Genetic Mechanisms Cluster

Broadening the Impact of Science

Broader Impacts (BIs) are the contributions to society and advancement of scientific knowledge that result from research. As we previously noted on the MCB blog in this infographic, there are many different ways science can have broader impacts. The BI activities and outcomes spotlighted in this post were submitted by MCB-funded researchers as examples of what they have accomplished with MCB support, not prescriptions for success during the merit review process. If you are: 1) an MCB-funded researcher and 2) would like to share your broader impacts activities with our readers, please fill out this form to be considered in a future post.

The top image shows the Slideboard website homepage which contains pictures of cells tagged with fluorescent markers in green and orange and text that says “Welcome to Slideboards – Explore Slideboards – Learn More.”The bottom image shows an example slideboard. On the bottom left of the slideboard example is a white screen shot of the title “Localization and abundance analysis of human IncRNAs at single cell and single molecule resolution,” authors “Cabili MN*#, Dunagin MC*, McClanahan PD, Biaesch A, Padovan-Merhar O, Regev A*, Rinn JL*#, Raj A*#; *equal contributions, #corresponding authors,” and the reference “Genome Biology 2015, doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0586-4,” followed by the acknowledgement “Great work led by Moran Cabili and Margaret Dunagin. A wonderful collaboration between the Rinn, Regev, and Raj labs!” On the bottom right of the slideboard example is a repeat of the title and author list, a dropdown arrow, twitter symbol, Facebook symbol, and a list of questions with hyperlinks to answers created by the students who made the Slideboard. The questions ask “1. Where can I learn more about IncRNA? 2. How did we choose the IncRNA to screen? 3. Did you test whether any types of stress change localization or abundance? 4. Should I do a two-color validation of my IncRNA FISH? 5. Was there any correlation between whether a probe “failed” and any other factor from RNA-seq? 6. What are these off targets that create the non-specific background? 7. What sorts of inconsistencies did the two color assay reveal? 8. Were these patterns the same across cell types?”

Slideboard website homepage (top) and an example slideboard with title page and Q & A (bottom), which are available at http://slideboard.herokuapp.com/.

Once a scientist makes a discovery, it is off to the presses to publish. The resulting journal article can be lengthy and filled with jargon, because it serves as a how-to guide for other scientists in the field to repeat experiments. Though very informative to experts, scientific publications can be challenging for students and the general public to read quickly and understand. Dr. Arjun Raj, MCB CAREER recipient and Associate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and his research team came up with a new way to communicate science called “Slideboards.” As shown at the bottom of the image, slideboards contain the title, citation, and authors of journal articles, followed by lists of frequently-asked questions with in-line answers. Teams of graduate and high-school students generate each slideboard by asking and answering their own questions about the paper. Online readers can use a form at the bottom of the slideboard to submit their own questions, which are answered by the students. Creating a slideboard allows the team to practice using web-based technology, and translating complex scientific literature into a summarized question-based format. This outreach project also helped graduate students develop skills necessary to present their own research, while encouraging high-school students to learn about scientific projects at the leading edge of the field. To view the Slideboard website, go to http://slideboard.herokuapp.com/.

This work is partially funded by the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1350601.

A group of students and graduate student Laura Bankers stand on a bridge over water in front of trees and grass on a nature hike at the Science Booster Club’s 2016 evolution summer camp (top left). Graduate student Kyle McElroy talks with a group of students in front of trees and grass by water during the 2016 evolution summer camp. He is gesturing with his hand, and wearing a green shirt and orange and black ball cap. One of the students, a young girl is smiling wearing a checkered blouse and green lanyard (middle left). A group of young men who are seated in a classroom at a table smile at the camera and hold up vials of DNA that they learned how to extract during the 2016 evolution summer camp while wearing a blue and orange tee-shirt, grey tee-shirt, blue tee-shirt and blue and white ball cap, or a black tee-shirt. Two are wearing orange lanyards around their neck and one is wearing purple lab gloves. In the background other youth participants are standing in front of a monitor glowing on the wall. (bottom left). Dr. Emily Schoerning is dressed up as Captain Planet in a green wig, red shirt and shorts, and blue nylons. She is standing with her arms up in a superhero pose in front of a window near potted plants (top right). Undergraduate student Jorge Moreno, wearing a black polo shirt and jeans with a yellow badge, and graduate student Laura Bankers in a grey dress. Both are standing in front of a yellow and black wall with a display monitor, and are standing behind a table with candy, flyers, and other materials, talking to off-screen participants (bottom right).

