RNA, gravitational waves focus of two new grants

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Four Penn State researchers have been awarded a total of $450,000 by the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation to carry out basic science research over the next two years.

Paul Babitzke, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Sarah Assmann, Waller Professor of Biology; and Philip Bevilacqua, professor of chemistry, have received a $300,000 New Initiatives grant from the Foundation to study RNA and the processes it regulates.

Genes are encoded in DNA, which are transcribed by an enzyme called RNA polymerase into an intermediary called mRNA. The code in the mRNA is then translated into proteins necessary to sustain life in all organisms.

With this grant, the researchers are planning advances in RNA chemistry, molecular biology and microbiology to investigate new methods for determining the structure of RNA in living cells. Until now, the majority of this type of research was conducted in test tubes under artificial conditions.

"Our studies will have a substantial impact on the broad field of life science, as our methodologies will be readily adaptable to any organism or cell type," said Babitzke. "This research has the potential for long-term applications to benefit humankind such as the development of new therapeutics to cure diseases."

Chad Hanna, Freed Early Career Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Astrophysics, received a $150,000 New Investigators grant to study real-time gravitational wave detection.

Multi-messenger astrophysics combines gravitational wave, electromagnetic and neutrino observations. The project aims to reduce selection effects in real-time gravitational wave detection in order to improve prospects for multi-messenger astrophysics.

"The New Initiative grant allows us to explore an important idea without having substantial preliminary data," said Babitzke. "There are very few granting agencies or research foundations that support new initiatives. The expectation is that success will have a widespread impact on the scientific field and the public at large. Moreover, the discoveries made with this grant will provide the requisite preliminary data to obtain a grant from NIH or NSF."

The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, a fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, is committed to supporting basic science research carried out by researchers working at Pennsylvania universities. This year the Foundation awarded four grants each in the New Investigators category and in the New Initiatives category to researchers at Penn State, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania.

Last Updated September 26, 2016