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UW-Eau Claire Scholarship Recipient is Lead
Author on Important Research Publication

RELEASED: Sept. 12, 2008

UW-Eau Claire student Lee Behling with professor Dr. Warren Gallagher
UW-Eau Claire senior Lee Behling and Dr. Warren Gallagher, professor of chemistry, are pictured next to the chemistry department’s nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, an instrument used in their methanobactin research that recently was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and announced in Chemical and Engineering News. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Bill Hoepner)

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior is the lead author on a research paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The publication of Lee Behling's research relating to the molecule methanobactin was deemed important enough to be announced in Chemical and Engineering News, a publication that focuses on exciting developments in the chemistry field.

"To a chemist, this is really big," Dr. Scott Hartsel, professor of chemistry, said of Behling's work first being published in a prestigious journal and then being reported on in a highly respected science news publication. "It's like a rock star getting his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine."

Behling, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Amery, was encouraged to become a student research assistant by Dr. Jim Boulter, professor of chemistry, who noticed Behling's lab skills and encouraged him to talk with chemistry professors about their research. Behling approached Hartsel and in the summer of 2006 started doing research with him on methanobactin, a small copper-binding peptide produced by methanotrophic bacteria, which use methane as their primary source of energy and play an integral role in the global carbon cycle.

"The goal of the research was to find the structure of methanobactin in its native aqueous environment, which was something no one had really looked at before," said Behling, adding that although a structure for the molecule had previously been published, it was not a solution structure.

As the research progressed, Hartsel and Behling called in Dr. Warren Gallagher, professor of chemistry, for his expertise with nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Gallagher eventually became the leader of a research team that also included Dr. David Lewis, professor of chemistry.

When Gallagher was awarded a Research Site for Educators in Chemistry grant for the summer of 2007, the team began collaborating with Dr. Gianluigi Veglia from the University of Minnesota, who specializes in using advanced NMR techniques to solve structures of proteins in solution and as solids.

"The results obtained and the skills learned at the U of M really helped us push forward with our methanobactin research back at UW-Eau Claire," said Behling.

As the researchers began to piece together a solution structure for methanobactin, they began to notice some peculiarities in the data that did not match previously published data, Gallagher said. They had discovered several errors in the previously published structure, he said.

During the 2007-08 academic year the team completed additional NMR experiments, along with mass spectrometry and chemical analysis experiments, to discover the correct structure for Methanobactin. They published a correct, revised structure for methanobactin in the Journal of the American Chemical Society article.

"The originally published structure appeared in Science magazine, which speaks to the general interest that the science community has for this molecule," Gallagher said, noting that Behling is listed as lead author on the JACS article because he played a major role in the project.

"I have found Lee to be a very capable researcher in the lab who seems to apply the scientific approach to nearly everything he does," Gallagher said. "I expect him to go far; I know the members of Dr. Veglia's lab at the University of Minnesota were quite impressed with his research capabilities, especially as an undergraduate."

Behling also recently received the Michael F. Fredrich Science Scholarship, an interdisciplinary award from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation that provides a year of full in-state tuition and fees for a science undergraduate who has shown leadership and creativity in his or her field, as well as clear potential to succeed in a graduate or professional program.

"I felt honored to have received the Fredrich scholarship for my research accomplishments," said Behling. "It will go a long way to reduce my financial burden and will help me focus on my studies and research at UW-Eau Claire."

Behling said when he came to UW-Eau Claire as a freshman from a small town he never imagined that by his senior year he would have accomplished so much.

For more information on this research, contact Gallagher at 715-836-5388 or wgallagh@uwec.edu. Or you can link to the article online.

-30-

NW/JB

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