May 3, 2017
The National Academy of Sciences today announced the election of 84 new members in recognition of their distinguished and continuing research achievements. Election to the National Academy of Sciences is one of the nation's most prestigious scientific honors. Among the newly elected members, four are MCDB alumni:
Dominique Bergmann, professor in the department of biology at Stanford University, completed her Ph.D. in MCDB in 2000 under the mentorship of Distinguished Professor Emeritus William B. Wood.
Chris Q. Doe, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of biology at the University of Oregon, did his postdoctoral work in MCDB with Professor Matthew Scott from 1987 to 1989.
Patrick O'Farrell, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, is a 1974 Ph.D. alum from the MCDB labs of Professors Jacques Péne and David Hirsch.
James Priess, a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, Washington, received his Ph.D. in 1984 under the mentorship of MCDB Professor David Hirsch.
MCDB congratulates these and all the new members of the National Academy of Sciences!
April 20, 2017
Proper nutrition can unleash amazing powers, moms have always assured us, frequently citing Popeye the Sailor Man as evidence. Now, two University of Colorado Boulder scientists have confirmed just how potent some nutrients can be.
In findings published today in the journal Cell, postdoctoral fellow Hongyun Tang and Professor Min Han, both of CU Boulder's Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, detail how fat levels in a tiny soil-dwelling roundworm (C. elegans) can tip the balance between whether the worm makes eggs or sperm.
Although the researchers discovered this phenomenon in worms, the research could have implications for future studies into human fertility and reproductive development.
September 1, 2016
Two studies publishing on 1st September in Open Access journal PLOS Biology identify overlapping groups of cells in the Drosophila larva that have unique properties. In one case, the cells are resistant to irradiation or drug-induced cell death and capable of moving to areas of damaged tissue where they adopt a new fate and initiate regeneration. The second study examines cells from the same location and reports that, upon inactivation of a tumor suppressor gene, these cells but not others elsewhere in the same tissue take a first step towards becoming aggressive tumors. Both sets of authors discuss potential implications for human tumors.
February 17, 2016
Last month, Dick McIntosh, distinguished professor (emeritus), and Joy Power (’88 BIO), an alumna and lab coordinator, of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, traveled to the University of Ghana in Legon to participate in a two-week course on modern cell biology for biochemistry graduate students.
McIntosh and Power have taught the course in four African countries. He calls the courses modern cell‐biology “boot camps” and says their end goal is the promotion of front-line research in Africa, which has no shortage of disease but a dearth of cutting‐edge research on disease.
February 4, 2016
A University of Colorado Boulder research team, in collaboration with a researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, has discovered how skin stem cells know when to stop dividing. The findings, published as the cover story in the Feb 5th issue of the journal Science, could point to new avenues for controlling stem cells in regenerative medicine, and should further our understanding of how stem cells may go awry in cancer, says Rui Yi, associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at CU-Boulder, who led the study along with first author Li Wang, who recently completed his PhD in Yi’s lab.
By some estimates, Yi says, adults replace all the cells in their skin every month. To maintain such constant cell turnover, the skin has to exert tight controls over which cells may divide and when any particular cell divides. Fortunately, Yi says, most cells within our body do not divide, or we would grow unrestrained. But stem cells, such as those responsible for replenishing skin, have the potential to divide unlimited times if given the opportunity. How does a stem cell know when to divide and when to stop? That question, Yi says, is important, not only for understanding how skin controls its normal growth, but to develop strategies to combat skin cancer, the unfettered tissue growth that ensues when these controls run amuk.
Yi says that biologists understand many of the details of how molecular signals secreted by surrounding skin tissue communicate with stem cells to stimulate them to divide. For example, when the skin suffers a cut, it musters stem cells in the area to divide and repair the injury. But until now, not much has been known about whether a stem cell, itself, has any internal sense of when to divide or when it should lay in wait.
Using genetically engineered mice provided by co-author Julie Siegenthaler, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at CU Denver, the researchers discovered that a transcription factor called Foxc1 acts within hair follicle stem cells to forestall them from dividing until the appropriate time. A transcription factor is a protein that controls when genes are turned on or off, and the Colorado team identified more than a hundred genes that Foxc1 turns on. Enforcing a two-pronged control strategy, Foxc1 activates genes that prevent stem cells from dividing, and as a result also turns off genes that stem cells need to divide.
When Yi’s team inactivated Foxc1 in hair follicle stem cells, the cells lost their inhibition toward dividing, allowing them to divide prematurely. In addition, Yi’s team noticed that Foxc1 is also turned on in the stem cell niche, a cluster of neighboring cells that supports the stem cells. When the researchers inactivated Foxc1 in the niche, it led to hair loss. “It seems,” Yi says, “that this factor has different roles in the stem cells and in the niche.”
The most intriguing finding about Foxc1, Yi notes, is that it only appears in a stem cell once the cell has divided. In effect, he says, Foxc1 serves as a switch that notifies a stem cell that it has divided and should stop dividing until further notice. This way, he explains, every hair follicle stem cell gets to divide at least one time so that it can replenish itself, but once that happens, Foxc1 in the newly divided daughter cells contols whole networks of genes to keep the cells from dividing further unless absolutely necessary. What turns on Foxc1 in newly divided stem cells? Yi says that question is still a mystery remaining to be solved.
Now that Yi’s team has pinpointed Foxc1 as the key control point for hair follicle skin stem cell division, they are eager to learn how the dozens of Foxc1’s target genes carry out its orders to prevent cell division. This is a profoundly important question, Yi says, because it is now widely accepted that skin cancers originate from stem cells. And hair follicle stem cells in particular, he adds, are more prone to develop into invasive cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In addition to Wang, Yi, and Siegenthaler, MCDB assistant professor Robin Dowell co-authored the Science paper and supervised bioinformatics analyses.
