The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year, $240,000 grant to Judy Brusslan, a biology professor at California State University, Long Beach, for a project described as "a mutant hunt for pathways" that regulate changes in certain genes.
Brusslan, a member of the CSULB Biological Sciences Department since 1995, is an expert on photosynthesis and uses in her research the white mouse of the plant world, Arabidopsis thaliana. "Increasing light intensity changes the expression of certain genes," she explained. "We want to study how this regulation takes place."
The grant runs from September 2000 to 2003. The grant monies, which come from NSF's Research at Undergraduate Institutions program, will support payment for graduate and undergraduate students participating in the project. Funding for supplies is expected to reach $20,000 a year. This is Brusslan's second grant from the NSF in the $200,000-plus range since 1996.
"Molecular biology is very expensive so to be funded is to survive," Brusslan said. "Plus, part of the work we do here is to bring into science those who might not have chosen science as a career otherwise. It reflects our potential to bring minorities into science and send them off to Ph.D. programs with strong training."
One of the goals of the project is to look at the promoter, the region upstream of a gene. "One of our experiments will make smaller and smaller pieces of the Early Light Inducible Protein (ELIP) promoter and fuse those pieces to a protein called GUS that is easy to measure in plants," Brusslan pointed out. "What we want to find out is what part of the promoter is actually responding to changes in light intensity.
"Once we have created genes that express GUS in response to high light intensity, we will look for mutants that express the GUS gene at the wrong time. What will happen if they express the GUS gene under low light intensity?" she continued. "It's a mutant hunt for pathways that regulate these kinds of changes."
Another goal of her research is to further characterize the gene that transforms chlorophyll a into chlorophyll b.
"We will produce antibodies that recognize this specific protein," she noted. "We know this particular protein is in the chloroplast but we don't know exactly where. Locating the protein gives researchers important hints to where proteins that bind chlorophyll a and b are synthesized."
Brusslan, a resident of Long Beach, received her bachelor's degree in biology from Middlebury College in Vermont and her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Chicago in 1988.
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