Walker Named Gilgut Professor

Elsbeth Walker’s main area of research focuses on understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying iron homeostasis in plants, which can set the foundation for increasing available iron in food crops. Her work on this subject began with the identification of Yellow Stripe1 (YS1), which encodes the iron-phytosiderophore transporter that is responsible for primary iron uptake in grass species. Subsequently, her group investigated the related family of proteins, YELLOW STRIPE1-LIKEs (YSLs), and demonstrated their involvement in the long distance movement of metals in plants. She is keenly interested in uncovering additional features of both the iron uptake, and long distance iron movement pathways. Elsbeth has more recently begun to investigate the genetic basis of taxol biosynthesis using cultured Taxus cells, using transcriptome analyses. She hopes that this effort will enable cheaper and more efficient production of this important anti-cancer drug.

Elsbeth is an enthusiastic teacher, and developed the popular course, Gene and Genome Analysis, an intensive lab experience that gives students the chance to develop both computer assisted bioinformatics skills as well as ‘wet lab’ molecular biology skills. She has directed the Plant Biology Graduate program for the past several years, coordinating close to 40 faculty from five campus departments into a program that currently enrolls 20 PhD students.

Maresca Awarded March of Dimes Foundation Grant

Biology Assistant Professor Tom Maresca has been awarded a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes Foundation. The two year grant for $150,000 provides young investigators with initial independent funding to kick-start their research programs. A central goal of the March of Dimes is to fund research that promotes healthy pregnancies and reduces birth defects.

The Maresca lab will use the funds to investigate fundamental cell biological questions related to how cells detect and correct erroneous interactions between chromosomes and the spindle. This is particularly relevant to the mission of the March of Dimes because chromosome mis-segregation during cell division leads to a range of birth defects, including Down syndrome, and is the most common cause of miscarriages in the first trimester.

Maresca Lab Research Featured on the Cover of The Journal of Cell Biology

The genomic integrity of an organism is at risk of being compromised every time one of its cells divides. This is because errors in chromosome segregation result in aneuploidy – an abnormal cell division outcome in which daughter cells acquire an incorrect set of chromosomes. Aneuploidy is a hallmark of many cancer cells and the cause of numerous developmental disorders as well as a majority of miscarriages in the first trimester. To ensure that DNA is accurately segregated during cell division, replicated chromosomes must interact with and become aligned by the spindle. Despite the importance of getting it right, cell division is error prone and dividing cells must constantly detect and correct erroneous interactions between chromosomes and the spindle to avoid aneuploidy.

The Maresca lab investigates a central, yet poorly understood contributor to the process of cell division - force. It is evident that forces produced by motors and microtubules stabilize correct interactions between chromosomes and the spindle; however, the molecular basis by which this is achieved is unclear. Research from the Maresca lab characterizing a mysterious cell division force known as the polar ejection force (PEF) has recently been published in and featured on the cover of The Journal of Cell Biology. Maresca, with MCB grad students Stuart Cane and Anna Ye and technician Sasha Luks-Morgan, found that erroneous interactions between chromosomes and spindle microtubules could not be corrected when the PEF was experimentally increased. Elevated PEFs led to dramatic chromosome mis-segregation and aneuploidy. The research reveals how an important molecular motor generates the PEF and how forces impact the accuracy of cell division by overwhelming error correction mechanisms.
Read more at Science Daily.
Read still more at JCB.

Maresca Receives Child Health Research Award

Biology Assistant Professor Tom Maresca was recently awarded the Child Health Research Award (CHRA) by the Charles H. Hood Foundation. The CHRA supports newly independent faculty in order to provide them the opportunity to demonstrate creativity and assist in the transition to other sources of research funding.

The two-year grant of $150,000 is awarded annually to five researchers who are within five years of their first faculty appointment at an academic, medical or research institution in New England. The Charles H. Hood Foundation aims to improve the health and quality of life for children through grant support of pediatric researchers.

Irschick and Colleagues Lauded for "Top Science Breakthrough"

Geckskin, a super-strong adhesive device developed by Biology professor Duncan Irschick and his colleagues, has been named one of the top five science breakthroughs of 2012 by CNN Money.

Inspired by the footpads of geckos and able to fasten a 700 pound weight to a smooth wall, Geckskin was created by Irschick and polymer scientists Michael Bartlett and Alfred Crosby. Irschick has studied the gecko’s climbing and clinging abilities for more than twenty years. The researchers published their findings in Advanced Materials last February.

Previous efforts to synthesize the tremendous adhesive power of gecko feet and pads were based on the qualities of microscopic hairs called setae, but efforts to translate these qaulities to larger scales were unsuccessful, in part because the complexity of the entire gecko foot was not taken into account. A gecko’s foot has several interacting elements, including tendons, bones and skin, that work together to produce easily reversible adhesion.

Irschick, Bartlett, Crosby and the rest of the research team unlocked the simple yet elegant secret of how it’s done, to create a device that can handle very large weights. Geckskin and its supporting theory demonstrate that setae are not required for gecko-like performance, according to Crosby. “It’s a concept that has not been considered in other design strategies and one that may open up new research avenues in gecko-like adhesion in the future.”

Read the CNN Money write-up.

View a video about Geckskin.