News

Heaton, Scent-Sensing Cells Have a Better Way to Fight Flu. A collaboration between Heaton’s team and the laboratory of Ashley Moseman in Duke immunology reports on the remarkably robust immune response of olfactory sensory neurons, the smell receptors that line the nose, where a virus might first be encountered. Their finding reveals not only a successful strategy against infection, it points out the diversity of immune responses from one kind of cell to another, Heaton said. To read more, click here.

Fowler to give lecture on IDWeek. Vance Fowler MGM Secondary Faculty Member will be featured on IDWeek October 23, 2020. IDWeek will feature Vance G. Fowler, Jr., MD, MHS in the Maxwell Finland Lecture on Friday, Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. ET. “Staphylococcus aureus: Lessons Learned from 20 Years with the Persistent Pathogen.” Listen to an expert on Staphylococcus aureus describe the impact that a project can have on improved patient outcomes as well as summarize the importance of clinical, bacterial, and host genetic factors in influencing the initiation and severity of infections caused by S. aureus.

Matt Scaglione headshotCongratulations to Matt Scaglione on being awarded the 2020 Dictyostelium Junior Faculty Award. Research in the Scaglione laboratory focuses on understanding how these pathways play a protective role in neurodegenerative diseases.  Our lab is particularly interested in how protein homeostasis (proteostasis) is maintained in the cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum.  Our interest in Dictyostelium discoideum comes from its peculiar genome that encodes for nearly 10,000 proteins that contain homopolymeric amino acid tracts.  Among the most common repeats are polyglutamine tracts.  This is particularly surprising because expanded polyglutamine repeats cause a class of nine neurodegenerative diseases in humans.  We and others have found that unlike other organisms Dictyostelium discoideum is naturally resistant to polyglutamine aggregation.  Further work from our group has identified a novel type of molecular chaperone that suppresses polyglutamine aggregation in Dictyostelium discoideum and in human cells. Future work in the Scaglione lab is to both identify other novel factors that prevent protein aggregation in Dictyostelium discoideum and to determine if these factors can be utilized to treat neurodegenerative diseases in humans.

Briana DavisJohn RawlsTwo pairs of Duke SOM PhD trainees and their PIs which includes from MGM, Briana Davis and John Rawls, have been awarded the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced study this year. The official new release came out a few hours ago from HHMI. This is a very prestigious award as there is an internal competitive process to be nominated and only 45 fellowships were awarded across the country.

Brief description of award:
The goal of the Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study is to increase the diversity among scientists who are prepared to assume leadership roles in science, particularly as college and university faculty. The program provides awards to pairs of students and their dissertation advisers who are selected for their scientific leadership and commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

The link to the official announcement can be found here:
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/hhmi-ha4073120.php

The full list of awardees can be found here- https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/hhmi-ha4073120.php#fellows-table

From Duke (name, department/program, PI):
– Briana Davis, MGM, John Rawls lab
– Nina Marie Garcia, Pharmacology, James Alvarez

Permar awarded Gale and Ira Drukier prize in Children’s Health Research. Congratulations Sallie Permar, Professor of Pediatrics, on being awarded the fifth annual Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research. The Drukier Prize honors early-career pediatricians whose research has made important contributions toward improving the health of children and adolescents. Dr. Permar, associate dean of physician scientist development, professor of pediatrics, immunology, molecular genetics and microbiology, and founding director of the Children’s Health and Discovery Institute at Duke University School of Medicine, is being honored for her research into the development of vaccines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of neonatal viral pathogens.

To read more click here.

Sullivan part of international team of researchers that generated a complete human X chromosome sequence. In an accomplishment that opens a new era in genomic research, Beth Sullivan and her lab have joined with the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) consortium, including researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), University of Washington, and University of California, Santa Cruz, to produce the first end-to-end DNA sequence of a human chromosome. The results, published on July 14th in the journal Nature, show that generating a precise, base-by-base sequence of a human chromosome is now possible, and will enable researchers to produce a complete sequence of the human genome.

After nearly two decades of improvements, the reference sequence of the human genome represents the most accurate and complete vertebrate genome sequence ever produced. Still, there are hundreds of gaps or missing DNA sequences that are unknown. These gaps most often contain repetitive DNA segments that are exceptionally difficult to sequence, and are likely to include genes and other functional elements that may be relevant to human health and disease.

In this study, researchers sequenced the X chromosome using Oxford Nanopore and PacBio technologies that can sequence long segments of DNA. The research teams used newly developed computer programs to assemble the many segments of generated ultra-long read sequence. A notable aspect of this effort was closing of the largest remaining sequence gap on the X chromosome, the roughly 3 million bases of repetitive DNA found at the middle portion of the chromosome, called the centromere that is responsible for chromosome inheritance and genome stability. There is no “gold standard” for researchers to critically evaluate the accuracy of assembling such highly repetitive DNA sequences, and the Sullivan Lab was called on to help confirm the validity of the generated sequence using the molecular approach of pulsed field gel electrophoresis and Southern blotting.