Attendees at the Science Booster Club’s 2016 evolution summer camp enjoyed nature hikes with graduate student Laura Bankers (top left), discussions of the evolution of parasites with graduate student Kyle McElroy (middle left), and gained hands-on experience extracting DNA with Integrated DNA Technologies (bottom left). The Science Booster Club hosted visits with Dr. Emily Schoerning as Captain Planet (top right), and discussions with undergraduate Jorge Moreno and graduate student Laura Bankers at the Iowa State Fair (bottom right).

As you look around the sidelines at a sporting event, you may notice a group of parents enthusiastically raising funds for new team uniforms or sporting equipment (booster club). Taking that concept out of the world of sports and into the world of science, Dr. Maurine Neiman (Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Iowa) and Dr. Emily Schoerning (Director of Research and Community Organizing at the National Center for Science Education) teamed up with students at the University of Iowa to create a Science Booster Club. The Science Booster Club held a summer camp (images on the left) and participated in community-organized events such as the Iowa State Fair (images on the right). At each event, club members facilitated fun, interactive science activities and discussions with the public. The group also raised funds to purchase and donate equipment to local science teachers. Young people attending these events, often from underserved areas that lacked scientific resources, have the chance to see themselves as scientists by learning through a hands-on approach. Graduate and undergraduate booster club members also gained valuable grant writing and proposal review, outreach, communication, education, and event planning experience – skills that are useful in future professional scientific careers. As such, for his work in the science booster club, graduate student Kyle McElroy received a 2017 summer stipend from MCB’s NSF 16-067 supplement to improve graduate student preparedness for entering the workforce. Dr. Schoerning noted, “We worked with over 54,000 Iowans last year during this pilot project at the University of Iowa, and have expanded into a national program in 11 states.” Click here to learn more about the Science Booster Club at the University of Iowa.

This work is partially funded by the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1122176.

Spotlight on MCB-funded Science

 

A spotlight illuminates the words 'Spotlight on MCB-funded Science.'

Photo Credit: Matusciac Alexandru/Shutterstock.com

Sharing MCB Science is one of our six blog themes where you can learn about exciting MCB-funded research submitted by our investigators (via this webform). We greatly appreciate the overwhelmingly positive response of the MCB scientific community and have received many more submissions than can be featured in long form on the blog. Enjoy this shorter spotlight of submissions we have received!

Ever wonder how a cell makes a tough decision? When food is scarce, Bacillus subtilis (a common soil bacteria) faces a difficult choice of when to shut down cellular processes and become dormant via sporulation (spore formation). Timing is key: wait too long and die from starvation; sporulate too early and die from crowding by rapidly dividing neighboring bacteria. What serves as the trigger – a specific biochemical signal or a more general physiological response – to enable starvation sensing and sporulation was unknown. As part of a collaborative project, Dr. Oleg Igoshin, an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University, Dr. Masaya Fujita, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston, and their research teams applied computational and mathematical tools to this biological question. As described in this publication, they discovered the rate at which the cell grows may serve as a signal of starvation, triggering spore formation. This work could lessen food spoilage and control food-borne pathogens by offering new ways to inhibit sporulation in close relatives of B. subtilis that live on food.

This work is partially funded by the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1244135 and #MCB – 1244423.

Diatoms (a unicellular photosynthetic microalgae) are an important part of food webs, especially in areas of the ocean with an abundance of fish frequented by the fishing industry. Because conditions and availability of environmental resources change, diatoms regulate physiological functions (such as the carbon-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) and photorespiration previously described) at the level of gene expression. Instead of focusing on one environmental condition or type of diatom, Dr. Justin Ashworth (Post-doctoral Fellow),  Dr. Monica Orellana (Principal Scientist) and Dr. Nitin Baliga (Senior Vice President and Director) of the Institute for Systems Biology integrated all publicly available microarray data (displaying gene expression levels) from multiple conditions for the model diatoms Thalassiosira pseudonana and Phaeodactylum tricornutum to look for trends. As described in this publication and in the resulting integrative analysis available online at the Diatom Portal, the research team uncovered common patterns of gene expression and function. They also identified potential cis-regulatory DNA sequence motifs and distinct regions induced in response to changes in ocean pH levels and the availability of nitrate, silicic acid, and carbon. A greater understanding of this fundamental level of regulation enables scientists to better support diatoms in their role as biogeochemical nutrient recyclers.

