Marian Walhout receives $4.1 million outstanding investigator award from NIH

Grant will further study of metabolism and gene expression and how they interact

By Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

August 31, 2017
  Marian Walhout, PhD
 

Marian Walhout, PhD

Marian Walhout, PhD, has received a 5-year, $4.1 million Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health to continue her study of metabolism and gene expression and how they interact.

“With this grant, we have a lot of freedom to explore different scientific avenues,” said Dr. Walhout, the Maroun Semaan Chair in Biomedical Research, professor of molecular medicine and co-director of the Program in Systems Biology.

Part of NIH’s outstanding investigator award program, MIRA provides researchers with greater stability and flexibility through extended funding, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs. The specific grant awarded to the Walhout Lab is funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences .

Walhout and colleagues are focused on characterizing physical and functional gene regulatory networks that are primary controllers of gene transcription, maintain homeostasis and respond to environmental cues and insults. Additionally, researchers study metabolic networks that convert nutrients into biomass and energy.

“Metabolism and gene expression lie at the heart of all biological processes. While the era of molecular biology has provided great insights into molecular mechanisms and the contributions of individual genes and proteins, it remains very unclear how these two critical processes interact at the network or systems level,” Walhout said. “Understanding at this latter level will help to gain insight into how to manipulate the system to diagnose, treat and prevent a variety of diseases, including metabolic diseases, congenital disorders and cancer.”

With support of the MIRA, Walhout and colleagues will study how gene regulatory networks affect metabolic networks, and vice versa, by testing how intestinal transcription is affected by perturbations in metabolic genes. In addition, they will generate gene expression data under different conditions to examine how it influences metabolism.

“Our data will provide broad phenomenological and deep mechanistic insights, as well as a set of resources for the larger community,” Walhout said.

The lab will also continue developing its WormFlux website, a searchable database of a reconstructed metabolic network model for the organism C. elegans that includes detailed descriptions of model elements and their annotations in gene, enzyme, reaction, compound and pathway pages.

Other MIRA recipients at UMMS include Craig L. Peterson, PhD, professor of molecular medicine; Andreas Bergmann, PhD, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology; Patrick Emery, PhD, professor of neurobiology; and Paul Thompson, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Andreas Bergmann, PhD, receives Outstanding Investigator Award from NIH
Patrick Emery receives $4.1M outstanding investigator award
Craig Peterson receives $4.5M outstanding investigator award from NIH

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