In August, Biology assistant professor Patrick McGrath was awarded a 5 year, $1.47 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to study the genetic architecture of aging. Most common diseases have a strong but complex genetic component. Understanding their genetic underpinnings will allow for their predictions and suggest targets for their amelioration. McGrath and colleagues will identify how age and epistasis affect traits in model organisms with the goal of identifying principles that can be applied to better predict the genetic variants responsible for human diseases.
When a Lake Malawi cichlid loses a tooth, a new one drops neatly into place as a replacement. Why can't humans similarly regrow teeth lost to injury or disease?
In August, Biology assistant professor Will Ratcliff and his collaborators received a three year, $562,000 NASA grant to investigate the origin and evolutionary consequences of multicellular life cycles. All multicellular organisms exhibit a characteristic life cycle that alternates between stages of reproduction, growth and development.
A new study provides a perspective on the role that retrotransposable elements play in the precise execution of the human genome’s regulatory program. This study found that one particular class of RTEs – Mammalian-wide Interspersed Repeats (MIRs) – can serve as genetic landmarks that help to target specific regulatory mechanisms to a large number of genomic sites and thereby lead to the coordinated regulation of the genes located nearby these sites.
Since the classical studies of Jacob and Monod in the early 1960s, it has been evident that genome sequences contain not only blueprints for genes and the proteins that they encode, but also the instructions for a coordinated regulatory program that governs when, where and to what extent these genes and proteins are expressed. The execution of this regulatory code is what allows for the creation of very different cell- and tissue-types from the same set of genetic instructions found in the nucleus of every cell. A recent study published in PNAS (July 27, 2015) shows that critical aspects of this regulatory program are encoded by genomic sequence elements that were previously thought to be mere "junk DNA" with no important functions.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Research Corporation for Science Advancement awarded 5 grants totaling $731k to teams of researchers pursuing "ambitious, high-risk, highly impactful discovery research on untested ideas in physical cell biology."
Researchers have developed a new informatics technology that analyzes existing data repositories of protein modifications and 3D protein structures to help scientists identify and target research on “hotspots” most likely to be important for biological function.
Dr. Will Ratcliff, Assistant Professor in the School of Biology, has been awarded a $275,000, 3 year grant from the National Science Foundation, Evolutionary genetics program. The central question motivating this research is how do simple organisms evolve into complex organisms? The origin of organisms composed of more than one cell (i.e., multicellular organisms) was one of a few major events in the history of life that created new opportunities for more complex biological systems, such as plants and animals, to evolve. However, understanding how and why this kind of complexity has increased in some lineages remains a major challenge for evolutionary biology.
Dr. Joel Kostka’s research group has a paper soon to be published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology journal entitled “Metabolic potential of fatty acid oxidation and anaerobic respiration by abundant members of Thaumarchaeota and Thermoplasmata in deep anoxic peat”. It is an important contribution because archaea are thought to play a key role in the microbial carbon cycle of peatlands, which store close to one-third of all soil carbon. One reviewer commented, "The value of this communication is immense for the understanding of bioactive carbon sequestration as the representatives of both phyla account for the vast majority of the microbial community in peat bogs."
Dr. Frank Stewart was awarded $540,000 in March 2015 by the Simons Foundation to investigate the microbiomes of reef fish. The Simons Foundation has made ocean processes and ecology one of their priority areas for investigation. They have initiated a Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE) that will measure, model and experimentally manipulate a complex system representative of a broad swath of the North Pacific Ocean. This collaboration aims to advance our understanding of the biology, ecology and biogeochemistry of microbial processes that dominate the global ocean. A central premise of SCOPE is that we must study the ocean ecosystem in situ, at a variety of levels of biological organization (e.g., genetic, biochemical, physiological, biogeochemical and ecological), and at highly resolved, nested scales of space and time in order to fully describe and model it.