DeStasio advances research thanks to National Science Foundation grant

Valeska Okaragly

The 2001-2002 school year is a time of many interesting happenings in the Lawrence science departments, such as the re-opening of renovated Youngchild Hall. It also welcomes back Beth DeStasio from her sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology via a National Science Foundation POWRE (Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education) Grant. There, she was able to do more in depth work on the worm Caenorhabdidis elegans, or C. elegans.

Over the years, DeStasio and some of her students have worked on mapping the genome of this worm. Specifically, DeStasio was using the rubber band phenotype. This worm had a different of movement from normal worms. For instance, when tapped on the head, a normal representative of C. elegans would contract and move backwards.

Instead, the rubber band phenotype is almost paralyzed and cannot contract, thus having a rubber band-like effect. This is caused by a disconnection between nerves and muscles which communicate by electrical signals. These electrical signals are caused by potassium ion pathways.

Lawrence alumnus Catherine Lephoto identified the gene that was causing the effect, UNC 93. Later, DeStasio and Jason Tennessen were able to identify SUP 9, a gene that suppresses the mutation of UNC 93. Later, it was found that male worms with the SUP 9 mutation were unable to breed. At M.I.T., DeStasio was able to find some clues of why this was occurring.

DeStasio attached green fluorescent protein to the SUP 9 genes. Thus, the cells where the gene was being expressed were glowing. To see this change, DeStasio used a confocal microscope, equipment unavailable at Lawrence. Also, she was able to exchange ideas with people that were also studying C. elegans, such as Bob Horvitz, one of the top people in the study of the C. elegans genome. With this study, DeStasio was able to find four regions in the neurons which were affected by the SUP 9 mutation. Anne Huber will be trying to see if this mutation is causing the breeding deficiency in the nerves or the muscles of C. elegans.

Along with bringing new data back from M.I.T., DeStasio is also bringing back new techniques which will be used in her classes, such as molecular biology, this term. Thus, her year away from Lawrence was an exciting and productive year.