This work is partially funded by the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB – 1316206.

As we previously described on the MCB Blog, the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Mankin and Dr. Nora Vázquez-Laslop at the Center for Biomolecular Sciences, University of Illinois – Chicago, studies fundamental mechanisms in protein synthesis. Ribosomes inside the cell read three mRNA nucleotides at a time (a reading frame) during protein synthesis (translation). Sometimes, the ribosome slips one or two nucleotides on the mRNA to a different reading frame (frameshift). Recent work on the E. coli bacterial copper transporter gene (copA) by Drs. Mankin, Vázquez-Laslop, and their research team uncovered a slippery sequence in the mRNA that led to “programmed frameshifts.” Depending on whether or not the ribosome slipped, two different proteins were made – a previously unidentified copper chaperon protein or a copper transporter protein. Together, the copper chaperon and transporter proteins help protect the bacterial cell from internalizing too much copper. This work provides new insight into how bacteria change gene expression in different environmental conditions and offers training for student researchers such as lead author Sezen Meydan, who was highlighted in the ‘Meet the Author’ section of Molecular Cell.

This work is partially funded by the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB – 1244455 and #MCB – 1615851.

MCB WELCOMES DR. CASONYA JOHNSON, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE GENETIC MECHANISMS CLUSTER

Casonya Johnsonbiology

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia State University. I teach courses in genetics to students at all levels and conduct research with my students to investigate the underlying mechanisms by which transcriptional regulators direct post-embryonic development—in other words, we want to understand how the molecules that regulate the process of making RNA from DNA affect the development of an organism after the embryo stage.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I was attracted by the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting edge research, to expand my own knowledge of my research field, and to understand how funding trends are directed.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

My first impression was that the impact of NSF (on science as a whole) extends far beyond the individual research laboratory. I have only been here a month, but my impression stands.

What are the personal goals you most want to accomplish while at NSF?

I want to learn as much as I can, about everything I can; to find ways to broaden my research focus; to find ways to communicate to the research community the ways in which NSF supports research; and to find ways to better engage the general public so that everyone can understand the need for and benefits of basic scientific research.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

I think I am most surprised about how much support – from IT to administrative to security – is offered here. That type of support is sometimes missing in academia, so I am used to spending time trying to figure things out for myself, when here all I need to do is ask for help.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotator?

The learning curve is very steep. The biggest challenge is fighting the feeling that I’m not moving fast enough to get things done. The other challenge is making sure that my students and my personal research do not suffer while I am here.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?

Do it! Your colleagues at NSF will help you succeed and at a minimum, you will leave with a much better understanding of how NSF works.

When your friends/colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

All have responded “What an amazing opportunity!” Then, they ask if I like it and who is taking care of my lab.

SHARING MCB SCIENCE: DISCOVERY OF A NON-BASE FLIPPING MECHANISM IN DNA REPAIR

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Eichman Lab members involved in the study (from left to right): Dr. Elwood Mullins, Dr. Brandt Eichman, Rongxin Shi, and Dr. Zachary Parsons. Photo Credit: Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt

The DNA of humans, like that of all other organisms, can be damaged, acquiring what are referred to as “lesions.” A common form of DNA damage is DNA alkylation, where a small group of carbons and hydrogens (alkyl group) are chemically bound to the base of DNA nucleotides (the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs that make up DNA). When a DNA base is alkylated, the normal function of the cell’s DNA is disrupted and the genetic information being stored is mutated, which has the potential to develop into some types of cancer and threaten the survival of the organism.