January 28, 2016
CU-Boulder Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Bradley Olwin, has been selected as one of 29 U.S. scientists to receive the 2015 Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging. The award, from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, comes with a $60,000 grant to support Olwin’s research on how the body repairs and regenerates skeletal muscle after injury, in the face of disease, and during the normal aging process.
Olwin has dedicated his entire scientific career to understanding how the body maintains healthy muscle. That’s a deceptively simple sounding question, he explains. “Compared to almost every other tissue, muscle is dynamic in its size. It’s constantly growing and atrophying. The really intriguing thing to me is, how does the tissue regulate this dynamic cycle of growth and shrinkage?”
One part of the answer, Olwin and his colleagues have discovered, comes from satellite cells‐tiny cells sprinkled throughout muscle tissue that act as stem cells, multiplying to replenish themselves and, occasionally, turning into new muscle cells. Until recently, scientists weren’t even sure that satellite cells were the cells that formed muscle, or how they influenced muscle aging.
One day, John Hall, a grad student in Olwin’s lab, transplanted satellite cells into a muscle in a young mouse and allowed the mouse to age. To his surprise, Hall found that the aged muscle containing the transplanted cells didn’t lose muscle strength like the mouse's other muscles. “John didn’t tell me he did the experiment until he got the results,” Olwin says, “but this is what really got us interested in studying the role of satellite cells in muscle aging.” He and his team still don't completely know how the injected satellite cells keep muscles youthful. “This is the main question we're investigating.”
Olwin, like most professors, spends a lot of his time writing grant proposals. So, he was elated when he received the email from the Glenn Foundation notifying him of the award and research grant that he never even applied for. “I am deeply appreciative, and want to thank the Foundation for the award.” He says he'll use the money to buy equipment that he might not have been able to purchase from other grants, and that the funds will enable him to pursue some new technologies to investigate whether certain changes in muscle stem cells contribute to loss of muscle function during aging. “This is high-risk but potentially high-reward research, which I might not be able to get funded by other granting agencies,” Olwin says. “Our research is tremendously expensive, so this unexpected grant is a great addition.”
According to the Glenn Foundation’s web site, awardees are selected by the foundation's scientific advisory board, and applications are not accepted. The award program began in 2007. In addition to the Glenn Awards, the foundation offers larger, competitive grants, and has established Aging Research Centers in laboratories at several universities and research institutions.
January 25, 2016
Dr. William B. “Bill” Wood, CU-Boulder distinguished professor emeritus and former MCDB department head, has been awarded the 2016 Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education from the Genetics Society of America (GSA). The award, given “in recognition of his significant and sustained impact in genetics education,” was announced today in a press release. It will be presented in a ceremony in Florida in July.
Dr. Wood joined the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology in 1975 as a visiting professor, rose to Department Chair in 1978, and was named a CU Distinguished Professor in 2002. In 2014, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association for his seminal work on biomedical research and science education.
A member of the National Academy of Science, Dr. Wood has led several National Academies panels on science education, and helped develop the National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology.
In the announcement, GSA Executive Director Adam Fagen, who has worked with Dr. Wood on the Summer Institute, remarked “it is inspiring to see someone who has been such a leader in scientific research apply the same enthusiasm, commitment, and rigor to science education. Bill continues to inspire and innovative, and we are glad to honor his continuing leadership in genetics education.”
MCDB congratulates Dr. Bill Wood on this latest well deserved honor!
December 10, 2015
Just recently in November, Dr. Jonathan Van Blerkom was awarded the Robert G. Edwards Prize Paper Award by Reproductive BioMedicine Online for the best paper published in the journal in 2014. This is an extraordinary accolade in a very competitive field.
The paper entitled, “First births with a simplified culture system for clinical IVF and embryo transfer”, offers an exciting perspective into the simplified IVF system that won “Best of What’s New Award” from Popular Science magazine in 2014 in the health category. This study overall reports the results from a pilot clinical trial using the simplified laboratory method for human IVF. The methodology and results are discussed with regard to how this simplified system can be adopted worldwide to meet the growing need for accessible and affordable IVF.
The link to the winning article is provided below:
Also here is a link to the original article about the low cost IVF system as published by the CU News Center:
It’s always exciting to see ground breaking scientific advancements like these representing CU Boulder both nationally and on a global stage. Overall, it embraces what science (in its purest state) is meant to represent ‐ the improvement of lives.
November 20, 2015
The College of Arts & Sciences hosted 136 students and 38 donors in the largest scholarship event in recent years. Dean Leigh delivered remarks and was later joined by three student scholarship recipients who spoke about how their scholarship awards have supported and furthered their education experience at CU. We are proud to host this event, which honors our donors and student recipients.
October 21, 2015
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) grown from the skin cells of a person with Down syndrome are helping researchers grow cerebral organoids and track protein expression in an effort to better understand the disorder on a cellular and molecular level. University of Colorado Boulder postdoc Tristan McClure-Begley and his colleagues sought to better understand the neurological and developmental changes that occur in people with a third copy of chromosome 21, the unifying pathological feature of Down syndrome. “That third copy of chromosome 21 influences all aspects of embryonic development, including critical steps during brain development,” McClure-Begley said in a statement. “But we’ve had trouble identifying exactly why the extra chromosome has such widespread effects, partly because we’ve lacked good human tissue models of Down syndrome.”
October 16, 2015
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is impressed with the progress being made by a University of Colorado Boulder biotech start-up company on its quest to develop novel treatments for head and neck cancer.
