Ebola comes from bats, HIV from primates, and new strains of influenza from birds and pigs. With zoonotic diseases – those capable of transmission from animals to humans – grabbing headlines across the globe, understanding how they work has never been more important. That’s the mission of a new team of researchers led by Dr. Sara Sawyer at the BioFrontiers Institute. By analyzing the genomes of hosts and viruses alike, Sawyer and her team hope to shed some light on why humans are resistant to most animal viruses, and how animal viruses evolve the ability to overcome these obstacles and infect humans.
Polyploidy and aneuploidy become interesting study subjects when it comes to cancer. From a cancer standpoint, polyploidy is a mistake in replication of chromosomes, and the odds of a polyploid cell becoming cancerous are increased. Some cancers appear to start when the cell divides and extra chromosomes go into one cell instead of splitting evenly between two. As this happens over and over, a cell can quickly become what scientists call “self-interested” and become a soft tumor. Genetic sequencing is showing promise as a powerful tool for learning about different types of cancers. Phil Richmond started at CU-Boulder as a pre-medical student and quickly fell in love with biology. BioFrontiers' Robin Dowell hired him into her lab as a sophomore where he filed papers and washed glassware, but it wasn’t long before Dowell recruited him for a programming project.
In a new paper, published in Science Signaling, part of AAAS Science Journals, BioFrontiers' Hang Hubert Yin and his collaborator, Kathy Maguire-Zeiss of Georgetown University Medical Center, describe a new TLR1/2 inhibitor that was used to better understand the cellular processes of Parkinson’s disease. The inhibitor, called CU-CPT22, is a potent, “drug-like” small molecule suppressant of the TLR1/2-mediated proinflammation signaling. Developed at CU-Boulder by the Yin team, CU-CPT22 binds with toll-like receptors 1 and 2, preventing them from overreacting and causing protein misfolding in the nervous system. The small molecule blocks the receptors and fine-tunes the system, balancing out the overprotective microglia and keeping inflammation at bay. Preventing this inflammation may be the key to controlling neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.
The National Science Foundation recently announced the recipients of the coveted 2015 Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) awards. These prestigious awards have been given since 1952 to graduate students who show a demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. Chris Smith, a first-year student from the BioFrontiers Institute’s Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology PhD Program, received a 2015 fellowship. Second-year IQ Biology student, John Nardini, was given an honorable mention.
Electric voltage powers life – Our brains use electrical transients to process every thought; every heartbeat arises from voltage changes in heart cells. Despite its importance, voltage changes in bacteria were never really studied because the cells were just too small to measure. In fact, biologists historically assumed that these voltage changes were only present in plants and animals. BioFrontiers Institute faculty member, Joel Kralj, an Assistant Professor in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, developed a method to encode a fluorescent protein into bacterial cells that allow it to become visible, revealing how bacteria use electricity to stay alive.
Hubert Yin has been thinking about one type of cell receptor since he joined the BioFrontiers Institute, and it is a receptor worthy of that kind of time. Yin, an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is focusing much of his research on toll-like receptors. These are pattern recognition receptors designed to identify pathogen signals and activate an immune response within the cell.
I recently attended the 2014 Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, and Health Informatics (ACM BCB) with fellow IQ Biology student Joey Azofeifa and our advisor Robin Dowell. The conference had many interesting talks, ranging from theory-heavy explanations of algorithm improvements to very applied talks on using computational analysis for medical procedures. I presented my poster titled “Inferring Ancestry in Mouse Genomes using a Hidden Markov Model”, where I showed my work on determining haplotype block inheritance using single-nucleotide polymorphism data from two selectively bred mouse strains and six of the eight ancestor strains that they were bred from (the other two ancestor strains haven’t been sequenced).
Among cancers, scientists have spent their entire research careers looking for cellular similarities that may lead to a single cure for many cancers –– the rare chance to have a single answer to a multifaceted problem. In 1997, scientists discovered a gene that they believed was the key to cellular immortality. Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase, or TERT, is a catalytic piece of telomerase, and while cellular immortality sounds like a good idea, it is actually how cancerous tumors grow and proliferate in cancer patients.
