Summer Roundup: Biology Professors Land More Than $10 Million in Grants

The biology-themed lobby of Regents Hall

October 5, 2018 — The Georgetown College Department of Biology has enjoyed a successful summer: 10 professors in the department have received research grants totaling more than $10 million from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and private foundations.

Peter Armbruster

Prof. Armbruster has received a $788,645 grant from the NIH to develop genomic tools to control and study the basic biology of the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus. Ae. albopictus is an invasive and medically important mosquito capable of transmitting dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika viruses. The rapid global range expansion of this species represents a significant public health concern. This interdisciplinary study will develop powerful and accessible genomic tools for the broader Ae. albopictus research community, establish a reference database to identify the origin of new invasions, and determine the genetic basis of life-history traits underpinning the geographic spread of this vector.

Shaun Brinsmade

Prof. Brinsmade has received a $2.2 million grant from the NIH to study how Staphylococcus aureus (e.g., methicillin-resistant S. aureus [MRSA]) switches from a harmless existence on our skin and in our noses to a harmful existence elsewhere, causing life threatening infections throughout the body. The project aims to determine mechanistically how S. aureus uses a bacterial protein called CodY and the availability of key nutrients during infection to produce toxins and cause tissue damage. The work has the potential to reveal new avenues for developing antimicrobials, which limit persistence and disease at a time when many of our antibiotics are ineffective.

Thomas Coate

New grant to study the molecular basis of auditory wiring

Prof. Coate has received a $1.9 million grant from the NIH to study Pou3f4, a transcription factor expressed by otic mesenchyme cells in the cochlea, mutations of which can cause human hearing loss. Coate aims to determine the function of Pou3f4 in axon guidance, transcriptional regulation, and neuronal survival in the auditory system. work is expected to determine new guidance mechanisms required for appropriate auditory connectivity, complementing ongoing work by others on neurotrophins, gene therapy, or cell replacement strategies.

New grant to study ATP signaling in auditory wiring

The Coate laboratory has also received a $492,407 award from the Mathers Foundation to investigate neural connectivity in the auditory system, with focus on a receptor called P2X3, activated by adenosine triphosphate. This is a collaborative project between the Coate laboratory — known for expertise in cell biology — and the laboratory of Dr. Dwight Bergles at Johns Hopkins — known for expertise in auditory synaptic physiology and calcium imaging.

Jeffrey Huang

Prof. Huang received a $1.7 million grant from the NIH to investigate if amino acid metabolism in central nervous system demyelinated lesions regulates inflammation to enable myelin repair in mice. The results of this study, if successful, will clarify the role of amino acid metabolism on immune cells in CNS remyelination. This could improve our understanding of the immunoregulatory mechanisms governing remyelination, potentially helping the development of pharmacological therapies for multiple sclerosis patients.

Kathy Maguire-Zeiss

Prof. Maguire-Zeiss was awarded a multi-PI 5-year R01 grant with Kathy Conant from the NIH/NINDS entitled “Perineuronal proteolysis and circuit dysfunction in HAND.” Cognitive dysfunction in HIV-infected individuals continues in the era of combined antiretroviral treatment, suggesting that adjunct therapeutics targeting this issue are needed. Maguire-Zeiss will test the hypothesis that HIV-relevant stimuli can stimulate matrix metalloproteinase-dependent perineuronal net processing in vitro and in vivo, with consequent effects on hippocampal parvalbumin activity, neuronal population dynamics, and memory consolidation.

Janet Mann

Prof. Mann and co-investigator Celine Frere of University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland were awarded a NSF-IOS grant, “The Impact of Maternal Effects on Social Plasticity and Fitness Variation in a Long-Lived Mammal.” This grant is among the largest awarded through Animal Behavior-IOS and is one of the top 10 priorities of NSF for understanding gene-environment interactions outside of the laboratory.

Leslie Ries

Prof. Ries has been awarded a $55,021 grant from the NSF to study the impact of Hurricane Harvey on monarch butterfly migration. Atlantic hurricanes regularly impact a major portion of migratory flyways and tend to occur around the times of major fall migration, and Harvey was the biggest single rainfall event on record in the U.S. However, most research on the ecological impact of hurricanes has been on birds. This research will examine the effects of Harvey on monarch dynamics in the local Texas migratory corridor and evaluate the potential for carry-over effects into the monarch's overwintering population in Mexico and summer breeding population in central and eastern North America. We will also examine the implications for increased hurricane intensity and frequency that is occurring due to global climate warming.

Mark Rose

Prof. Rose has been awarded a $2 million NIH grant to study cellular processes in a model organism, baker’s yeast, which uses genes similar to the human genes. Cells fuse during fertilization and development, creating diploid organisms, and then undergo meiosis to produce haploid gametes for fertilization. Problems with any of these processes can lead to significant health effects. Rose’s research aims to provide a better understanding of the roles of these processes in human cell biology and disease. 

Anne Rosenwald

Prof. Rosenwald has received a $22,595 grant from the NSF to pilot the Genomics Education Alliance (GEA), an organization to promote gene research among undergraduates. The GEA will bring together members of existing genomics education networks, leveraging their combined expertise to identify and curate common genome analysis tools, associated curricular and assessment materials, and faculty training strategies to facilitate the adoption of genomics instruction at any college or university. By making existing resources more broadly accessible, the GEA will enable faculty to guide undergraduate life science students participating in authentic genomic research projects. This will enhance the ability of students to become productive members of the technological workforce, to succeed in advanced studies in biology and related disciplines, and to be better-informed citizens and decision-makers.

Steven Singer

Prof. Singer’s $466,500 grant focuses on how the immune system first detects and responds to the waterborne parasite Giardia. Giardia infects a few hundred million people every year and contributes to childhood diarrhea. Singer’s research is aimed at figuring out how the immune system identifies Giardia as a pathogen — rather than as one of the beneficial microbes found in the gut, or as food that should be ignored. Singer suspects that early recognition determines the later outcome of this interaction and will attempt to identify molecular pathways involved.