Peg Riley Receives University Outreach Teaching Award

Professor Peg Riley was recently awarded by the Provost the University Distinguished Outreach Teaching Award in recognition of her work with the Mass Academy of Sciences. Professor Riley is the founder of the Mass Academy of Sciences and has developed science outreach programs to "promote understanding and appreciation of the sciences". Locally Professor Riley and her team have developed science demonstrations for K-12 students and provided them to over 25 public schools, many in severely underserved regions. Congratulations Professor Riley on this well deserved award in recognition of all your hard work!

Elizabeth Connor Receives Distinguished Teaching Award

Professor Elizabeth Connor has been awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award for the 2012-2013 year. The Distinguished Teaching Award has been a feature of UMass Amherst for forty years and honors exemplary teaching at the highest institution level. Eligibility for this award originates from nominations made by both current students and alumni. Congratulations Dr. Connor on this well deserved honor!

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.