May 24, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

The students in Eric Arnoys' biochem II class choose their favorite protein via a bracket.

Professor Eric Arnoys’ biochemistry II class has selected their favorite protein: Hemagglutinin, a deadly killer. “This was pretty fun,” said senior Ian Robertson, the researcher and promoter of Hemagglutinin. “I enjoyed it.”

The runner-up was another killer protein—Anthrax Toxin—which was researched by senior Anna Kim. Both winner and runner-up were chosen through a bracket.

Throughout the semester, in addition to learning biochemistry, the students in Arnoys’ class have been campaigning for their favorite proteins. Each of the students promoted a different protein, which they researched and illustrated using modeling software.

Looks matter

Then they voted. The bracket started on May 2 with a full complement of 64 proteins and was slowly brought down to one by the class after several rounds of online votes. There were few guidelines, Arnoys said:  “I left it open a bit for them. I wanted them to choose which (protein) is the best. The look is a large part of it, but also, they’re voting on … how convinced they are that this protein is important.”

The protein bracket has helped students learn about the vast array of proteins. “A lot of the proteins I hadn’t heard of before and they have really interesting functions,” Robertson said. “Some are enzymes, some make animals glow.” The contest also correlated well with the class, he said: “A lot of them were ‘behind the scenes,’ causing things we learned about in class.”

The bracket has encouraged discussions about the beauty and danger of these proteins, as well as the problem of evil. “Some of the ones that I think are the pretty are also really deadly, which is kind of interesting,” said Robertson.

Many awards

Since only one protein could win the bracket, but each is unique, Arnoys has also created several other awards that his students (and) other interested people can vote on. These include the Humanitarian Prize, the Refrigerator Paper Prize, the Best Villain Prize, the Outstanding Chemistry Prize and the Metabolic Marvels Prize.

Arnoys created the protein bracket last year when he asked his class the question: “What’s your favorite protein?” The results: hemoglobin. By a landslide. But Arnoys didn’t believe these results so, at the end of the semester, he put together a bracket to determine if hemoglobin was still the student favorite. Instead, hemosylin was the 2010 winner.

“The fun part for me has been seeing the students get into it and the people not in biochemistry enjoy it, see the beauty in it, and want to learn more,” Arnoys said.

Eric Arnoys with the winner and the trophy.

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