VILLANOVA, Pa. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of $548,273 to Dennis Wykoff, PhD, the Dennis M. Cook Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics in the Department of Biology in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to support his research project in the College.
The project, entitled “RUI: Evolution of Signal Transduction Pathways in Yeast,” investigates the extent to which the gain and loss of genes affects how an organism is able to respond to its environment.
Humans have over 20,000 genes. What makes a kidney cell different from a brain cell is whether specific genes get turned “on” or “off.” Thiamine is essential for all cells to grow, and Dr. Wykoff’s laboratory examines how genes in different fungal species get turned on or off in response to thiamine (or vitamin B1) starvation. When the latter occurs, it allows for some yeast species to either die or thrive in a thiamine deprived environment.
One yeast species studied by Dr. Wykoff’s laboratory can cause Candidiasis (the fungal infection known as thrush) in humans. By preventing thiamine synthesis genes from turning on, the laboratory may uncover novel antifungal treatments.
“Fungal diseases that are dispersed in the human body are often more than 50 percent lethal,” Dr. Wykoff said. “The number of antifungals available to physicians is extremely low, meaning that any new antifungal would be very valuable.”
The project will be carried out at Villanova University and will provide research training and experiences for Villanova undergraduate and master’s level students.
“This award from the National Science Foundation recognizes the importance of Dr. Wykoff’s research and its potential long-term implications,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Interim Dean, Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It also supports the commitment of our teacher-scholar faculty to providing outstanding collaborative research and learning opportunities for both our undergraduate and graduate students.“