The federal institute has awarded the company, SuviCa Inc., a $1.5 million Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract that will allow it to continue to develop a compound known as SVC112 that has been shown to enhance the anti-tumor effects of radiation in animal models of human head and neck cancer.
SuviCa was founded in Boulder in 2010 based on a novel drug-screening technology developed by CU-Boulder Professor Tin Tin Su, SuviCa co-founder and chief scientific officer.
While radiation is a regular therapy used to treat head and neck cancers, it also is associated with potentially devastating side effects and tumor recurrence, said SuviCa CEO Judy Hemberger. New treatments under development by Su and her colleagues involve small molecules that work with currently used cancer therapeutics to destroy tumors.
September 30, 2015
MCDB Associate Professor Gia Voeltz has been recognized by Science News as one of 10 early career researchers who are “making their mark.”
“Science News surveyed 30 Nobel Prize winners to learn whose work has caught their attention. From those names, Science News editors chose 10 to feature,” according to the special report.
September 30, 2015
The University of Colorado Boulder invites applications for a tenure-track/tenured assistant or associate professor position in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. We seek to hire an outstanding scientist in molecular or cellular biology. Candidates working in molecular, cellular and/or systems biology of bacteria or on functional analysis of microbes in microbiomes or pathogenesis are particularly encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will be expected to develop a creative and innovative research program, to provide research training for graduate and undergraduate students, and to teach biology courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. A Ph.D. or M.D., post-doctoral research experience and a strong publication record are required.
Submit a CV, statement of research and teaching interests, and contact information for three references electronically at https://www.jobsatcu.com/postings/108027. Applications will be reviewed beginning October 15 until the position is filled.
The University of Colorado Boulder is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.
August 18, 2015
DNA mutations occur and accumulate during an individual's lifetime. Often these changes are harmless. But some mutations‐called driver mutations‐can trigger the formation of tumors. This is often because these mutations allow the cells to grow faster than normal cells. Mutations in genes in the Ras gene family are among the most common driver mutations found in human cancers. These common mutations lead to the uncontrolled activation of genes that are normally tightly controlled, which in turn allows the cells to divide more and live for longer: these are two key features of cancer cells.
July 29, 2015
Cell-biology labs often struggle to reproduce the research results of other groups. But a 15 July report suggests that many of those troubles would vanish if scientists reached out to the original experimenters. The report, released by the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), includes survey results from hundreds of ASCB members and calls for changes in scientific culture to make results easier to confirm. Besides better communication, it urges scientists to adopt more-uniform standards within their fields and to focus more on data quality rather than on publishing in high-impact journals.
July 16, 2015
MCDB is pleased to announce that the first Blumenthal Fellowship in Down Syndrome has been awarded to Amber Sorenson, a PhD student in Robin Dowell's lab in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The Blumenthal Fellowship will provide Amber a full year of support. Amber's project in the Dowell lab is a study of how the extra chromosome of people with trisomy 21 causes changes in the expression of genes on all chromosomes, not just genes located on chromosome 21.
The Blumenthal fellowship is available to MCDB graduate students or to graduate students pursuing their thesis research in a MCDB faculty member's lab. The fellowship fund was created by generous gifts from Joe Turner, an MCDB graduate and former CFO of Myogen Inc., Tom Blumenthal, former MCDB Chair and now Director of the Crnic Institute, Larry Gold, another former MCDB Chair and now Chairman of SomaLogic Inc., and the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, among others.
May 19, 2015
The University of Colorado's Office of Information Technology will move all faculty and staff in the MCD Biology department to the cloud based Office365 service provided by Microsoft on Thursday night (May 21). There will be no loss of email in the transfer, however, client access to email may be disrupted on Friday until their email client programs get reconfigured.
On Friday morning, prior to getting their email programs reconfigured, all faculty and staff can access their email via their web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari) by going to CU's Office 365 website. The department's students will continue to be able to access their email on CU's Gmail site.
Note: on both sites use firstname.lastname@example.org for your username.
OIT is providing email client reconfiguration instructions and also several support technicians.
As always, MCDB's IT Staff can be reached at (303) 492-4535.
May 6, 2015
Norman Pace, a University of Colorado Boulder distinguished professor in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB), is retiring after this semester.
His research and teaching career has been punctuated with prestigious awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991 and the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Award” in 2001. Pace first came to CU-Boulder in 1999 and was named distinguished professor in 2008. Pace has authored or contributed to more than 267 published works.
Over the years, Pace has done groundbreaking work in RNA processing. He discovered new microbes by extracting genetic information from samples unable to be cultured in labs, tracing their genetic relatives.
He was among the vanguard of scientists who discovered the existence of extremophiles, which live in areas long thought to be inhospitable to life-in extremely hot, cold or acidic environments, for instance. Most recently, he studied the prevalence of microbes within the human environment-showers, swimming pools and municipal water.
April 29, 2015
Most scientific papers list a handful of co-authors, but in a monumental example of scientific collaboration and real-world undergraduate research education, a study appearing this week in the online journal eLIFE includes more than 2500 undergraduate authors from 81 colleges and universities around the world. Among the young researchers are 59 CU-Boulder freshmen.
The study describes the evolution of a tiny organism‐a bacteriophage, or “phage,” for short. So minuscule are phages (viruses that infect bacteria) that a perennial debate in biology classes concerns whether they’re worthy of being considered living things at all. They can’t do much of anything on their own, and have to commandeer hapless bacteria to multiply, which they do to countless numbers.
