Training grant supports graduate students studying gene regulation

December 03, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new $2.4 million-dollar program to train graduate students in the area of eukaryotic gene regulation (EGR) has been established at Penn State with funding from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and from Penn State matching support. The EGR training program will support up to 24 students over a period of five years.

Nearly, all aspects of biology and human disease are rooted in gene regulation — the control of when and in what cells particular genes are used. The precise expression of genes underlies important cellular processes such as development, stem cell regeneration and differentiation, and disease prevention. Our abilities to understand gene expression control is fundamental to learning how to correct the mis-expression of genes to prevent or reverse debilitating human diseases.

“A recent report from the American Cancer Society finds that we are winning the war on cancer in part because of our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of gene control,” said Cooduvalli Shashikant, associate professor of molecular and developmental biology, assistant director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and a member of the training faculty for the new grant. “However, it is also clear that we must keep up the fight, which will require scientists cross-trained in experimental and computational sciences.”

The new Eukaryotic Gene Regulation (EGR) Training Program is led by B. Franklin Pugh, Evan Pugh University Professor, Willaman Chair in Molecular Biology, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and involves 18 training faculty from the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering, Statistics; and two intercollege graduate programs: Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Biosciences; and Bioinformatics and Genomics.

“It is clear that the future of biological sciences is at the nexus of wet-bench experiments and computational analysis of big data that arises from these experiments,” said Pugh. “Students that master both will be in great demand.”

The EGR training program will train a diverse cohort of student-scientists to have expertise in biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, computational biology, and statistics to address fundamental questions in gene regulation.

Trainees will gain a thorough understanding of the scientific process, responsible conduct in science, fluency in innovative research methodologies, ability to utilize genomics and statistical tools in advancing genome-wide experimental approaches, excellence in cross-disciplinary communication, and leadership in cross-disciplinary research teams. 

“I’m really excited about this,” said Jordan Krebs, an MD/PhD student in the EGR inaugural class. “For me it provides an opportunity to learn how gene regulation impacts patient therapies.” Kreb’s research aims to apply high-throughput epigenomic analysis to cancer biopsies in the hopes of developing prognostic indicators of treatment outcomes.

Graduate students in the EGR training program’s inaugural group, which began training during the fall 2018 are: Victoria Bonnell, Roberta Dollinger, Catherine Douds, Jordan Krebs, James Lee, Jose Espinola Lopez, Timothy Russell and Grace Usher.

Last Updated December 04, 2018