BITTMAN RECEIVES EXPLORATORY GRANT TO STUDY BRAIN'S MASTER CLOCK

Neurobiologist Eric Bittman, biology, has received a two-year, $420,000 exploratory grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study how the master clock in the brain talks to other neurons and how it controls a variety of organs including the heart, lung and liver.

Circadian rhythms are internally generated cycles that repeat at 24-hour intervals in the normal, fluctuating environment but which persist with a slightly shorter or longer period in constant conditions, he explains. Many physiological events, including body temperature, sleep and wakefulness, heart rate and blood pressure show circadian rhythms. Other events that recur at longer intervals, including reproductive cycles, are based on the daily circadian clock.

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ZEBRAFISH GIVES PROFESSOR DOWNES CLUES INTO HUMAN DISEASE

Professor Downes rushes into his laboratory, his mind whirring with possibilities for research that could lead to cures for diseases. “Sometimes I forget to say, ‘Hi,’” says the professor of neurobiology. “I just say, ‘Here is what we need to do.’"

Downes obviously is a man on a mission - actually several missions. With the help of a 10-member lab team and thousands of zebrafish, an ideal animal for studying neurobiology, Downes investigates neurological diseases with an eye toward finding treatments. As a professor, he wants to do more than teach biology; he wants his students to be critical and strategic thinkers. He selects undergraduates and offers them meaningful research experiences that give them an advantage in applying to medical school, graduate school, or the workforce. It is also important to him to reach out to the community to give young people an image of a scientist unlike Einstein or Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies.

At 45, he has made quick work toward his goals. In one breakthrough, his experiments found zebrafish models that can be used to develop new treatments for maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a rare neurometabolic disorder that can be fatal. He is establishing new animal models to study epilepsy and a disorder that combines symptoms of autism and epilepsy. Last year, he and colleagues were awarded an $824,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study zebrafish to better understand how the brain stem controls movement. The research uses an integrated genetic, molecular, cellular, and behavioral approach to reveal how brain stem neurons integrate sensory information and control locomotion. Basic research into cellular and molecular mechanisms of brain circuitry is essential to deeper understanding of how brains work, leading to new therapies to treat neurological disease.

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Biologist Maresca and Colleagues Find Strong, Steady Forces at Work During Cell Division

Biologists who study the mechanics of cell division have for years disagreed about how much force is at work when the cell’s molecular engines are lining chromosomes up in the cell, preparing to winch copies to opposite poles across a bridge-like structure called the kinetochore to form two new cells. The question is fundamental to understanding how cells divide, says cell biologist Thomas Maresca.

As he says, “We know we can’t fully understand the kinetochore structure until we understand the tension forces and their strength, but the estimates have been all over the map. They differ by orders of magnitude, hundreds of times, and some are off by a thousand-fold. But now, I think we’ve finally got the answer.”

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Biology Major Nick Mucci in Daily Hampshire Gazette

Biology Major Nick Mucci profiled in the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Though the Institute for Applied Life Sciences “officially” opened Friday with a ribbon-cutting, dozens of research projects have been taking place inside the 275,000-square-foot building on the flagship campus for some time. State and campus leaders say the research is already helping drive the regional economy and promote public health.

Nick Mucci is one of those researchers. The senior biology major at UMass, Mucci is studying how some types of bacteria evolve and possibly jeopardize cardiovascular health.

“If we can stop them at the microscopic levels, we’re hopeful we can make advancements in personalized medicine” to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, Mucci said.

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Campus Leaders Tour Morrill Science Center Renovations

On October 4, 2016, the Chancellor, Provost, and other campus leaders visited the Morrill Science Center to tour newly renovated spaces and see new enhancements in the Departments of Biology, Microbiology, and Geosciences. Renovations included new teachin equipment in the Intro and upper-level teaching laboratories as well as research spaces for faculty.