“I’m hoping that [NRMN] continues for a while,” says Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre, believing it will increase the amount of tenured professors from under-represented groups in STEM.
Milligan-Myhre is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and was excited when the NIH scored the R15 grant application she submitted in February to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. That enthusiasm paled in comparison to the feeling she had when she was informed in early December that the grant she had resubmitted in October had been awarded.
Prions are a type of protein gone wrong. The complex three-dimensional structure of a prion’s progenitor protein has been altered, somehow causing it to no longer function as expected. Worse, the malformation of these progenitor proteins into prions causes them to aggregate into amyloid plaques that can result in a disease state. Prions are responsible for an odd sort of protein-caused infectious neurodegenerative diseases like Mad Cow disease and scrapie in livestock.
As a psychologist, Denise Dillard has made a career of providing mental health care to the Alaskan community she comes from. She teaches the subject as an adjunct at Alaska Pacific University and heads the research department at Southcentral Foundation, a health and wellness provider for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and nearby villages. But she has seen too few fellow Alaskan Native STEM professionals — she is of Inupiaq heritage — so she jumped at the chance to be a coach for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) when her long-time mentors and GUMSHOE directors Dedra Buchwald and Spero Manson asked. The GUMSHOE program (or Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) is one of four NRMN models that teach groups of postdocs and early career researchers how to write competitive grants.
During the last few years, I’ve been hearing talk about reviving extinct animal species. Not a fantasy about resurrecting dinosaurs for kids to see in an amusement park. (Full disclosure: If that were real, I’d probably go bankrupt trying to be able to afford a trip to such a place.)
Not Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg. But serious people.
And people like Hendrik Poinar, the principal investigator at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre in Toronto and a professor of physical anthropology at McMaster University. His research involves finding new ways to extract DNA, RNA and protein sequences, and then and use that genetic information to look at evolution, phylogeny, selection and biogeography.
I’m not saying that I deserve royalties or that I even originated the idea but I remember being in eighth grade when a classmate lamented how extinct animals are gone forever. It’s nothing I had thought about before that, but I replied: “Not necessarily.”
At the time, our understanding of genetic manipulation was rudimentary. Dolly — the first successful mammal to be cloned — was not born until eight years after I had that conversation.
And in 2003 there was the first attempt to clone an extinct mammal — a Pyrenean ibex, also called a bucardo. Extracted nuclei of the last known specimen were injected into goat eggs. Only seven of the 57 goats became pregnant. Only one of those six goats delivered, but the bucardo that was born died shortly after birth due to malformed lungs.
Also in 2003, Poinar sequenced genomic sequences taken from the waste, known as corpolites, of the Shasta sloth. The work showed ancient DNA can be retrieved at higher temperatures. It had been thought genetic material could only extracted from specimens like that of mammoths frozen in permafrost.
But is bringing back extinct animals a good thing? “Should it be done” is asked just as much as “Can it be done?” Whether you agree with the ethical repercussions concerning bringing back extinct animals, that the science will soon be viable is exciting.