in student knowledge of protein synthesis, folding, structure, and protein-ligand interactions. One student “loved watching my biology class come to life and see how I could apply the material to the real world.” The student also said that “I hope the outreach program does more things like this at LASA”

The outreach program has also impressed LASA staffers. Pre-AP Biology teacher Jill Griffin says “The students involved have already referenced the material [the researchers] taught many times in class!”

Through this seminar, the VDS stream has showcased the commitment that FRI students have towards serving their communities. By educating high school students about science in a tactile and hands-on way, it’s possible to inspire a new generation of researchers and science majors.


Kate Thackrey

UT Journalism Student


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