Mackenzie Mey is an Honours student in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at UVic. Her research focuses on determining the functional and structural properties of the enzyme, ɑ-Galactosidase, which is a putative virulence factor of the human pathogen, Streptococcus pneumoniae. Her future plans are to pursue a career in healthcare or research.
Describe your research focus. My research focus involves analyzing the structure and function of a glycoside hydrolase from the human pathogen, Streptococcus pneumoniae. Glycoside hydrolases are enzymes that hydrolyse glycosidic bonds between carbohydrates. The S. pneumoniae genome encodes for a large number and variety of these enzymes and many of them have been implicated in the virulence of this pathogen. The glycoside hydrolase that I am studying exhibits α-galactosidase activity and has been identified as a putative virulence factor in a large-scale virulence screen. Previously, it has been hypothesized that this enzyme is involved in the metabolism of a plant carbohydrate by S. pneumoniae; however, how and when S. pneumoniae, as a respiratory pathogen, would come into contact with this plant sugar is not known. These findings naturally raise some questions as to the true purpose and biological substrate of this enzyme. Through detailed structural and functional characterization, I have found that this enzyme can, in fact, degrade multiple different carbohydrates, including those derived from both plants and humans.
What inspired you to get involved in research at UVic? I initially began exploring research at UVic in my second year when I learned about the chemistry courses that allowed you to participate in current research in a lab. I was very excited to do something unique and outside the “normal” curriculum, so I signed up for the chance to further my knowledge in a professional laboratory environment. I really enjoyed my experience seeing how real research is actually conducted, especially when compared to course labs.
In my final year at UVIC, I had the opportunity to do a project of my own through the Honours program. I decided to take advantage of this and do some research more specific to my interests and field of study since I thoroughly enjoyed my time in all of the BCMB labs.
What will you take away from your research experience? I am taking away a sense of accomplishment after completing my Honours program. I know I have worked very hard to get myself to this point and it has proven to be very satisfying. I learned very quickly that lab work is difficult but extremely gratifying. I will definitely treasure my experience in the lab, not only for the research but also for the people I have met and the relationships that have been formed. I am very proud of myself and will move forward in life knowing that I can achieve any goal I set for myself.
What are your future aspirations and goals? Currently, I am at a crossroads. As I graduate from UVic, I am continuing to push myself and set high goals. When I first started university I had my sights set on medicine and becoming a doctor, as I know there is a tremendous shortage of physicians, and I can really see myself in this position. However, in my time doing this Honours project, the prospect of research has really captured my attention and I am looking at options in the field of research. I am hoping to further my scientific career with a job in this field after graduation.
As of this moment, I am still deliberating and have not made a final decision. I am still in the process of gathering information, and while I cannot say with certainty which of these two paths I will follow, I do know my future is up to me and what I decide to make of myself.