Department at Work
Ethnicity proves reliable indicator of what microbes thrive in the gut
February 21, 2019—
Changing the gut microbiome to beat illness holds great potential, said Vanderbilt University biologist Seth Bordenstein, but first scientists must answer what constitutes a healthy gut microbiome and in whom. By studying data on nearly 1,700 Americans of varying genders, ages, weights and ethnicities, they learned that gut microbiome differences among ethnicities are the most consistent factor.
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Biologist duo brings Wolbachia curriculum to students, citizen scientists around globe
February 21, 2019—
A curriculum directed by husband-and-wife biologists at Vanderbilt University is responsible for helping countless thousands of college students, schoolkids and citizen scientists worldwide contribute to research on microbes using cutting-edge technology.
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Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative Debuts New Website
July 26, 2018—
"The Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative, established in 2017 with the support of a Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) award, recently launched a new website. This initiative, which includes 135 members (both faculty and students) from five schools and colleges, aims to coordinate and accelerate basic, translational and clinical scholarship on the microbiome."
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November 30, 2017—
Bryan Gitschlag from the Patel Lab has been awarded a Vanderbilt Scholar in Diabetes award for his outstanding research in the field of metabolism. As an award winner, Bryan presented at the recent Diabetes Day 2017.
Deciphering potent DNA toxin's secrets
August 11, 2017—
One of the most potent toxins known acts by welding the two strands of the famous double helix together in a unique fashion which foils the standard repair mechanisms cells use to protect their DNA. Members of Biological Sciences Eichman Lab have worked out the molecular details that explain how this bacterial toxin—yatakemycin (YTM)—prevents DNA replication. Their results, described in a paper published online July 24 by Nature Chemical Biology, explain YTM’s extraordinary toxicity and could be used to fine-tune the compound’s impressive antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
Bryan Gitschlag awarded an NRSA grant for his work investigating mutant mtDNA
July 13, 2017—
Bryan Gitschlag from the Patel lab has been awarded a NRSA grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for his work investigating the mechanisms that regulate the inheritance of mutant mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). To address the question of how mutant mtDNA rise to sufficiently high levels within an individual to cause disease, Bryan uses genetic and molecular approaches to dissect the cellular mechanisms that govern the transmission of mutant mtDNA in the model species Caenorhabditis elegans. Bryan previously found that mutant mtDNA can propagate across generations by activating, and then paradoxically exploiting, physiological stress-response pathways that seek to alleviate the deleterious effects of the mtDNA. His ongoing work is aimed at identifying new cellular mechanisms that govern the propagation of disease-causing mutant mtDNA, specifically, using RNA-sequencing to identify genes that are activated in the presence of mutant mtDNA. Bryan is also investigating the relationship between energy metabolism and mitochondrial genetics by measuring changes in mutant mtDNA levels in animals grown under various metabolic conditions, such as the high-fat diet.
Decoding ants’ coat of many odors
July 10, 2017—
Ants are covered with a “coat of many odors.” It’s a waxy layer that covers their bodies and is the source of the complex aromas that ants use to communicate. These odorant blends act like biochemical uniforms, identifying individual ants by caste, colony and species. In so doing it helps regulate the ants’ behavior, allowing them to navigate the sophisticated social systems that has made ants one of the most successful families of animals on Earth. For some time, scientists have recognized the crucial role these chemical signals play in ants’ lives, but now Biological Sciences' Lawrence Zwiebel and his collaborators are making major advances in deciphering the molecular genetics of ant olfaction. This deeper level of understanding may not only provide new insights into how ants, honeybees and other social insects create and manage complex societies but it may also provide insight into how other “more advanced” animals do so as well. At the same time, it could produce more effective methods for keeping ants out of the kitchen and off the picnic table.
Professor Antonis Rokas, finalist for the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists
June 8, 2017—
Antonis Rokas is one of 30 finalists picked from a pool of the most promising scientific researchers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions. From this group “national laureates” will be chosen in three fields: physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, and chemistry. The final selection will be announced in late June and the research of the 2017 finalists and honorees from previous years will be featured at a symposium in July in New York City. The Blavatnik Awards were established in 2007 by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and are administered by the New York Academy of Sciences to recognize exceptional young researchers who will drive the next generation of innovation by answering today’s most complex and intriguing scientific questions. Rokas studies the DNA record to gain insight into the patterns and processes of evolution using both computational and experimental approaches. He is particularly interested in three major questions: How did human pregnancy evolve? What are the molecular foundations of the fungal lifestyle? How can we elucidate the tree of life?
Elwood Mullins named Postdoc of the Year at VICC retreat
May 22, 2017—
Elwood Mullins from the Eichman Lab was named Postdoc of the Year at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's Annual Scientific Retreat held on May 4 at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center.
New method for tapping vast plant pharmacopeia to make more effective drugs - Rokas Lab
April 26, 2017—
Cocaine, nicotine, capsaicin. These are just three familiar examples of the hundreds of thousands of small molecules (also called specialized or secondary metabolites) that plants use as chemical ammunition to protect themselves from predation. Unfortunately, identifying the networks of genes that plants use to make these biologically active compounds, which are the source of many of the drugs that people use and abuse daily, has vexed scientists for years, hindering efforts to tap this vast pharmacopeia to produce new and improved therapeutics. Now, Vanderbilt University geneticists think they have come up with an effective and powerful new way for identifying these elusive gene networks, which typically consist of a handful to dozens of different genes, that may overcome this road block.
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