All that reproduction, it turns out, spawns rapid and vast evolution. Bacteriophages have only a smattering of genes, which are subject to the same forces of genetic change that drive evolution in more legitimate organisms. The eLIFE study compared the complete DNA sequences of 627 different mycobacteriophage-viruses that infect one type of bacterium, called mycobacteria-that were isolated, analyzed, and annotated by undergraduates around the world. By comparing the sequences and arrangement of the bacteriophage genes, the researchers traced the evolutionary history of the viruses.
The collaborative effort, begun in 2008 by Graham Hatfull, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is called the Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science program (SEA-PHAGES).
CU’s Department or Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology has participated the SEA-PHAGES program since its second year, says Dr. Christy Fillman, who instructs MCDB 1161/2161 (From Dirt to DNA: Phage Genomics Lab I and II) along with Professor Nancy Guild. Fillman and Guild are co-authors on the paper. “Most undergraduates come in not knowing what real research is like, but our students are making a real contribution to science, not just doing a classroom experiment,” Fillman said.
The CU freshmen have so far isolated 118 different mycobacteriophages, photographed many of them under an electron microscope, and determined the complete DNA sequences for seven of them. Five of the viruses, which the students named JHC117, Perseus, Manad, Newman, and Lilith, are included in the eLIFE study.
April 13, 2015
By Paul Muhlrad
Barely six months into his new job, Joel Kralj is already making his mark. Kralj, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and member of the BioFrontiers Institute, is one of 15 newly named Searle Scholars, selected among nominees from 153 of the top research institutions in the U.S. The prestigious designation, given to “exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry“ comes with a 3-year $300,000 research grant. Kralj will use his grant to investigate the new field of biology that he discovered: bacterial electrophysiology.
Kralj arrived in Boulder last September from Harvard University, where, as a postdoctoral fellow, he engineered proteins that can serve as cellular voltage meters by making living cells fluoresce when they undergo a change in voltage. He dubbed the high-tech voltage sensors VIPs, for Voltage Indicator Proteins. Before Kralj invented VIPs, scientists had to poke tiny glass electrodes into cells to record their electrical activities. That technique, called patch clamp, earned a Nobel Prize for the two scientists who developed it. While powerful, patch clamp is a technically challenging and invasive procedure, and can only be performed on large cells, one cell at a time. Kralj, who completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering physics, developed optics, engineered proteins, and image processing technologies so that he can not only measure the voltage changes in thousands of cells at a time without the size constraints imposed by patch clamp.
The Benefits of Beer
The idea for voltage-sensing proteins came at a happy hour when Kralj was a graduate student at Boston University. He had been collaborating with a student in the lab of Harvard professor Adam Cohen on a project involving a class of colored proteins called rhodopsins. In animals, rhodopsin is the main light-sensing pigment in the retina. Certain photosynthetic bacteria and algae use different forms of the protein to capture sunlight and convert it into chemical energy. The rhodopsin protein is embedded in the membrane surrounding the cell. When light shines on the cell, the protein changes shape and pumps positively charged hydrogen ions, or protons, through the plasma membrane into the cell, creating a charge gradient, or voltage, between the inside and outside of the cell. Over happy hour beers, Cohen posed a question: “Do you think rhodopsins could be used to sense voltage instead of creating voltage?“
Scientists had previously tried to adapt other proteins as fluorescent voltage indicators, with only marginal success. Their sensor proteins weren’t sensitive enough to detect small voltage changes, or they didn’t work in neurons, the cells where people were most eager to see electrical impulses. One journal review article called the problem “the Holy Grail of neuronal circuit imaging.“ Kralj was intrigued by the challenge. “I thought about it for a little while and I came up with a scheme that made sense,“ he recalls. The first trick would be to make a mutation to jam the proton-pumping part of the protein so that it couldn’t generate voltage in the cell. The second task would be to tweak another part of the protein so that small changes in voltage would trigger the conformational change, leading to a color shift, which would be visible under the microscope. Soon after their conversation, Kralj graduated and joined Cohen’s lab as a post-doc to put his ideas to the test.
Kralj and Cohen started their experiments with a protein called proteorhodopsin because it had the many desirable optical properties to form the backbone of a voltage sensor. “We knew that it would change colors in response to pH at a physiological pH. That was the most important thing in terms of what we thought would work as a voltage-sensing scheme.“ Proteorhodopsin was also easy to express in E. coli bacteria, which multiply rapidly. “We could turn around experiments very fast. We could make mutations, and then see how they looked very very quickly,“ Kralj explained.
Almost immediately, Kralj and Cohen hit pay dirt. Microbiologists had known for years that bacteria maintain a constant negative voltage across their cell membranes. It’s easy to neutralize, or depolarize, this voltage by exposing bacteria to a chemical called sodium azide. When Kralj added sodium azide to a population of E. coli containing his custom-tailored proteorhodopsin, he saw the optical change that he expected. “So I had strong evidence that I was seeing a change in voltage.“
But then, Kralj explains, something unexpected happened. “I had been running all of my experiments in PBS (phosphate-buffered saline-a dilute salt solution), and Adam just suggested adding glucose to see what happens. So, that way the bacteria had an energy source. And as soon as I did that, they all started blinking!“
While it was well known that bacteria maintain a constant voltage, nobody had ever observed them changing their voltage. Kralj and Cohen were astounded, and at first didn’t believe their own eyes. “We thought we were seeing some sort of artifact.“ They repeated the experiment many times, and every time, the bacteria started blinking. “We talked to a lot of E. coli experts at Harvard and asked if they’d seen anything like this. They said that this was completely unknown. After we talked to them, we had this hunch that we might have actually done it. We might have actually found a voltage sensor and discovered an entirely new phenomenon. So, for the next six months we just did experiments to confirm that we actually had both of these things in our hands.“
The team next tried to express the proteorhodopsin voltage sensor (which Kralj called PROPS, for “PRoteorhodopsin Optical Proton Sensor“) into mammalian cells. The cells made the protein, but instead of getting inserted into the plasma membrane, where it needed to be, all of the protein ended up in another part of the cell-the endoplasmic reticulum. All kinds of tricks to coax the protein to go to the plasma membrane failed. Then, another lab published a paper on a closely related protein, called archaerhodopsin, which localized to the plasma membrane in mammalian cells. So Kralj engineered into archaerhodopsin all the mutations that had successfully converted proteorhodopsin into a voltage sensor. He expressed the new protein in mammalian cells, and it worked perfectly. The mammalian sensor also gave Kralj and Cohen definitive proof that their engineered proteins were really doing what they thought they were doing. “It was very easy to tell if we had a voltage sensor because we could just patch clamp onto cells and change the voltage,“ Kralj explains. It was like switching a light bulb on and off.
