NSF awards support for DNA analysis instrumentation lab at Williams College

November 17, 2005

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Nov. 17, 2005 -Williams College has been awarded a $145,924 grant from the National Science Foundation for the project "Acquisition of DNA Analysis Instrumentation for Research and Education," under the direction of Jason A. Wilder, assistant professor of biology.

Wilder, whose work looks to understand the forces that shape patterns of genetic variability in nature, received his B.A. from Williams in 1997 and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University in 2002. He did his postdoctoral work at the University of Arizona.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a large molecule considered the "building block of life." It contains all the information necessary for living things to function. It also codes for a creature's physical composition - everything from a person's eye color to his hair loss is the result of, or at least highly influenced by, his DNA.

While much is known about the general nature of DNA, many of its precise mechanisms remain a mystery. Until recently, technological constraints severely limited researchers' ability to analyze and understand the complex molecule. With contemporary innovations in technology making more advanced investigation possible, DNA analysis is having an enormous impact on the scientific community.

The project will establish a laboratory at Williams for the collection of DNA sequence and genotype data. The lab will include a capillary-based DNA analyzer, equipment for template amplification and purification, and computer workstations equipped with software for data analysis.

The new technology will be of particular support to the research of biology professors Jason Wilder, Lara Hutson, David C. Smith, and Robert Savage. Wilder is currently studying human DNA variants that confer resistance to severe malarial parasitism. Hutson's laboratory is working to characterize the role of heat shock proteins in the neural development of zebrafish. In a study of natural selection, Smith uses genetic markers to individually identify tadpoles. Savage is looking to understand the function of Hox gene regulators in basic pattern formation in living creatures.

The lab also will assume an essential position in the science curriculum at Williams. Use of the technology will be essential to the bioinformatics, genomics, and proteomics program, and important in the evolutionary biology course. Additionally, the lab will be incorporated into the curriculum of introductory biology -one of the most popular classes at Williams.

Wilder, the director of the program, said, "With this equipment, we'll be able to incorporate acquisition of DNA data directly into the curriculum at Williams, and include these data more efficiently in faculty research. These are the kinds of data that are currently revolutionizing most aspects of the life sciences."
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Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching. The achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in research. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college is located in Williamstown, Mass. To visit the college on the Internet: www.williams.edu

Williams College

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