Three WU science professors receive grants to fund their research

by University Communications,

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has awarded three Willamette professors research grants through the Murdock College Research Program for Life Sciences.

  • Biology professor Jason Duncan earned $29,000 to investigate the dynamics of the microtubule regulatory protein stathmin. Duncan will work closely with students to identify genes that are required for axonal transport to better understand the axonal transport system. This work is a necessary first step in developing treatments for many human diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Chemistry professor Alison Fisher received $32,000 for her study of isoprene synthase from heath moss. With the award, Fisher will mentor four undergraduates to identify the pathway by which mosses synthesize and emit isoprene — the most abundant volatile hydrocarbon emitted into the atmosphere by the world’s vegetation.
  • Biology professor Chris Smith was awarded a two-year, $46,500 grant for his proposal, “Using genomic clines to identify the genetic basis of species differences in Joshua trees (Yucca spp).” His research will test the hypothesis that co-evolution can drive and maintain species boundaries in the Yucca-yucca moth pollination system. Willamette’s Science Collaborative Research Program will support two undergraduates to collaborate with Smith on his research and fieldwork.

Fisher says the grants will provide students with valuable research experience through paid summer positions.

“Willamette students will be involved in all aspects of the research process, from experiment design to data collection to writing a manuscript for publication in a scientific journal,” she says. “Moreover, they will get mentored every step of the way by their professor.”

The Murdock College Research Program for Life Sciences Program is designed to support faculty and undergraduate research in the life sciences at private, predominantly undergraduate colleges and universities in the Pacific Northwest.

To date, nine Willamette faculty members have received 14 grants from the Murdock College Research Program for Life Sciences, totaling $567,365. This is the second time Smith has received funding through the program.