Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science & Mathematics

Department of Biological Sciences


Drs. Masters, Alkharouf, and Hearn awarded $133,525 from NSF for the purchase of next generation DNA sequencing equipment

An award is made to Towson University to acquire the instrumentation that will allow the application of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to a large number of research programs involving graduate and undergraduate students. The research programs that will be supported are collaborative and range across biological sub-disciplines. Three research programs are described to exemplify the types of research programs that will be supported. Project one will use NGS for comparative analyses of RNA sequence data to uncover shared molecular-genetic mechanisms of wood evolution. In particular, the project seeks to explore evolutionary-developmental mechanisms responsible for multiple, parallel evolutionary origins of succulent woods, such as those found in the crop plants turnip and rutabaga. Project two will use NGS to develop evolutionary forecasting of pathogens. Evolutionary forecasting of pathogens calculates the probability of emergence or predominance of particular strains in association with certain diseases. The validity of the “high risk” designation for a strain will be experimentally explored in vivo by using a highly plastic veterinary pathogen (rather than a human pathogen) with an established experimental infection system in a proof-of-concept study. The parasitic bacterial species Mycoplasma synoviae relies on attachment to host cells to establish infection using a single allele of a multigene family, vlhA. Exploration of unexpressed copies of vlhA across strains by NGS is essential to the generation of predictive models of strain virulence. Evolutionary forecasts of M. synoviae strain virulence based on VlhA adhesins will then be validated in vivo. Project three will use NGS to develop and analyze microsatellite loci in house wrens. This will enable a test of the “compatible alleles” hypothesis in the house wren by examining the prediction made by that hypothesis that extra-pair males that successfully father young will be less related genetically to females than are within-pair males. The use of next-generation sequencing technology will allow this prediction to be examined at a scale and depth not previously possible.

The acquisition of instrumentation for next-generation sequencing will facilitate the following: 1) increased faculty-student production of peer-reviewed, published, and fundable research, 2) increased interdisciplinary research collaboration within and beyond the institution, 3) increased student research opportunities using cutting-edge technologies, 4) increased recruitment of high quality undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members, 5) increased opportunities for high-quality instruction on modern instrumentation in advanced lab courses, 6) increased training opportunities for minorities and high school teachers through established outreach programs. The ability to produce high sequence volumes at low cost enabled by the award will enhance the research done by our diverse faculty, the research experiences of our diverse students, and the subsequent education of generations of students in K-12 education.

Towson enters unique partnership with Port Deposit

Basking Northern Map Turtle on the Susquehanna River are not that common of a site. This state endangered turtle has been the subject of field studies by TU Biology undergraduate and graduate students since 2008. Towson has entered into a unique partnership with the town of Port Deposit to help protect this species. Funding partners include the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland State Highway Administration, and Exelon Corporation. Creation of an education center, protected nesting beaches, and increased public awareness are all part of the recovery efforts.

Dr. Hemm Awarded Career Grant from NSF
(from the Office of Sponsored Projects & Research)

Matthew R. Hemm, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has successfully secured a substantial grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which will provide funding for his proposal titled “Role of Small Transmembrane Proteins in Cytochrome bd Oxidase Activity.” This proposal focuses on the role and function of specific proteins crucial to cellular respiration and to the processes of infection and colonization by several bacterial species. Understanding the activities of these proteins may have significant implications for the public health industry in terms of infection control.

This award has many benefits in store for Towson University. With the funds provided, both undergraduate and graduate students will have greater opportunities to participate in laboratory research, thereby fostering their talents for hands-on experimentation and information analysis. With the additional resources, there will be more room for trial and error in these experiments; this is especially important, as students will be able to correct procedural mistakes and therefore learn via repetition and review. The increase in the amount of time allotted for lengthier periods of problem solving is a luxury that can never be valued too highly in a scientific setting. Also, having additional funds available can accommodate further experiments suggested by discoveries in a current line of research. As Hemm will attest, every answer leads to another question for which one may need another experiment. It must be kept in mind that scientific discovery does little good if it is not shared with the research community at large. External funding is a prerequisite to the publication of experimental results. In terms of the material benefits for TU, the grant money will allow for the purchase of crucial supplies not previously available due to monetary restraints.



Department of Biological Sciences
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