In this edition of Research Connections, find links to researchers in the news, updates on important deadlines, and more news for University of Rochester researchers.
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Dragony Fu, Assistant Professor of Biology, shows a transfer RNA molecule and the various Trm enzymes that modify it.

NSF CAREER: Understanding enzymes that modify RNA

(This is one in a series about recent NSF CAREER recipients, describing their research and how they succeeded in their applications.)

"DNA makes RNA and RNA makes protein" is the central dogma of molecular biology — the overarching framework for the flow of genetic information within a living organism.

If only it were that simple.

Dragony Fu's CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, announced earlier this year, will enable his lab to dive deeply into elucidating the role played by a key group of enzymes that act on RNA molecules to regulate how those molecules function in fundamental cellular processes.

"This is an exciting time," said Fu, an Assistant Professor of Biology. "Much remains to be learned about how the enzymes find their target RNAs, how the modifications change RNA functions, and how the modified RNAs regulate critical cellular processes."

Moreover, "these enzymes can potentially act on many different molecules, not just RNA, to regulate diverse processes, such as protein synthesis and gene regulation."

Fu's lab is concentrating on a family of about 20 transfer RNA methyltransferase (Trm) enzymes. "Our laboratory aims to elucidate the functions of each one of these enzymes, to understand their cellular functions and their targets in the cell."

To do so, the lab will use an integrated biochemical, molecular and genetic approach that combines proteomic analysis of Trm complexes, global transcription, and translation profiling of human cells with altered Trm proteins.

Mutations in the genes that make these enzymes have been associated with intellectual disabilities and other neurological disorders, with cancer and tumor growth, and with metabolic disorders resulting from mitochondrial damage.

So this line of research could "help us understand the molecular basis for certain diseases and disorders, and, perhaps in the future, enable us to treat an individual who has this mutation with gene therapy," Fu added. "But that's very far down the road. First we have to understand the basic 'what, how and why' of the enzymes that modify RNA."

Remember: A CAREER is about basic science

Fu succeeded in winning a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on his first submission.

How? First, by recognizing that the nature of the award is fundamentally different from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards that fund many biological research projects.

NIH awards emphasize potential medical applications. A CAREER award, on the other hand, "supports faculty who integrate basic science with education in their research programs," Fu said.

So he wrote his application accordingly, and would advise other biological researchers seeking a CAREER to do likewise. "You have to be very clear to them (reviewers) that this is basic science, that you are increasing the overall wealth of knowledge about the world we live in. It may not have applications at the current moment, but that does not diminish its value."

Equally critical is developing an educational component explaining how the award will "help many different levels of budding young scientists reach their goals." Fu, for example, will engage students in producing video-based tutorials to serve as teaching and training resources. He will also provide workshops for underserved high school students to encourage their interest in biology.

Fu offers this tip as well: Allow plenty of time for peers to review your proposal, preferably well before you've completed "your final, final copy." That way, you won't have to completely revamp your proposal if major changes are suggested.

"You want these people (peers) to be the ones criticizing your proposal, not the people judging it on the review panel. And as long as they know this is not the final document, they can be even more candid in offering suggestions."

Watch workshop that offers tips for applying

Click here and scroll down to view the video of an AS&E workshop on applying for NSF CAREER awards, held on April 20, 2015.

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This image, which appears on the cover of Prof. Richard Kaeuper's new book, Medieval Chivalry, show a group of life-size metal sculptures created by two Italian artists Nicola Zamboni and Sara Balzani.

Kaeuper describes chivalry the way it was — not how we imagine it

William Marshal, Robert Bruce, Geoffroi de Charny, Don Pero Nino and Thomas Malory. These were active participants in medieval chivalry — actual knights who were also authors or subjects of major texts.

For Richard Kaeuper, Professor of History, they are also useful models to guide readers to a better understanding of what chivalry was all about, in Medieval Chivalry, his third book on the subject, which was commissioned by Cambridge University Press and is scheduled to be published this month.

Indeed, the chivalry that these five knights practiced bears little resemblance to how people think of chivalry today.

Chivalry was violent, and often grisly. "It's hands-on cutting and thrusting. It's a very bloody profession," Kaeuper explained to Rochester Review writer Kathleen McGarvey.

Kaeuper's book takes a broad look at chivalry through a resolutely medieval lens, showing how it was an essential concept for that age. It denoted "deeds of great valor performed by knights," but also collective bodies of knights and — more important — a set of ideas and practices that was extolled as a "key buttress to society, even to civilization."

Kaeuper identifies three phases of chivalry. "Knighthood before chivalry" marked the beginning of the military profession in the period before kings and other noblemen would have called themselves knights. In the second period, such high-born men began to cultivate an identity as knights. Tournaments come into being and literary romance and epic flourish. In the third phase — "chivalry beyond formal knighthood" — chivalry pervades lay society as a "set of ideas that organizes thought and behavior."

Read the Rochester Review article here.

Study involving schizophrenia finds deficits in ability to process stimuli

A new study in the journal Translational Psychiatry sheds further light on the idea that schizophrenia is a sensory disorder and that individuals with the condition are impaired in their ability to process stimuli from the outside world. The findings may also point to a new way to identify the disease at an early stage and before symptoms become acute.