Kralj and his colleagues have now developed VIPs from four different rhodopsin varieties, with hundreds of different mutant variations, each having slightly different optical and biochemical properties. They’ve sent their VIPs to hundreds of other labs around the world, which Kralj finds gratifying. “People have used these to look at voltages in single synapses, and they also did it inside a live fly brain. And so, people are actually using these to learn about biology, which is really exciting for us.“
Getting the Searle Scholars award, Kralj says, means he’ll have the flexibility-in this era of tight research funding and risk-averse funding agencies-to really explore “bacterial electrophysiology,“ a term that never existed before he invented VIPs . “I want to ask how and why bacteria are modulating their voltage. This involves looking for the proteins and small molecules that are involved. How do these voltage transients arise? What are the actual components that cause them?“ That’s the how. The why is a deeper set of questions, and Kralj has some interesting ideas. Might bacteria use voltage to defend against antibiotics, or to communicate with each other, or to conduct warfare against other microbial species?
To figure out the parts list-all the proteins E. coli uses to change their voltage-Kralj and his students will build a microscope that can image many samples of bacteria under many different conditions. “The first thing that we want to do is look at genome-wide knockouts. As we knock out every single protein in the E. coli genome, how does that affect electrophysiology?“ The experiment will require around 4000 different E. coli strains, each one containing the VIP but missing one of its own genes. Kralj then plans to repeat the experiment, but instead of imaging different gene knockout strains, he’ll add different chemicals to test their effect on bacterial voltage.
Kralj is the seventh Searle Scholar at CU-Boulder. Other former Searle Scholars at CU-Boulder are Natalie Ahn (Chemistry & Biochemistry and BioFrontiers); Arthur Pardi, Roy Parker (Chemistry & Biochemistry); Min Han, Gia Voeltz and Ding Xue (Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology).
Photo provided by Patrick Campbell, University of Colorado
April 10, 2015
The W. M. Keck Foundation has awarded a $300,000 grant to CU-Boulder School of Education Professor Derek Briggs and CU Denver School of Education & Human Development Professor Bud Talbot, and CU-Boulder Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Instructor Jenny Knight to study the usefulness of popular “concept inventories” as assessments of undergraduate student learning.
“Concept inventories are used to assess students’ understanding of big picture ideas in the sciences, mathematics and engineering,” Talbot explained. “Research on these inventories, specifically their validity, has not kept pace with the rapid growth of their use in the STEM fields. This grant affords us the opportunity to conduct systematic and timely work using an existing high quality concept inventory from a very important field within STEM‐Genetics.”
This project will examine the relationship between student performance on the Genetics Concept Assessment‐a rigorously developed concept inventory‐relative to performance on newly developed open-response items and to instructor-developed final exams.
“This is a unique opportunity for biologists to collaborate with education specialists to scrutinize what different kinds of assessments can tell us about student learning,” Knight said. “Biology professors are on the brink of major changes in how introductory students are taught. These kinds of projects help bring faculty from different disciplines together to ultimately improve undergraduate student learning.”
The project will be conducted through the Center for Assessment, Design, Research, and Evaluation (CADRE), directed by Professor Briggs and housed in the School of Education.
“This study of concept inventories provides a unique opportunity to find out how well professors are able to capture evidence of student learning when they write a final exam. We’re going to be doing a lot of work to figure out if there are important principles to follow when writing assessments that provide rich information about a student’s depth of conceptual understanding,” Briggs said.
Through this 2-year project, Briggs, Talbot and Knight aim to help instructors think about the quality of their assessment items and to inform the development and validation of new concept inventories across all disciplines.
April 8, 2015
Special Undergraduate Enrichment Programs is honored to announce the recipients of the 2014-15 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Awards. Undergraduates submitted letters of nomination highlighting their faculty mentor’s role on their scholarly development. This is the inaugural year for this annual recognition to honor the deep impacts of undergraduate research mentorship
March 19, 2015
Polyploidization ‐ where the chromosome number is more than double the normal or haploid number ‐ is common in fungi, plants and animals, but its influence on evolution is unclear. The Dowell Lab study describes bench-top evolution experiments on haploid, diploid and tetraploid asexual yeast strains showing that polyploidy can accelerate adaptation to growth on a poor carbon source, with tetraploids adapting the fastest. This go-faster evolution is driven by the acquisition of more and more beneficial mutations. Polyploidy can be unstable however, but aneuploidy, concerted chromosome loss and point mutations all provide substantial gains in fitness in this context.
