What They Learned: June Hoang ’21

The chemistry major explored molecular and enzymatic diversity in bacteria that has major pharmaceutical implications.

If you think all bacteria are bad, June Hoang wants you to think again. Her thesis research this year examined how enzymes in the never-before-studied non-actinobacteria Gloeocapsa could be used to harbor natural products that can be repurposed as pharmaceutical agents like antibiotics. 

“These enzymes are known for producing a wide array of bioactive molecules with astounding clinical success; however, due to the challenges in studying their activities in a controlled-laboratory condition, our understanding of this system remains limited,” said the chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration and neuroscience minor

Hoang bridged some of this gap in understanding by combining multiple techniques to examine the genome and proteins of the bacteria.

“With the help of Dr. Bashkim Kokona and Dr. Yae In Cho, as well as my lab partners Grayson Hamrick ’21 and Rebeccca Koweek ’22, I successfully harvested and characterized the structures of the key enzymes in the type II Polyketide Synthases (PKS) assembly line from Gloeocapsa that can be further examined in future studies,” she said. 

Hoang worked in Associate Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian’s lab this year. The lab’s larger goal is to learn as much as possible about different components within the type II PKS system as well as their interactions in nonactinobacteria.  The hope is to combine the enzymes they studied to see if they produce any novel molecules with pharmaceutical benefits. 

Hoang, who was a Chesick Scholar at Haverford, will continue lab research next year at the Koch Institute for Integrated Cancer Research at MIT. 

“I’m very excited to apply and broaden my lab skills that I have cultivated during my time at the Charkoudian lab,” she said. “At the same time, I look forward to bringing the collaborative energy from my time at Haverford to the new environment while enjoying the post-grad life in a brand new city.”

What is your biggest takeaway from the project?
My biggest takeaway from working on this project is to always ask questions, big or small. I frequently found myself being thrown outside of my comfort zone, so I was shy to reach out for help at first for fear of being considered incompetent. Thanks to such a collaborative and inclusive lab environment, I learned to embrace the initial discomfort when introduced to a new technique or a new problem and view them as an opportunity to grow. This has helped me in numerous ways, including comprehending complex research journal articles and recognizing patterns that have gone unnoticed in my data.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you, your work, or your time at Haverford?
I would not be able to get this far without the help of the Chesick Scholar program, Questbridge, as well as the Chemistry Department at Haverford. Throughout my four years here, I have learned that behind every successful student is a group of supportive faculty, peers, and staff that work tirelessly. A special thanks to all the powerful women in STEM, from faculty to students, for being my inspiration to advocate for myself both in and outside of the lab.