To protect the organism from the effects of DNA lesions, cells have processes to repair DNA. One such process is called base excision repair, which was one subject of last year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. As shown in the figure below, base excision repair begins with DNA glycosylase (ie. a protein with enzymatic function that initiates a process), which is able to bind to double-stranded DNA and look for DNA lesions using a base-flipping mechanism. In base-flipping, a DNA nucleotide that is suspected of containing an alkyl group is flipped away from its base pair partner and into the active site of the DNA glycosylase. If the DNA glycosylase sees a lesion, it severs the chemical bond that links the DNA base to the DNA backbone and initiates subsequent repair steps, ultimately restoring the DNA to an undamaged state.

Until recently, it was thought that all DNA glycosylases used base-flipping to repair damaged DNA. A paradigm shift occurred in the DNA repair field when a non-base-flipping DNA glycosylase enzyme, called AlkD, was discovered by Professor Dr. Brandt Eichman in the Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Structural Biology at Vanderbilt University and his research group, in collaboration with Professor Dr. Sheila David and her research group at University of California Davis and Professor Dr. Yasuhiro Igarashi at the Toyama Prefectural University in Japan. Repair that does not involve base-flipping has also been shown by the Eichman team to uniquely allow the repair of bulky DNA lesions.

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Space-filling models (left) and illustrations (right) showing base-flipping excision repair (top) and non-base-flipping excision repair (bottom). Top: A damaged DNA base (blue) from a double stranded DNA helix (orange and yellow) is inserted, or “flipped,” into the active site of the DNA glycosylase enzyme (white or grey). Bottom: A bulky chemical group (purple) attached to a DNA base (blue) results in a lesion within a double stranded DNA helix (orange and yellow) that is repaired without base-flipping by a DNA glycosylase enzyme (AlkD) (white or grey).

As described in a recent publication in Nature, the Eichman research team used a technique called X-ray crystallography to capture a series of time-lapsed 3D renderings of AlkD as it repaired a lesion. The Eichman team’s conclusion that AlkD removes DNA damage using a non-base-flipping mechanism was supported by their crystallographic analysis which showed the AlkD enzyme mainly contacted the DNA backbone, not the DNA lesion. Thus, non-base-flipping broadens the spectrum of DNA damage that DNA glycosylases are known to repair. Also, the 3D structure of AlkD is common to proteins that do not have enzymatic functions, which makes it difficult for researchers to identify non-base-flipping DNA glycosylases just based on their structure. Therefore, there is a strong possibility there are other DNA repair proteins that scientists have yet to identify.

When asked about the broader impacts of his research, Dr. Eichman responded: “This research program has involved trainees from all levels—undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral—several of whom have continued on in a number of scientific careers, including medical school, science policy, and industry. Most importantly, it has enabled us to expose undergraduates to cutting edge structural biology and to the practical aspects of X-ray crystallography, both in the classroom and in the lab.”

This work is funded jointly by the Genetic Mechanisms program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) and the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Division of Chemistry in the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Award #MCB-1122098 and Award #MCB-1517695.

FAREWELL TO DR. MANJU HINGORANI

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First Row (Left to Right): Dr. Karen Cone, Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Manju Hingorani, Dr. Charlie Cunningham; Second Row (Left to Right): Keshanti Tidwell, Dr. Stacy Kelley, Dr. Linda Hyman, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, and Dr. Wilson Francisco

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) gave a warm send off to Dr. Manju Hingorani, former Program Director in the MCB Genetic Mechanisms program.

During her two year tenure at the NSF, Dr. Hingorani worked with investigator-driven proposals submitted to both the Genetic Mechanisms and the Cellular Dynamics and Function programs. As a rotating Program Director, Dr. Hingorani managed proposal reviews and awards and responded to inquiries from principal investigators conducting fundamental research related to the central dogma of biology. Dr. Hingorani noted she particularly enjoyed managing CAREER proposal reviews because it gave her glimpses of potential future leaders in science and education. Dr. Hingorani also aided in the review of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program proposals, appreciating the chance to serve in a program that has benefitted students from her home institution.

As Dr. Hingorani returns to her position as Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Wesleyan University, she looks forward to reconnecting with her students “in 3D,” in her laboratory, and in classes. Unfortunately for us, she will take most of her Swiss chocolate stash back with her!