Sullivan’s co-authors include senior author Adam Phillippy at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), Jennifer Gerton, a Senior Investigator at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and former trainee of MGM faculty member Tom Petes, and first author Karen Miga, a graduate of Duke’s University Program in Genetics and Genomics.

The T2T consortium, partially funded by NHGRI, aims to generate a more complete reference sequence of the human genome and is continuing its efforts with the remaining human chromosomes to generate a complete human genome sequence in 2020.

Derbyshire, Fighting Malaria in the Classroom and in the Lab. Trinity College of Arts and Sciences recently published an article on Emily Derbyshire, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Secondary MGM Faculty Member, focusing on how she wants to help people – and she wants to do it at scale. Derbyshire’s focus in the classroom is overcoming the fear chemistry inspires in many students. Derbyshire quotes, “I try to remove any intimidation or preconceived notions about how hard it is. I think sometimes people just never had the opportunity to be taught in a way that was accessible.” To read the full article please click here.

photo of Carlos, Victor, and MaribelCongratulations to Dr. Victor Garre, Professor of Genetics at the University of Murcia and his two Ph.D. students, Maribel Navarro Mendoza and Carlos Perez Arques, for receiving the Fleming Award for a recent article published in Current Biology on discovering the centormeres of Mucor.  The Fleming Award is granted by the Spanish Society of Microbiology (SEM).  With the receipt of the award, one of the authors is invited to give the closing plenary talk at the upcoming XV National Conference on Mycology.  This meeting is being postponed until 2022 because of the COVID-19 crisis.  Click here to read the paper.  This paper was a collaboration between several investigators including Dr. Joseph Heitman and Dr. Kaustuv Sanyal.

Derbyshire: 2020 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. Congratulations to Emily Derbyshire, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and secondary MGM Faculty member, on being awarded a 2020 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Based on institutional nominations, the program provides discretionary funding to faculty at an early stage in their careers. Criteria for selection include an independent body of scholarship attained in the early years of their appointment, and a demonstrated commitment to education, signaling the promise of continuing outstanding contributions to both research and teaching.

The Derbyshire lab combines chemical biology, biochemistry and genomics to uncover complex biological processes in pathogenic parasites with the long-term goal of advancing therapeutic design. Through an integrative approach utilizing small molecule probes, gene sequencing technologies, proteomics and high-throughput screening, their efforts have discovered parasite and host processes involved in Plasmodium parasite infection. Their findings highlight the dependence of Plasmodium on host factors and reveal parasite vulnerabilities that may be leveraged for future disease control efforts.

Ko promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. Please join in congratulating Dennis Ko, whose promotion to Associate Professor with tenure was just approved by the Duke Board of Trustees. This is terrific and richly deserved news, and MGM is very fortunate to have Dennis as a colleague. Ko joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology in 2012, his research program is advancing in science and with translational potential to impact medicine as well.

The Ko lab discovers fundamental insights in host-pathogen interactions and susceptibility to infectious disease by using both human and pathogen genetic diversity. Ko pioneered genome-wide association studies of cellular infection traits more than a decade ago with the Hi-HOST platform (High-throughout Human in vitrO Susceptibility Testing). His lab has used Hi-HOST, experimental dissection, and translational studies to make discoveries regarding the role of methylthioadenosine (MTA) in regulation of inflammation and sepsis, human genetic variation and Salmonella invasion and typhoid fever risk, and human genetic regulation of C. trachomatis infection. They have also expanded Hi-HOST to various bacterial, fungal, protozoal and viral pathogens and made data publicly available: http://h2p2.oit.duke.edu. They have also had success in leveraging pathogen variation to discover a Salmonella secreted effector that mimics the cytosolic domain of an activated cytokine receptor to turn on STAT3 and that diverse intracellular pathogens evolved convergent mechanisms of CXCL10 suppression for immune evasion. Ultimately, the Ko lab utilizes a unique perspective to reveal critical genes and pathways with the goal of enabling development of new biomarkers and therapies.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dennis is leading his research program while homeschooling his two children while his wife treats patients at Durham Regional Hospital. While at home, he taught his son how to ride a bike, observed 4 planets and 3 of the moons of Jupiter through their backyard telescope, supervised the construction of the Saturn V rocket (in Lego form), invented marshmallow nutter butters, and helped take down their Christmas tree in April. Members of his lab in this time defended a thesis, submitted an F31, remotely taught a college microbiology class, analyzed various omics datasets, worked on manuscripts, and fostered a dog.

For past news articles please click here.