Because one of the hallmarks of the disease is auditory hallucinations, such as hearing voices, researchers have long suspected a link between auditory processing and schizophrenia. The new study provides evidence that the filtering of incoming visual information, and also of simple touch inputs, is also severely compromised in individuals with the condition.

"When we think about schizophrenia, the first things that come to mind are the paranoia, the delusions, the disorganized thinking," said John Foxe, Chair of Neuroscience and senior author of the study. "But there is increasing evidence that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way these patients hear, the way they feel things through their sense of touch, and in the way in which they see the environment." Read more here.

'Slick' gene helps protect the heart, UR researchers find

A research team led by Paul S. Brookes, a Professor of Anesthesiology, and Keith Nehrke, a Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), have identified a gene that is crucial for anesthetic preconditioning, a process used in coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery to protect a patient's heart while it is stopped — while blood flow and oxygen delivery to the organ are reduced. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and carried out in large part by first author Andrew P. Wojtovich, now a newly appointed Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology and Physiology.

The gene, dubbed "Slick" (the technical name is KCNT2 or Slo 2.1), is required for anesthetic preconditioning to occur in mice. This gene is also found in humans and the team hypothesizes that it is necessary for the effective use of anesthetic preconditioning in people, too. To initiate anesthetic preconditioning, a physician administers a specific type of anesthetic, called a volatile anesthetic, prior to the surgery. Some research suggests that volatile anesthetics help limit damage to the heart while it is temporarily stopped so the surgeon can perform the delicate bypass operation. But, the molecular mechanisms that underlie this process were previously unknown.

The new study, published this month in the journal Anesthesiology, is important because knowledge of Slick's role in anesthetic preconditioning could help with the development of new drugs and strategies for cardiac protection in CABG patients. Also, because the gene is highly conserved from worms, to mice, to humans, it may play a role beyond just mediating anesthetic preconditioning, possibly contributing to the regulation of important processes like metabolism. Read more here.

University researchers in the news

In an editorial published by Reuters, Gretchen Helmke, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, asks whether ousting Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff will end the country's vicious cycle of political corruption. Helmke, who has a forthcoming book published by Cambridge University Press, Institutions on the Edge: Inter-Branch Crises in Latin America, says if the recent history of corruption and government upheaval in other Latin American nations provides any indication, "a virtuous cycle" of new leadership is not likely for Brazil. Click here to read the editorial.

Kara Finnigan, Associate Professor in the Warner School, was recently highlighted in the American Education Research Asssocation's Lead the Change Series, which features renowned educational change experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Click here to read the Q and A, in which Finnigan discusses such topics as a) how the role of being a public intellectual who directly contributes to public understanding, political debate, and professional practice is different from the norms and training for many educational scholars, b) the challenges teachers and districts face in meeting needs of students, and c) the most important issues in educational change today.

Center for AIDS Research seeks applications for pilot awards

The CFAR Focused Topic Areas RFA focuses on three areas: HIV-associated Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease; Stress, Trauma, and Vulnerable Populations; and HIV Cure. Up to three one-year awards will be made with maximum funding of $40,000 in direct costs. Additional information and specific application requirements can be found in the full pilot announcement.

The CFAR General HIV/AIDS RFA is a general call for applications to address key gaps in our understanding of HIV/AIDS and to address the NIH HIV/AIDS High Priority Research Topics that have been designated by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Office of AIDS Research (OAR) (see RFA for list). Up to two one-year awards will be made with maximum funding of $25,000 in direct costs.

Applications are due for both pilot RFA's no later than 5 p.m. on June 24, 2016. Contact Laura Enders at or (585)273-2939. More information can be found on the CFAR website.

"Crash course" on science and technology policy offered by AAAS

Registration is now open for the annual Science & Technology Policy Leadership Seminar, offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which will be held Nov. 16-20.

The seminar is designed to be a "crash course" in science and technology (S&T) policy, designed for those who need to know how S&T policy works.

For those who are interested in science policy, but can't afford the cost or the time away from work, the AAAS now offers an online course called Understanding the Federal R&D Budget. For a limited time, AAAS members can view for free ($60 for non-members).

Mark your calendar

May 18: Falling Wallings competition. Three-minute presentations by about two dozen young UR scholars and researchers. Winner to particpate in international Falling Walls competition this fall in Berlin, Germany. 2 p.m., Sloan Auditorium, Goergen Hall.

May 20: Poster entries due for 8th Annual Study Coordinators Organization for Research and Education (SCORE) Half-Day Seminar. Click here to learn more.

May 31: Applications due for Goergen Institute for Data Science pilot awards in Health Data Analytics. Click here to read the full RFA.

June 7: SCORE Half-day Seminar for research personnel. Click here to learn more.

June 24: Deadline is 5 p.m. for applications for Center for AIDS Research pilot awards in Focused Topic Areas and in General HIV/AIDS. Contact Laura Enders at or (585)273-2939.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections, an index of people and departments linked to those issues, and a chronological listing of PhD dissertation defenses since April 2014, by discipline.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.