Rutgers-Camden genetics researcher receives NSF CAREER Award

August 06, 2012

CAMDEN - A top national award for promising research scientists has been presented to Princeton resident Nir Yakoby, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University-Camden.

Yakoby has received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The five-year, $686,544 award, which is reviewed and renewed annually based on the scientific progress of the project, supports the Rutgers-Camden researcher's project "Dynamics and Diversity of Bone Morphogenetic Protein Signaling in Epithelial Cells."

The grant will allow Yakoby and his research lab team to study the processes that occur during the time that cells decide what to become. Rutgers-Camden student researchers will join Yakoby in using the fruit fly Drosophila as an experimental system to study how very similar layers of cells produce different numbers of tubes. Through this work, the Rutgers-Camden researcher will seek to understand how changes in the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signal create different morphologies.

In explaining his research, Yakoby posits the following questions: "Why do we have two arms and two legs and not three of each? Why do we have five fingers and not six?" The Rutgers-Camden researcher seeks to find those answers by examining the signals and processes that advise cells as they form organs.

"These questions are particularly intriguing since the cells in the human body all contain the same genetic information. However, the clear cells in the eyes' corneas are obviously very different from the cells that secrete insulin in the pancreas," notes Yakoby.

A major goal of the NSF CAREER Award is to integrate academic teaching with research in the lab. Rutgers-Camden students will participate in this research.

In the Yakoby Lab, Rutgers-Camden students use the fruit fly Drosophila as an experimental system to study how a layer of cells in the fly ovaries form an eggshell. The eggshell protects the developing embryo from the dry environment while allowing for respiration through tube-like snorkels called dorsal appendages (DAs). Just as animals have different numbers of fingers, the numbers of the eggshells' respiratory tubes differ among Drosophila species. Thus, the eggshell provides a unique opportunity to study how very similar layers of cells produce different numbers of tubes.

In humans, a signal named the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) is necessary to define the development of fingers. The same signal controls the formation of the DAs on the Drosophila eggshell. Through his CAREER Award, Yakoby proposes to study how changes in the BMP signal allow for the formation of different numbers of DAs. Since the BMP signal is highly conserved between Drosophila and humans, understanding how changes in this signal create different morphologies will help to understand tissue pathologies and developmental defects which are associated with mal-regulation of the BMP signal.

Yakoby's research has appeared in such scientific publications as the prestigious journal Developmental Cell. He teaches courses in genetics to undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers-Camden, where he is an active member of the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology. He advises two PhD students in the Rutgers-Camden computational biology program

Yakoby earned his bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Hebrew University in Israel, and conducted post-doctoral research at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University.
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Rutgers University

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