February 20, 2015
Some distinguished “students” dropped in on MCDB’s new Discovery Based Laboratory class yesterday. MCDB 2171 hosted CU President Bruce Benson, CU Boulder Chancellor Phillip DiStefano, Provost Russell Moore, Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh, and the Board of Regents to see for themselves how MCDB undergraduates are diving right into cutting-edge biomedical research. The course, developed and taught by MCDB professor Tin Tin Su, and funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to the Biological Sciences Initiative at CU Boulder, aims to increase STEM retention by offering undergraduates hands-on lab experience on research projects as soon as they set foot on campus. It brings the drug discovery efforts from MCDB research labs directly into the teaching lab, Professor Su explains. “Our students work in teams to screen small molecule libraries for compounds that may lead to new cancer drugs. This is authentic research, and MCDB 2171 students, most of them as freshmen, contribute to the body of scientific data. They experience the scientific process and take ownership of a research project. I expect their work to be part of future manuscripts and presentations at scientific conferences.”
Before visiting the teaching lab, the CU dignitaries asked for a tour of Professor Su’s own research lab. Their impromptu tour guides were MCDB freshman Annika Gustafson, who began working in the Su lab last September, and senior Angela Delano, a Norlin Scholar who is conducting her honors thesis research in the Su lab. Both students are studying genetic processes in fruit flies to understand similar processes that can cause resistance to radiation therapy of cancer in humans.
“I was really surprised and felt important that they came to visit us,” Delano said. “It was really cool that I got to explain how we can use a fluorescent protein from jellyfish to track mutations in fruit flies.” The dignitaries were also awed, as much by the research as by the fact that it’s being conducted by undergraduates. Delano will present her research at CU’s Special Undergraduate Enrichment Research conference in April. After graduation, Delano hopes to enter medical school and train to become a clinical researcher.
February 4, 2015
Benjamin Weaver and Rebecca Zabinsky have shown that a protein called CED-3, which is a key regulator of the programed cell death pathway or ‘apoptosis’, works with the machinery involved in microRNA-mediated gene regulation to control normal animal development (Weaver et al., 2014).
January 7, 2015
MCDB Professor Ding Xue and colleagues reported their important findings today in the journals Nature and Nature Communications.
Two new studies involving the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia have identified a unique molecule that not only gobbles up bad cells, but also has the ability to repair damaged nerve cells.
Known as the phosphatidylserine receptor, or PSR-1, the molecule can locate and clear out apoptotic cells that are pre-programmed to die as well as necrotic cells that have been injured and are causing inflammation, said CU-Boulder Professor Ding Xue, who led one study and co-authored the other. Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is a natural process that kills billions of cells in a typical human body each day.
But it is the finding that the PSR-1 molecule also can help reconnect and knit together broken nerve fibers, called axons, that has caught the attention of both science teams.
December 3, 2014
Four faculty members from the University of Colorado Boulder have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The honor recognizes their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.
This year, 401 members of AAAS were named fellows. The four CU-Boulder fellows, all faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, are David Jonas, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Lise Menn, professor emerita of linguistics; Jim White, professor of geological sciences and director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research; and Mark Winey, professor and chair of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.
November 21, 2014
Research by Ashley Rowland and Gia Voeltz is featured on the cover of Cell this month.
Endocytic cargo and Rab GTPases are segregated to distinct domains of an endosome. These domains maintain their identity until they undergo fission to traffic cargo. It is not fully understood how segregation of cargo or Rab proteins is maintained along the continuous endosomal membrane or what machinery is required for fission. Endosomes form contact sites with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that are maintained during trafficking. Here, we show that stable contacts form between the ER and endosome at constricted sorting domains, and free diffusion of cargo is limited at these positions. We demonstrate that the site of constriction and fission for early and late endosomes is spatially and temporally linked to contact sites with the ER. Lastly, we show that altering ER structure and dynamics reduces the efficiency of endosome fission. Together, these data reveal a surprising role for ER contact in defining the timing and position of endosome fission.
November 20, 2014
Leslie Leinwand has been named a Distinguished Professor by the University of Colorado.
Each year, the University honors six faculty members who demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and outstanding service to the profession, university and its affiliates.
Leslie Leinwand, Ph.D., professor, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers Institute, CU-Boulder. Her research opens the door to the possibility of personalized treatment for heart disease. As an international leader in the study of the molecules involved in muscle contraction and their role in the development of heart disease and other muscle diseases, Professor Leinwand has shown that the mechanisms of heart disease differ between males and females and that the genetic risk of the disease is impacted by gender and diet. She maintains a strong commitment to teaching and training, and is influential nationally in the shaping of biomedical research policies and focus.
November 14, 2014
Jonathan Van Blerkom
A novel, low-cost method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) developed at the University of Colorado Boulder and successfully used in human clinical trials in Belgium has been awarded a %ldquo;Best of What’s New Award” from Popular Science magazine in 2014 in the health category.
The IVF technology developed by Professor Jonathan Van Blerkom showed that low-cost IVF in developing countries can be feasible and effective, with baby delivery rates roughly the same as those achieved in conventional IVF high-cost programs. Van Blerkom worked with researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium as part of the Walking Egg Project, an effort to raise awareness surrounding childlessness in resource-poor countries and to make inexpensive, assisted reproductive technologies available and accessible for a much larger proportion of the world population.
October 15, 2014
by Joaquin Espinosa
HHMI Early Career Scientist
What images and thoughts come to your mind when you think of Down syndrome?
Do you think of cognitive disabilities, short stature and contagious smiles? There is something that you are probably not thinking about: Our friends and relatives with Down syndrome may hold a cure for cancer.
Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. Instead of inheriting just two copies of every chromosome, one from each parent, individuals with Down syndrome carry a third copy of chromosome 21. This chromosome is very small compared with other chromosomes, and it carries only a few hundred of the 20,000-plus genes in every human cell. However, an extra copy of this tiny piece of DNA suffices to cause all the features of Down syndrome, including but not restricted to intellectual disabilities, short stature, congenital heart defects and increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
October 6, 2014
The CU Technology Transfer Office is pleased to announce that a CU research team led by Associate Professor Michael Stowell (MCDB; Mechanical Engineering (affiliate); Center for Neuroscience) has been awarded a patent for a new peptide manufacturing process. Now being developed by CU startup company AmideBio, the Biopure® process enables rapid structure activity relationship (SAR) studies on peptide therapeutics as well as ultimately decreasing costs of difficult-to-manufacture peptides. Initial research has focused on the production of amyloid peptides for the study of Alzheimer’s disease, novel thermo stable insulins for treatment for diabetes, as well as solution stable glucagons for emergency hypoglycemia and orphan indications such as hyperinsulinemia.
TTO began prosecuting this family of patents (which includes multiple issued and pending patents in the U.S. and internationally) in November 2009 on behalf of the university; U.S. 8,796,431 (“Efficient Production of Peptides”) was issued on August 5, 2014. Other inventors listed on the patent include MCDB research associate Jonathan Caruthers, Ph.D., former MCDB undergraduate student Travis Nemkov, former MCDB Graduate Student Brian Hiester, Ph.D. and AmideBio CEO Misha Plam.
October 6, 2014
The Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado Boulder, invites applications for a tenure track Assistant Professorship with an academic appointment in one of the following departments: Psychology and Neuroscience, Integrative Physiology, Computer Science, or Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. We anticipate that the appointment will begin August 2015. The Institute seeks to build on its strengths in human behavioral, quantitative, and statistical genetics.
September 26, 2014
The Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association has announced that William B. Wood, Distinguished Professor of MCD Biology, Emeritus, will receive this year’s prestigious Arthur Kornberg and Paul Berg Lifetime Achievement Award in Biomedical Sciences. Professor Wood received his PhD from Stanford in 1964. He chaired the CU Boulder MCD Biology department from 1978 to 1983. According to the announcement, the award, which will be presented in a ceremony at Stanford on October 18, “honors the legacy of Arthur Kornberg, MD, and Paul Berg, PhD, medical science pioneers and Nobel laureates who brought to Stanford a passion for discovery and groundbreaking research. Established in 2010, this award acknowledges and celebrates the lifetime career achievements of Stanford University School of Medicine alumni in the biomedical sciences.”
Mark Winey, Professor and Chair of MCD Biology, said of the award, “This is a very well deserved honor. Bill has been an intellectual leader in his research work and educational activities for his entire career, positively influencing his colleagues and countless students.”
September 25, 2014
GMO labels a $500 food tax
The Right to Know Colorado GMO proposition 105 mandates the labeling of GMO food products. Since consumers like to know what they eat, the idea of GMO labeling is appealing. However, the proposal is ill-conceived and poorly written. It creates more confusion than enlightenment, it will dramatically increase the costs of foods, and taxpayers will face huge legal bills defending the law. A recent analysis of GMO labeling costs by two Cornell University scientists pegged the costs at $500 per family of 4 per year. Three similar studies carried out in California and Washington State have calculated price tags of $400-800. Why do we need to have mandatory GMO food labeling when voluntarily labeled non-GMO products are readily available?
July 28, 2014
Lab scientists understand more than anybody how expensive it is to conduct biomedical research.
Lab scientists understand more than anybody how expensive it is to conduct biomedical research. They also know that the money they spend in the lab comes from hard-working taxpayers and generous donors.
Last weekend, MCDB students, staff, and faculty members—many who are searching for cancer cures—took a break from the lab bench and donned running and walking shoes to raise critical cash for cancer research in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Boulder. Together, the team raised $2,480, and the event raised $27,000, which was $7,000 over the goal.
About half of MCDB’s team camped through the night at the event venue, Potts Field track, on CU’s East Campus. “We probably walked over 100 miles around the track,” MCDB graduate student, Jaimee Hoefert, said. Joaquin Espinosa, MCDB associate professor and cancer researcher, won the fleet-footed prize. Espinosa arrived at the event at 1 am and ran 25 MILES around the track, earning him the honor of most laps completed during the event. MCDB graduate student Lavan Khandan got 3rd place at the midnight 5K fun run.
This year’s relay event was just a start of an annual MCDB tradition, Hoefert insists. She’s already told department members to stay tuned for information about next year’s MCDB Relay for Life team.
July 24, 2014
Crnic Institute‐affiliated program names Mary Allen and Alfonso Garrido‐Lecca
The BioFrontiers Institute at CU has launched its inaugural Sie Post-doctoral Fellowship Program in affiliation with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The program will fund three post‐doctoral researchers, Sie Fellows, who will focus on research that will improve the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.
The Sie Fellows research is co‐funded by the BioFrontiers Institute and the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation. Every two years, three Sie Fellows will be selected from a competitive grant process and will receive between $71,000 and $85,000 a year for two years.
Nobel Laureate and head of the BioFrontiers Institute Thomas Cech, BioFrontiers Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Leslie Leinwand, and Executive Director of the Crnic Institute Tom Blumenthal were key in assessing the 44 applicants before deciding on the inaugural three recipients: Mary Allen of CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB), Geertruida Josien Levenga of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Genetics, and Alfonso Garrido‐Lecca of MCDB.
May 30, 2014
Biological Sciences Initiative
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder $1.5 million over five years to continue to transform science education by encouraging more real-world research experiences for undergraduates, ranging from cancer studies to screenings for new antibiotics.
