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IU Researcher Gets $2.3M Grant to Study Chemical Effects on Genetics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Indiana University announced today that Joseph Shaw has been awarded a $2.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study how the environment affects genetic information through mutation and natural selection.

Shaw, an assistant professor in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, will lead research investigating gene copy number variation in the lake-dwelling Daphnia, also called the water flea, one of a handful of model organisms approved by the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research.

The research includes investigations into water flea populations that have developed tolerance to extreme exposure to toxic metals in heavily polluted mining regions near Sudbury, Ontario. Changes in the biology of Daphnia populations will be then compared and correlated with changes in environmental exposure.

According to the university, recent research has determined that genetic differences between individuals of an animal population, including humans, are predominantly from genes that are duplicated or deleted from genomes. The work being done by Shaw, IU added, reflects a new approach to environmental science that now incorporates advances in molecular toxicology, computational science, and information technology to evaluate how the environment effects genetic changes that influence health risks.

After a century of identifying natural populations that have been exposed to substantial environmental stresses, "the studies will now assess how some populations have adapted to cope with chemical changes to the environment, or have been harmed by effects linked to changes in the number of gene copies," Shaw said in a statement.

The environmental impact on gene copy number variation remains unknown, "because appreciation of the significance of CNV is so new," IU said. "Also new is the toolbox needed for advancing environmental genomics research at an unprecedented pace."

IU researchers are leading the Daphnia Genomics Consortium, which is devoted to obtaining high-throughput genetic data from natural Daphnia populations. The consortium is developing tools that are unique to the environmental sciences and include genome sequences, reagents, protocols, and databases to simultaneously measure and interpret the condition-specific action of all genes of Daphnia.

The grant is from the NIEHS Outstanding New Environment Scientist program, which funds basic research on how the environment can impact an individual's susceptibility to disease, rather than on understanding the cause of a disease or the effects of a single class of chemicals, IU said.

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