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UGA Researchers Win NSF Career Grants for Molecular Fly, Lizard Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Two University of Georgia genetics researchers have landed $1.8 million in new National Science Foundation grants to fund genomics and molecular biology studies, UGA said yesterday.

Kelly Dyer and Douglas Menke, both assistant professors of genetics at UGA, each have won Faculty Early Development Career Program awards under its Directorate for Biological Sciences.

Dyer will use her $1 million grant to study the genetic basis of mating behaviors and how new species form by looking at a group of Drosophila that has "very elaborate" courtship practices, she said.

"In the quinaria group of Drosophila flies we are studying, some females are very picky about which males they will mate with, while others are less picky and will even mate with males from a different species," Dyer explained. "Ultimately, we want to know whether the genes that enable a female to distinguish a male from a different species are also involved in discriminating among potential mates from her own species. This will tell us if the processes that reinforce barriers between species may also trigger reproductive isolation within a species."

The findings from this study could provide insights into whether two different species will merge or remain distinct when they come into contact – knowledge that could be useful as human expansion is pressing more animal groups into smaller geographic ranges.

Menke received a $790,000 award to study the molecular mechanisms involved in differing limb lengths in Anolis lizards found in the Caribbean. His team will collect samples from around the Caribbean and study the growth patterns of limbs during embryonic development at the molecular level.

Menke's team aims to discover how the controls for limb size and shape operate, and potentially how genetic mutations in humans can alter limb growth and lead to congenital birth defects.

The research will help scientists determine how limb size and shape are controlled. The findings may also aid in understanding how genetic mutations in humans can alter limb growth and result in congenital birth defects of the extremities.

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