MCB would like to thank Dr. Manju Hingorani for her service, and we wish her all the best in the future. If you are interested in serving like Dr. Hingorani as a rotating MCB Program Director, please contact us at 703-292-8440 and read the rotator Dear Colleague Letter.

Welcome to MCB Kelly Ann Parshall!

Hear from Program Specialist Kelly Ann Parshall

What is your educational background?

I majored in English writing with a concentration in African Studies. My objective was to work in development in sub-Saharan Africa. However, when I received my Peace Corps invitation, it was to the South Pacific. Despite the surprise, I had a great experience working in health and environmental initiatives in the small island nation of Vanuatu. This fall I will start attending American University part-time to pursue a masters in Global Environmental Policy.

What is your position? When did you start working in MCB?

As a Program Specialist, I support the Genetic Mechanisms cluster as well as the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster. I started working in MCB in April 2016.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

When my Peace Corps service concluded, I knew I wanted to work for the government or at a nonprofit. I particularly loved my third year assignment working for the German government on climate change, conservation and natural resource management initiatives. In the biology community in Vanuatu, I saw extraordinary technology-facilitated advances like drones zapping invasive crown of thorns starfish to save reefs. While the projects MCB funds are a bit different, I am happy to support such a wonderful mission.

What have you learned so far from your position?

As someone who has worked in aid, I have spent a significant amount of time applying to grants, assembling funding leads and liaising with donors. It’s nice to be on the other side! NSF operates on a significantly larger scale than any organization I’ve ever been a part of before. It’s amazing to see the thoroughness and transparency with which grantees are selected. I’m looking forward to supporting the entire proposal process as the year progresses.

MCB welcomes Dr. William Eggleston, Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Director of the Integrative Life Sciences PhD Program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I had been a faculty member since 1993.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

A desire to serve the community, to give back to NSF, to expand my knowledge, to recharge my research, to challenge myself, and based on visits as a panelist, to work with a group of great people who enjoyed working with one another.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

A large organization with lots of very competent, very organized, very busy folks enjoying what they do, and doing their best to serve the scientists and citizens of the US. Nope, my impression has not changed other than to be even more impressed with how well NSF is organized, coordinated, and team-based.

What were the personal goals you most wanted to accomplish while at NSF?

Recharge my research and get at least two manuscripts written and submitted for publication, decide on where and how to move my research forward, get my weight down and health under control, and decide on the direction for the next phase of my professional career, between research/ academia, or continued public service in science policy.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

The high amount of turnover due to large number of rotating program staff and how this impacts the teams, and how much of the job involves being offsite for teleworking, outreach, conferences and independent research and development (IR/D). I also was delighted that my past experience as a leader and with helping others learn about leadership skills has been recognized, appreciated and leveraged. I also am thrilled that the MCB leadership is working to continue to improve all aspects of the division.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotating program director?

As a rotator, the biggest challenge is being away from home most of the week. Communication with my current student actually is better because we are more organized and efficient during our scheduled chats and meeting each week. The other major challenge was balancing the on-boarding, training, and getting ready for the first panel during the first three weeks of being here. Getting guidance and information was easy, prioritizing what needed to be done first and what could wait was more challenging, but I received lots of guidance once I asked.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?

That NSF has a great work environment, is hugely intellectually stimulating, and that the work being done is meaningful, valuable, and valued. To rotators, I would add that NSF makes every possible effort to ensure (and encourage) continuation and enhancement of scholarship while here through IR/D and makes it possible to be home more than I expected through teleworking. I also would add that people here care and look out for one another. Since arriving, pretty much every night that I am here late, I am reminded of finding a better work-life balance, in a caring way. I did not expect that, and VERY much appreciate the genuine sentiment.

When your friends/colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

All of them have been thrilled, knowing that being chosen to work here, even for a short time, is a great honor. Those who know me best have commented that this very much fits with my current outlook on career and life, which has become focused on service and giving back. My wife has commented that I look no less tired, but instead of the worry lines, I now have far more smile lines than even just a month ago, and that yes, I have lost some weight since being here.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Being here has been all that I had hoped it would be and more, and I thank everyone for their help, smiles, patience, guidance and more patience as I get up to speed. I am really, really, really pleased to be here after deciding to take a chance to do something very different from what I was doing six weeks ago.  I am greatly looking forward to the rest of my time in MCB.

