The Gordon Hammes Scholar Award honors the young scientists responsible for the very best papers published in Biochemistry. Established in 2017 and awarded alongside the Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award, the Scholar Award seeks to recognize those at the bench – graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduates – for the outstanding work they do. The award is sponsored jointly by Biochemistry and the ACS Division of Biological Chemistry. Timothy Bumpus was selected as this year’s winner from a large applicant pool based on his first-author paper, “Ex Uno Plura: Differential Labeling of Phospholipid Biosynthetic Pathways with a Single Bioorthogonal Alcohol,” published earlier this year as part of the Future of Biochemistry Special Issue.
Bumpus is currently a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology at Cornell University studying under Professor Jeremy Baskin. After growing up on the East Coast, he moved to Iowa for his undergraduate studies and in 2015 received his bachelor’s degree from Luther College, with majors in chemistry, biology, and mathematics. There his thesis work focused on the design and synthesis of ecologically friendly bio-renewable and biodegradable plastics.
Bumpus says his current work focuses on “developing and implementing new chemical tools to study the role of lipid signaling in cell biology, particularly small-molecule probes which serve as substrate mimics and report on the enzymatic activity of phospholipase D. This will help elucidate the role of phosphatidic acid, the lipid product of phospholipase D, in cell signaling, and unravel the web of biosynthetic pathways which intersect at this pleiotropic lipid.”
Bumpus will present a talk describing his research and receive his award during the Gordon Hammes ACS Biochemistry Symposium at the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition, held in Boston, Aug. 19-23, 2018.
Read a Brief Interview with 2018 Gordon Hammes Scholar Award Winner Timothy Bumpus
How did you choose to pursue this field of research?
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to organic chemistry during my senior year of high school and was pretty immediately struck by the power of small molecules within a biological system. This early exposure drove me to explore both chemistry and biology as an undergraduate and then to strive to combine my classroom insights from both disciplines in the lab during my graduate studies.
What are you working on now?
My current research focuses on further elucidating the role of phospholipase D (PLD) enzymes and the cellular functions that their activation controls. I have worked to develop small-molecule reporters for PLD activity within live cells which has enabled us to examine PLD signaling within a single cell and across a population of cells. At the single cell level, we are examining membranes bearing active populations of PLD enzymes, which only partially colocalize with the total population of an enzyme within the cell, and how enzymatic activity at specific sub-cellular locations correlates with cell signaling responses. Zooming out, we are also examining populations of cells labeled as a function of their PLD activity and by coupling our labeling with the tools of modern genetics and cell biology we hope to uncover what regulates PLD activity and what drives the heterogeneity in PLD activity we observe across a “homogeneous” population of cells in culture.
What do you anticipate working on in the future?
I recently heard a faculty member here at Cornell asked a similar question by a fellow graduate student with regards to work in the social sciences and policy realm, and I found her response particularly compelling: ‘What makes you angry? What makes you so upset you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning? Now fix it.’ That’s very close to a quotation, though I did not make a transcript. To translate that from developing social policy to pushing the boundaries of our scientific understanding, one need only replace the distress caused by social injustice with that caused by a lack of clarity and understanding. ‘What questions vex you so that you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up? Study that.’