In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO) recently held virtual office hours addressing the impact of the pandemic on solicitations and awards. Representatives from all four BIO divisions attended the event, which included information on NSF’s latest community guidance. Access the presentation slides and get further details by visiting the BIO Buzz Blog.
Featuring Ray Bowman, Duquesne University, this post is the fourth of a series highlighting the experiences of Ph.D. students who have benefitted from supplemental funding awards that are intended to enhance student readiness to enter the workforce. The supplement that assisted Bowman is tied to MCB award #1553143, Dr. Allyson O’Donnell, principle investigator. Bowman is a student in Dr. O’Donnell’s lab.
What he did:
Bowman attended a course in quantitative fluorescence microscopy to develop his skills in microscopy, including techniques in FRET (Förster resonance energy transfer), FRAP (fluorescence recovery after photobleaching), three-dimensional imaging of cells and whole tissues, and super resolution microscopy. He also worked with software engineers from Nikon to develop a new platform for automated quantification of cell surface and intracellular fluorescence.
In his own words:
“While this grant did not change my career plans, it did provide me with a new skill set and an opportunity to network and establish contacts in the larger cell biology field. That will undoubtedly help me in attaining my career goals.”
MCB’s commitment to helping students transition from academia to the workforce is formalized via funding announcement NSF 16-067, which describes the opportunity. Although that announcement is now closed, MCB strongly encourages principle investigators to contact their NSF program directors to discuss.
Like all living organisms, bacteria need nutrients in their environment to survive and grow. When the survival of bacteria like Bacillus subtilis is threatened by starvation they respond by going into a “hibernation” state by forming spores. The process for producing a spore, called sporulation, is highly complex and requires careful coordination with other cellular processes like DNA replication. To understand how cells are able to orchestrate this coordination, Dr. Oleg Igoshin, an Associate Professor at Rice University partnered with Associate Professor, Gurol Suel from the University of California San Diego to study sporulation of the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis, a model organism for systems biology research.
Jatin Narula, Anna Kuchina, Dong-Yeon D. Lee, and Masaya Fujita compose the research team, led by Igoshin and Suel, interested in clarifying the genetic mechanism of spore formation or sporulation. By combining experimental methods from systems and synthetic biology with mathematical modeling, the researchers uncovered the coordination mechanism required for sporulation. The modeling predicted that the key to this coordination is the specific arrangement of two pivotal sporulation genes on the bacterial chromosome. This arrangement produces a temporary mismatch in the number of copies of these two genes during DNA replication. This mismatch is detected by the biochemical network controlling sporulation to ensure proper coordination and the completion of DNA replication. These predictions were confirmed when rearrangement of the two pivotal genes on the chromosome prevented cells from sporulating. The sporulation mechanism that Igoshin and his team elucidated is described in the video above and in a recent research article in Cell.
When asked about the broader impacts of this research for cell biology, Igoshin said “We found that the relative arrangement of the two sporulation genes on DNA were similar in more than 40 strains of spore-forming bacteria. This evidence suggests that this timing mechanism is highly conserved, and it is possible that other time-critical functions related to the cell cycle may be regulated in a similar way.”
In addition to the scientific impact of this research, the collaborative nature of the research provided interdisciplinary training for participating graduate students. Furthermore, the innovative approaches used by Igoshin and colleagues may be applicable to similar problems in other organisms and useful for teaching system-level concepts to students of various levels and backgrounds.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this new MCB blog! The MCB blog is designed to enable faster and more efficient communication with our community of PIs and to provide a forum in which the community can let us know their thoughts and comments.
The blog will host the MCB Newsletter (published twice a year) and will also provide to the community news about our programs, proposal and award statistics, the highlights of research supported by MCB, and much more. The Division will post to the blog at least once a week.
Broadening participation is one of the two merit review criteria at the NSF, and unlike the other criterion (intellectual merit), broader impacts continue to generate some confusion for our PIs. We will use this blog, in an ongoing process, to explain the broader impacts criterion, and to highlight outstanding examples of broader impacts from MCB PIs.
You are encouraged to use this blog as a source of information and as a venue in which your thoughts can be shared with us and with the broader community. Don’t hesitate to send us your comments and suggestions not just on the blog but also on the Division and its programs.
Acting Division Director