Eastern Michigan University faculty members receive three major science grants

Topics include studying what stimulates bird migration, examining problematic tumor modification pathways and understanding how the body senses sodium in seeking to reduce hypertension

Eastern Michigan University faculty members receive three major science grants

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University faculty in biology and psychology were awarded three major federally funded research grants during the first half of this year.

The faculty members and their grants are as follows:

1. Faculty member: Jamie Cornelius (Biology)

Topic: Social Modulation of Migratory Timing and Endocrine Mechanisms of Migration in Two Flexible Migrants.

Grant amount, source: $266,585, National Science Foundation.

Start date: July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2022.

Discussion: Many species of birds annually migrate. Professor Cornelius’ work examines to what extent social cues between individuals within a bird colony induce the initiation and termination of the seasonal migration. She will also examine whether there are relationships between social cues and hormonal changes in the birds that help to prepare the birds for the demands of their journey.

Collaboration: This grant, in collaboration with Washington State University, is part of an NSF program that facilitates research from predominantly undergraduate institutions.

2. Faculty member: Anne Casper (Biology)

Topic: Complex Genomic Rearrangements by BIR and mmBIR

Grant amount, source: $441,000, National Institutes of Health.

Start date: August 1, 2017 to July 31, 2020.

Discussion: A tumor genome is a modified version of the host’s genome. The modification can develop when the cell’s repair system uses the error-prone mmBIR pathway to correct a replication error in its DNA instead of the more accurate BIR pathway.  Professor Casper’s research will help her understand which conditions increase the likelihood the cell will use the error-prone mmBIR pathway instead of the preferred BIR pathway.  Avoiding those cellular conditions should decrease incidences of cancer.

The grant is administered through the NIH AREA program, which is for investigators from predominantly undergraduate institutions. This is Professor Casper’s third NIH award. 

3. Faculty member: Joseph Breza (Psychology)

Topic: Lightly Salted: An Optogenetic Approach to Uncover the Role of Type I Cells in Salt Taste Transduction.

Grant amount: $143,264 (award for year one), National Institutes of Health.

Start date: March 22, 2018, with expectation of two more years of similar award.

Discussion: Sodium is an essential nutrient but is also responsible for hypertension and stroke. We don’t yet know which cells within taste buds are responsible for sensing sodium and signaling the brain. Professor Breza has learned to modify taste bud cells so that, in an otherwise food-free environment, they can be stimulated by light to signal the sensation of flavor to the brain. He hopes to apply his technique to learn which taste bud cells are responsible for signaling the brain that sodium is present in food.  By understanding the pathway the body uses to signal the presence of sodium, he hopes to develop methods for misleading the brain into identifying sodium flavor when it is not present. This will allow those at risk for hypertension and stroke to control their dietary sodium intake without loss of food flavor. This work has the potential to help understand why people overeat salt. Furthermore, undergraduate students who work with him have the opportunity to be involved in exciting, ground-breaking research and are likely to continue their education in science.

This grant is part of the NIH’s early career research program.

"These awards demonstrate the federal government’s recognition of the importance universities such as EMU play in maintaining the nation’s competitiveness in the knowledge economy,” said Caryn Charter, director of the EMU Office of Research Development and Administration. “EMU and its tradition of meaningful, faculty-mentored experiences and research training of undergraduate students is critical in addressing the growing national shortage of scientists and engineers.  Because most of EMU students stay in Michigan, this is particularly important to our own state’s competitiveness."

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 20,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

July 11, 2018

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Geoff Larcom