UW scientist discovers genes that can direct cellular expressways

UW molecular biologist David Fay has made a grant-winning discovery. (Courtesy photo)

A University of Wyoming molecular biologist has discovered that certain genes implicated in cancer, genetic diseases and birth defects can also serve to direct complex transportation superhighways inside cells.

The discovery by scientists working in the laboratory of David Fay, a professor in UW’s Department of Molecular Biology has earned the lab a $2.7 million five-year grant from the National Institute of Health.

Fay’s research with defective mutant roundworms revealed disease-associated genes that act as very busy traffic cops directing cell functions. Fay said the genes found in the worms have correlates in humans, where they carry out many of the same functions.

That’s helpful because, Fay said, the inside of a cell is “a rediculously complex set of highways but without obvious medians and guardrails.”

He said before the studies with the worms, these disease-associated genes had not been known to have a crucial function in cell trafficking. Fay is now collaborating with several groups outside UW to examine the trafficking functions of these genes in human and rodent cells.

The Fay lab started at UW in 2001, and the $2.7 million National Institute of Health isn’t the only grant award the lab has received. Earlier this year, Associate Professor Dan Levy was awarded a $1.7 million five-year grant from the NIH to study how cells control the size of the nucleus, and Associate Professor Jay Gatlin recently was notified of a $1.2 million four-year grant from the NIH to study how cells distribute their chromosomes during cell division.

Grants to others in the department fund a diverse array of projects ranging from HIV research to therapeutic protein production.



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