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Arcady Mushegian

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. Behind our mission stands a group of individuals whose efforts and great work make this Division outstanding; we are proud to showcase their hard work via this blog.

Dr. Mushegian completed his doctoral degree in Virology and Molecular Biology at Moscow State University, Former Soviet Union. He currently works as a Program Director and Cluster Leader for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster. Dr. Mushegian started working in MCB in December of 2012. As a cluster leader, Dr. Mushegian provides advice to investigators, coordinates the funding decision process, manages proposals, maintain cluster budgets, develops post-panel reports, coordinates cross-directorate activities including multi-disciplinary panels, and brainstorm with colleagues.

Dr. Mushegian’s area of expertise is in bioinformatics. Prior to joining NSF, he was the Director of Bioinformatics at the Stowers Institute for eleven years. In his spare time, he greatly enjoys traveling with his wife, keeping up with his children, reading books and blogs, eating figs and apricots, and growing parsley in a community garden.

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Karen C. Cone

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. Behind our mission stands a group of individuals whose efforts and great work make this Division outstanding; we are proud to showcase their hard work via this blog.

Dr. Cone completed her doctoral degree in Biochemistry and Genetics at Duke University. She currently works as a Permanent Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster. Dr. Cone began working in MCB in January of 2009. As a program director, Dr. Cone manages the review and funding decisions for proposals submitted to Genetic Mechanisms. She also manages existing awards, which includes reviewing annual reports and processing supplement requests. Furthermore, she conducts outreach visits to prospective and current PIs. Dr. Cone is also the managing program director for the iPlant Collaborative, a large cyberinfrastructure project funded by BIO. She is also a member of several cross-disciplinary working groups that coordinate research activities across BIO and between BIO and other divisions.

Dr. Cone was a faculty member for 21 years in Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri.  Her research was focused in two areas: epigenetic regulation of gene expression in maize, and development of genetic and genomic resources for maize research.  Dr. Cone’s work involved both laboratory and field components; She had a huge corn field in the summer and spent a couple of weeks every January working in her winter nursery in Puerto Rico.

In her spare time, she likes to cook, eat, watch cooking shows on TV,  listen to NPR, read detective novels, do home improvement projects, garden, hang out with her pets (3 dogs and 1 cat) and her partner, and travel.

Jennifer Doudna featured as Influential Scientist in Time Magazine

Time Magazine recently published the “Time 100“, a list of influential leaders in their respective fields. We are pleased to report that MCB-funded investigator Jennifer Doudna was included as an influential scientist for her transformative research to develop gene editing technology.

Dr. Doudna , along with colleagues and collaborators, developed a now widely used genome editing tool known as the CRISPR-Cas1 system.  This invention emerged from Dr. Doudna’s interest in learning how an apparent bacterial adaptive immune system functions on a molecular level that is capable of protecting bacteria from deleterious foreign nucleic acids, including those delivered by bacteriophages. She and others found that CRISPR sequences represent a form of “memory” resulting from previous exposure to foreign DNAs and showed that fragments of these exogenous DNAs are integrated into the CRISPR array. Upon phage invasion, the CRISPR sequence is transcribed, together with a down-stream cas gene that encodes an endonuclease, such as Cas9 in Streptococcus pyogenes. The long, non-coding pre-CRISPR RNA (pre-crRNA) transcript is then processed, producing multiple different crRNAs. The crRNAs form a hybrid to a second CRISPR-encoded RNA called transactivating CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA), which has regions of complementarity to the various crRNAs. These RNA hybrid oligomers associate with the endonuclease and serve as a guide to target newly invading nucleic acids. Recognition of the foreign DNA triggers precise double-stranded cleavage, leading to complete nucleolytic degradation.

Understanding the molecular events by which CRISPRs function on the molecular level led Dr. Doudna and her collaborators to develop the pioneering genome editing capability that functions broadly across many species. Dr. Doudna gives an overview of this technology in the following video.

NSF funding for Dr. Doudna’s groundbreaking research began in 2007 and continues today.  Her research represents an excellent example of how fundamental research inspires innovation.

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1CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. These repeats are often associated with coding sequences for RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzymes, general denoted “Cas” for CRISPR-associated.