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CIE Researcher of Distinction, October 2018


Jinnette Tolentino
Jinnette Tolentino

Each month, the Center for Inclusive Education showcases the outstanding research being conducted by one of our talented scholars in our Research Café series. In addition, we recognize this scholar as a Researcher of Distinction and share the details of his/her journey to becoming an accomplished scholar. This month's Researcher of Distinction is Jinnette Tolentino, PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry. Jinnette presented her work, ‘Probing Structural Dynamics of Photoactive Proteins using Az-Phe as a Vibrational Reporter on Monday, October 29, 2018.



Jinnette obtained a BS and MS in chemistry from York College and Queens College. As an undergrad, she was working on probing Zinc-carboxylate interaction using vibrational spectroscopies. As a master student, she was synthesizing and testing short peptides against amyloid aggregation. In 2015, Jinnette was accepted into the chemistry program at SBU where she joined Dr.Tonge's lab. Currently, Jinnette is working on studying the light-induced structural dynamics of flavoprotein using time resolved vibrational spectroscopy. She is an AGEP-T FRAME Scholar, IMSD-MERGE Scholar and  Turner Fellow.

JINNETTE's Current Research

Describe the work you presented for your Research Café.

Blue Light utilizing flavin (BLUF) proteins are a novel group of photoreceptors found in many organisms that contain a noncovalently bound flavin cofactor. The absorption of blue light by the flavin leads to structural changes that result ultimately in activation of the photoreceptor. There is significant interest in understanding how ultrafast photoexcitation controls biological functions such as phototaxis, gene expression, and virulence. This information can drive the development of novel optogenetic tools. My research focus on probing light-induced structural dynamics of BLUF photoreceptors. We incorporate unnatural amino acids (UAAs) that act as vibrational IR reporter that can time-resolve structural changes at specific sites following excitation.

How did you become interested in research?

When I started my undergrad I was a math major because it always has been my strongest subject in high school and in college. I needed some advice on what courses to take and a chemistry faculty ended up being my advisor. He gave me an overview on his research and I was fascinated and interested. He recruited me to do research in his lab.  I had zero experience working on chemistry lab and employing spectroscopy to study metal ligand interaction. I was trained by senior student on what to do.

What was the deciding factor for you to come to Stony Brook for your graduate studies?

The research at SBU was the deciding factor for me. I always wanted a project that I would be interested to work on.

Are there any other projects, beyond your Research Café work, that you are currently working on? 

In my project, we work on multiple light activated proteins which have different biological functions in bacteria and vary in the mechanism of photoactivation. We characterize those proteins with a combination of mutagenesis, time-resolved vibrational spectroscopy and crystallography.

What are your future goals?

I want to finish my PhD and get a job that I would enjoy doing every day either in academia or industry.

What do you enjoy most about research?

I am not sure if there is only one thing that I enjoy the most about research. For me research is like a puzzle, there is a big picture and we have to place the pieces together.  I enjoy placing the pieces together, it is very gratifying when I find an answer to question that helps the project to move forward. I also enjoy sharing ideas with my colleagues and traveling to England to collect the data.