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Undergraduate Programs

What'd you do this Summer? - Featuring Benjamin Nasal

Image of Benjamin Nasal


Benjamin Nasal

Recipient of the Paul and Mildred Berg Summer Research Endowment


Junior majoring in the Molecular and Cell Biology Option of

 Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Conducts research in the Jose Lab under the guidance of 

Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Joyce Jose

Many students spend their summers as an undergraduate taking time away from their studies and either working a summer job or enjoying the opportunity to spend time with family and friends.  Not Benjamin.  As a recipient of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (S.U.R.F.) Award, he spent the 2020 summer researching the SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins and their role in viral assembly.

Originally, Benjamin’s research was to focus on preliminary data he had acquired regarding the localization of the HCV capsid protein utilizing live-cell imaging.  Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, his mentor was asked to suspend all non-COVID related research.  This, compounded with the reality that his research would need to be conducted virtually, led Benjamin to shift his focus onto SARS-CoV-2.  “As the world scrambles to discover an effective vaccine or therapeutic for SARS-CoV-2, I sought to contribute in whatever way that I could,” said Benjamin.

With a new focus, Benjamin spent his summer writing a review of the SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins and their role in viral assembly.  To date there has not been a comprehensive review of the topic.  Benjamin’s review will provide scientists with a solid, concise, and informative summary of the research that has been done to date on the SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins and their role in the assembly process. His hope is that the information will prove useful in continued research on the virus and a possible vaccine.

Over the course of the summer, Benjamin closely followed SARS-CoV-2 publications as they were published and used the publications to compile a review on how the structural proteins contribute towards the assembly process.  Through a broad search of the four SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins, more specifically nucleocapsid (N), membrane (M) and envelope (E), Benjamin drafted his review with a preface on SARS-CoV-2 host cell entry, genome replication, transcription, and translation.  His review discussed how the structures of N, M, and E played individual roles in forming mature viral particles and concluded by highlighting potential targets for therapeutic development within the SARS-CoV-2 assembly process.

Benjamin says the experience was “invaluable” and has helped him to gain experience in scientific writing as well as “deciphering the puzzle that is scientific publications.”  “Moving forward, I'm more confident in my ability to read and write with a scientific voice, and more confident in my skills in summarizing and presenting my own research,” says Benjamin.  Receiving his SURF award has not only allowed him to learn more about what is arguably the world’s most infamous pathogen at this time in history but has also helped him to become a better researcher, writer, and critical thinker. 

After graduation Benjamin hopes to pursue a graduate education, with the long-term goal of earning his Ph.D. and becoming a teaching professor at a university.  “It's a very rewarding experience for me to teach others,” he says.  “Not only am I helping them learn, but I'm also learning more about myself, my peers, and the world around me, so it's a win-win situation.”  We have no doubt that Benjamin will one day achieve his goal of teaching in higher education and do his part to help educate, guide, and prepare his students to become the world’s next generation of scientists.