The new award will allow CU-Boulder to strengthen hands-on, research-oriented teaching to students planning to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, popularly known as STEM, said Julie Graf, director of CU-Boulder’s Biological Sciences Initiative. CU‐Boulder is one of 37 research universities across the nation to be awarded a total of $60 million in the new round of funding announced today by HHMI, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md.
Prior HHMI funding to CU‐Boulder has helped engage more than 1,600 undergraduates in research projects spearheaded by roughly 230 faculty members from 15 departments. Graf said 92 percent of those students earned undergraduate STEM degrees. In addition, 82 percent of underrepresented minority students from that pool earned undergraduate STEM degrees, and 47 percent of the total number of CU-Boulder STEM students went on to earn doctoral degrees, said Graf.
May 27, 2014
Scientists from the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the University of Colorado Boulder used a new technology to tease out how the p53 gene‐which is responsible for recognizing damaged DNA in cells and then marking them for death‐is actually able to suppress tumors by determining what other genes p53 regulates. The study, published in the journal eLife, describes dozens of new genes directly regulated by p53.
The study authors say further research can explore which of these genes are necessary for p53’s cancer‐killing effect, how cancer cells evade these p53‐activated genes, and how doctors may be able to affect cancer cells’ ability to stay safe from these genetic attempts at suppression.
The exhaustively studied gene p53‐which has been the subject of 50,000 papers over more than 30 years of research‐is the most commonly inactivated gene in cancers. When p53 acts, cells are stopped or killed before they can survive, grow, replicate and cause cancer.
May 1, 2014
Brooke Wittleder, a 2013 graduate of CU-Boulder, with degrees in MCD Biology and Spanish, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue teaching, research and graduate studies abroad during the 2014-15 academic year.
“The work of our students and their contributions to the global community are inspiring,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “As ambassadors of CU-Boulder, they are bettering the world while setting an exciting path forward for their own lives and careers.”
Fulbright students are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The 68‐year‐old program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, operates in more than 140 countries and currently awards about 1,900 grants annually to U.S. students, foreign students, U.S. scholars, visiting scholars, teachers and professionals.Read More.
April 30, 2014
Dr. Thomas Perkins, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, and Associate Professor Adjoint of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology and JILA Fellow, has been named one of 12 recipients of the 2013 Arthur S. Flemming Award, which honors outstanding federal employees.
The award recognizes Perkins “for creating unprecedented new ways, as a physicist, to precisely measure and manipulate the key molecules of life (DNA, RNA, proteins) under real world biological conditions for the first time, through innovative, multidisciplinary programs combining atomic force microscopy (AFM), laser physics, molecular biology, and advanced electronics. Dr. Perkins’ leadership has led to the invention of new AFM systems 100 times more stable and sensitive than the previous world’s best.”
April 23, 2014
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.
“Her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an outstanding recognition of Leslie’s scientific contributions to understanding the biology of the heart,” said BioFrontiers Institute Director Tom Cech.
March 25, 2014
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.
“With respect to components of academia, I firmly believe that these are difficult to separate,” she says. “The best way to deeply understand scientific concepts is to get your hands dirty‐ actually perform an experiment, write a program, or solve a math problem ‐ or to teach the concepts to someone else. In the best‐case scenarios, you do both.”
Her ability to apply this philosophy recently earned Dowell the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant. Providing five years of support totaling more than $650,000, the grant recognizes emerging investigators who excel at combining teaching and research in ways that directly impact their institutions and the broader community. Dowell is one of only ten scientists nationwide in the field of molecular and cellular bioscience who have received the award so far this year.
March 10, 2014
‐ and ‐
Jonathan Van Blerkom
Two of MCD Biology’s faculty have been recognized for professional excellence!
The Boulder Faculty Assembly has announced the 2014 recipients of the BFA Excellence Awards. These are the highest awards given by the BFA and recognize faculty for efforts in teaching, research and creative work, and service and leadership. Please join us in congratulating this year's BFA Excellence awardees.
February 16, 2014
Jennifer D. Bernet
- and -
New findings on why skeletal muscle stem cells stop dividing and renewing muscle mass during aging points up a unique therapeutic opportunity for managing muscle-wasting conditions in humans, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
According to CU-Boulder Professor Bradley Olwin, the loss of skeletal muscle mass and function as we age can lead to sarcopenia, a debilitating muscle-wasting condition that generally hits the elderly hardest. The new study indicates that altering two particular cell-signaling pathways independently in aged mice enhances muscle stem cell renewal and improves muscle regeneration.
One cell-signaling pathway the team identified, known as p38 MAPK, appears to be a major player in making or breaking the skeletal muscle stem cell, or satellite cell, renewal process in adult mice, said Olwin of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department. Hyperactivation of the p38 MAPK cell-signaling pathway inhibits the renewal of muscle stem cells in aged mice, perhaps because of cellular stress and inflammatory responses acquired during the aging process.
July 5, 2012
Down syndrome research hub based at CU School of Medicine
Nationally renowned molecular biologist Tom Blumenthal, Ph.D, has been named the new executive director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, headquartered at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Blumenthal, who is leaving his post as chairman of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, brings an impressive track record of academic management and basic science experience to his new role.
“Morally, I believe we are obligated to help people through scientific study,” Blumenthal said. “Scientifically, I am intrigued with the Crnic Institute's mission to eradicate the medical and cognitive ill effects associated with Down syndrome. Given current technological advances, I believe we have a fighting chance at delivering. My first focus will be to dramatically increase the amount of research the Crnic Institute is engaged in and to initiate a competitive Grand Challenges grant program within the University of Colorado system.”
Blumenthal is no stranger to the Crnic Institute's mission. From its inception he has served on the Crnic Institute's Scientific Advisory Board; he has belonged to the Board of Directors for the past year.