Just a few weeks ago, we boarded a plane destined for Boston and the 2014 World iGEM Jamboree. Once we arrived, we were racing to the hotel to put some finishing touches onto our power point presentation. Our team was selected as one of the first teams to present at 9am Friday morning. This meant our presentation needed to be perfected in just a few short hours. Members of the team sat in the hotel lobby practicing and correcting the presentation. We finally decided to call it a night at 4am. After three hours of sleep, we grabbed some coffee and headed to our presentation. Even with the lack of sleep and butterflies in our stomachs, the presentation was great and most exciting of all, it was over!
In just a few days, members from our team will be boarding a plane to Boston. When we arrive, we are participating in an annual synthetic biology competition against both foreign and domestic teams at an international conference, held by the International Genetically Engineered Machines Foundation (iGEM). There we will present our synthetic biology project designed and executed over the summer.
The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) event is the top synthetic biology competition in the world and the CU-Boulder team wanted to make an impact at this year’s competition in Boston. Last year’s 2013 Buffs iGEM team was successful, winning a North American Regional award for best new BioBrick and publishing their research in ACS Synthetic Biology. The 2014 Buffs iGEM team was confident they could compete at the international level. Unlike previous years, this year the iGEM competition (called a Jamboree) had no regional qualifying round, creating formidable competition: 2,500 undergraduate and graduate synthetic biology researchers from 245 universities across 32 countries. In the end, the CU scientists came home with a Silver medal and an interlab study distinction.
Balaji Sridhar is a Chemical Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is halfway through two years of the Medical Scientist Training Program that is a joint effort between CU campuses in Denver and Boulder, and he will head back to medical school after receiving his PhD degree. He is also leading a company that aims to save millions around the world who die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Sridhar is headed home after a week-long stay in Silicon Valley where he accepted the Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award for his company, Nanoly Bioscience, Inc. The Tech Awards, given by The Tech Museum of Innovation, honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity, and Sridhar is already working toward that goal.
Amy Palmer was recently awarded a Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which are given to scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. The Pioneer Award, now in its eleventh year, challenges investigators at all career levels to develop groundbreaking approaches that could have an efficacious impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science. The award will span five years and provide a total of $2.5 million dollars in direct research funding for Palmer’s work.
The BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado launched its inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program in affiliation with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, Anschutz Medical Campus.
Mary Allen is taking genetic sequencing data from people with Down syndrome and their parents to understand how that extra copy of chromosome 21 puts this population at higher risk for health issues such as heart defects, thyroid conditions, leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, and respiratory and hearing problems. Alternately understanding why they are at lower risk for heart attack, stroke, and solid tumor cancers. Allen isn’t out to find a cure for Down syndrome. Her goal is to find what in their DNA is helping these survivors, and how can we design targeted molecular therapy to help them have better lives.
Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will be giving a talk about creating an environment that supports the success of minority students as part of the BioFrontiers Seminar Series. Hrabowski has focused his career on science and math education, with emphasis on minority participation and performance.
A major collaboration of Colorado institutions uses new technology to show, after more than 30 years and 50,000 papers on the subject, the direct targets of the gene p53, the most potent “tumor suppressor” gene. The finding is a strong step toward affecting the disease trajectories of nearly all cancer types.
University of Colorado Boulder biologist Leslie Leinwand has been selected as a member of the 2014 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which honors the leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including scientists, scholars, writers and artists. Leinwand—chief scientific officer for CU-Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute and a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology—is an expert in cardiovascular disease.
The National Science Foundation recently announced the recipients of their coveted 2014 Graduate Research Fellowship awards. These prestigious awards have been given since 1952 to graduate students who show a demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. Two students from the BioFrontiers Institute’s Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology PhD Program, Ryan Langendorf and Eric Kightley, received fellowships.
Most university faculty divide their time between research activities, teaching and service to their institutions, sometimes putting in hundreds of hours weekly to accomplish the job’s demands. Being able to shine in all of these areas is a rare accomplishment, especially for newer faculty. For BioFrontiers faculty member Robin Dowell, juggling these responsibilities is somewhat second nature.