Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station

Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station -

UW researchers unravel mystery in search for connective tissue disease causes

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Research by Ph.D. student Melissa Kelley and Professor David Fay discovered in C. elegans intrinsic biomechanical forces operating in embryos no one had previously theorized.

Molecular biologist David Fay doesn’t much look like famous sleuths such as television’s Columbo – no trenchcoat, at least – nor Fox Mulder of “X Files” fame; there is no doubting-what’s-out-there Scully at his side.
Fay earned his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, and his laboratory logo is a worm with a boot (emphasis on singular boot) and spur, sporting a red neckerchief, and donning a hat with a “W” – “The Wyoming Worm Lab.”

His research history is peppered with a $1.4 million grant, a $1.19 million grant, a $799,000 grant, and those of lesser amounts. His scientific journal articles total 48 and date back to 1991.

And yet, there is no denying the look of fun that spread across his face when this director of the Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences (MCLS) Program at UW talked about the mystery he and his lab associates pursued, tracked down and ultimately solved.

It began with mutant worms.

“This was one of those studies where the idea of doing really basic, exploratory science shines,” he said.

His lab works with C. elegans, a transparent (and not parasitic) nematode, usually about a millimeter long with about 3,000 cells. Probably somewhat disappointing to humans, its genome is similar to us.

Fay, MCLS doctorate student Melissa Kelley, and others in his lab found themselves looking at a mutant that had an unusual phenotype, one not well described or understood at any level.

“Some of the fun of it is like sleuthing, figuring out what happened” said Fay, and flashed that look.

They solved the mystery of the mutant phenotype in good detail. In this case, it led to genes conserved in humans.

“Thanks to previous studies from another group, we already knew that genes with clear human correlates were involved in what we were studying,” Fay said. “That’s partially what made us interested in the problem to begin with. We knew the study would have relevance to human biology and possibly disease.”

Their research led to a gene that encodes a worm protein related to the fibrillin proteins in humans. Fibrillins are essential for proper formation and function of elastic-like fibers in connective tissues. Fibrillin works outside the cell, providing structural support – a scaffold – for the cell.

Two of the three fibrillin proteins in humans are associated with disease, in particular, Marfan syndrome. Marfan affects connective tissues, and symptoms can be long arms, legs and fingers, a tall and thin body type, flat feet, and harder-to-detect signs such as aorta defects. Some have speculated Abraham Lincoln had the syndrome, but many now reject that.

The lab’s mutant worm didn’t have a normal scaffolding system. This led to a range of deformities in the developing worms, said Fay, and the discovery of certain intrinsic biomechanical forces operating in embryos that no one had previously theorized.

Results were first published March 13 in eLife, a highly regarded open access scientific journal. Publication in eLife is free because of backing by the Howard Hughes, Max Plank, and Wellcome Trust Institutes. The Fay lab is the first from UW to publish an article in the journal.

Fay eagerly credits his collaborators, which include Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie in the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Others are from Stanford University, Universidad Mayor, Harvard Medical School, Rockefeller University; and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Kelley is one of three lead authors.

“I have been very fortunate with this project, both to be able to work on well-established research, and because I have had this opportunity to be an author on a paper with such outstanding collaborators,” said Kelley, who is interested in studying developmental biology and human diseases.

http://www.wyomingextension.org/news/2015/04/22/uw-researchers-unravel-mystery-in-search-for-connective-tissue-disease-causes/  

 

Dhekney Mentors Sheridan College Students for NSF Innovation Challenge

Sadanand Dhekney, Plant Sciences Assistant Professor at the Sheridan Research and Extension Center, mentors four Sheridan College students who are carrying out a project at the Sheridan R&E Center’s lab for the NSF Community College Innovation Challenge.

The four students on the project are Hannah Shafer (Rapid City), Ceirra Carlson (Greybull), Hannah Jernigan (Cheyenne) and Paige Jernigan (Cheyenne).

They proposed to genetically engineer algae for enhanced lipid production.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=xrAHsQgMp4I

 

 

 

Miller, Levy Honored for Research

Dan Levy was recognized for his research in the UW Department of Molecular Biology.

Dan Levy was recognized for his research in the UW Department of Molecular Biology.

March 9, 2015 — Professor Scott Miller and Assistant Professor Dan Levy won outstanding research and early career research awards from the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station. Miller is in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, and Levy is in the Department of Molecular Biology.

Miller joined UW in 2002 as an assistant professor in the then-Department of Renewable Resources. His research focus is spatial hydrology, and his lab focuses on the use of innovative field and modeling techniques to better understand the fate and transport of water, and how humans change hydrologic response. He has worked around the world on topics ranging from deforestation to risk assessment, but more recently has focused his research on Wyoming-related issues.

Levy joined UW in 2011 after working as a postdoctoral fellow in molecular and cell biology at the University of California-Berkeley. His lab’s goal is to reveal nuclear size control mechanisms to understand how nuclear size affects cell and nuclear function, and sub-nuclear organization. His previous research and training as a mechanistic biochemist, investigating size control of intracellular structures and developing in vitro reconstitution systems, positioned him to solve problems relating to nuclear size regulation.

Also nominated for the early career research award were Melanie Murphy, assistant professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; and Andrew Kniss, associate professor, and Brian Mealor, assistant professor, both in the Department of Plant Sciences.

http://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2015/03/miller-levy-honored-for-research.html

UW Librarians Receive Award to Digitize Historic UW Documents

February 2, 2015 — photos of two menUniversity of Wyoming Associate Librarians David Kruger and Chad Hutchens received an $8,000 Project Ceres award from the Center for Research Libraries to digitize historic UW Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins.

UW was one of only eight land-grant universities to receive a Project Ceres award through a highly competitive application process. Other recipients for the 2014-15 application year included libraries from the University of Florida, Kansas State University, Louisiana State University, New Mexico State University, University of Minnesota, Purdue University and Washington State University.

The Project Ceres award will enable UW Libraries to digitize more than 300 Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins from 1891 through 1965. Library patrons will have electronic access to past bulletin issues and keyword searchability across 75 years of publications.

“I greatly appreciate the University of Wyoming Libraries for their efforts to preserve historical agricultural research in Wyoming,” says Bret Hess, UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources associate dean. “The convenience of being able to access historical experiment station bulletins online, versus trying to use them from closed collections, benefits faculty, staff, students and our constituents.”

UW Libraries received notice of the award last May and will have the digitization project completed by August 2015. The UW Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins will become available online through the Libraries’ Wyoming Scholars Repository.

http://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2015/02/uw-librarians-receive-award-to-digitize-historic-uw-documents.html

 

UW scientist wants to dispel genetically modified crop, pesticide use fallacies

Kniss-AndrewA weed scientist at the University of Wyoming targets misconceptions about the safety of genetically engineered crops (GMOs) and pesticide use in modern agriculture in a public webinar Friday, Oct. 17.

“Many people believe the giant seed companies are the only ones who benefit from GMO crops, but this simply isn’t the case,” said Andrew Kniss, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The webinar begins at 1:10 p.m. and is at http://goo.gl/69jQKY.

Consumers should be interested in their food, Kniss said.

“But when people go looking for this information, I worry a lot of people are being misled by organizations with alternative motives,” he said. “It is our job at the university to be a primary source of unbiased information. It is important for us to engage the public and provide the best information available.”

Kniss will discuss the role of land-grant faculty members in addressing disinformation and misconceptions among non-agricultural audiences. He said many people have little firsthand knowledge of how modern farms operate and are hungry for that information. He cites a lack of agricultural outreach and extension to the general public as partly responsible.

http://www.wyomingextension.org/news/