Rhodes Team Receives National Science Foundation Grant to Further Fungal Cell Growth Research

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Publication Date: 6/16/2008

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rhodes professors Terry Hill, Darlene Loprete and Loretta Jackson-Hayes a $472,992 grant for their research on cellular mechanisms underlying the growth of the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans. 

Fungi have major impacts on human affairs through their ability to cause disease in humans as well as their usefulness in the production of foods and pharmaceuticals. The ability to control the activities of both the harmful and the beneficial fungi can be improved through a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying their growth. 

The Rhodes team’s project, titled "RUI: Subcellular Targeting of Protein Kinase C and a Novel Membrane Protein in Polarized Growth of Aspergillus nidulans," is an extension of the work that has been done under a 2002 grant awarded to Loprete and Hill. The NSF award is effective through March 31, 2012. 

With the grant, the team will investigate the functions of two proteins—protein kinase C (PKC) and  SccA—whose activity is essential to the structural integrity of fungal cell walls. Fungal cells, unlike human cells, have walls that affect the way cells grow. If researchers can get a better understanding of how the cell wall is assembled and functions, then drugs, for example, can be developed aimed at destroying the fungal cell rather than the human cells.

Rhodes researchers already have identified several genes that play specific roles in the cell walls of the fungus Aspergillus nidulans. Experiments have been conducted to investigate the regulation of expression of these genes, to observe the cellular localization of the proteins involved during different stages of fungal development, and to learn more about the specific role of each of them in cell wall metabolism.

Rhodes undergraduates will continue to work with the professors and gain experience doing publishable research. Eighteen students over the last seven years have been co-authors on publications coming from this group. In addition, nine students from Lemoyne-Owen, Rust, and Tougaloo Colleges have participated in the research and worked with the Rhodes team as summer students over the past three years. With the current NSF funding, the Rhodes team looks forward to continuing to engage students from historically black institutions.

More About the Faculty Researchers:

Dr. Terry Hill is Professor of Biology and the James T. and Valeria B. Robertson Chair in Biological Sciences. He has expertise in cell biology, microbiology, and the biology of fungi. Hill’s publications have appeared in the International Journal of Medical Microbiology, Fungal Genetics and Biology, Mycologia, Microbiology, Fungal Genetics Newsletter, and Canadian Journal of Microbiology, among other journals. Hill holds a B.A. from the University of South Florida and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida.

Dr. Darlene Loprete is Professor of Chemistry and the James H. Daughdrill Jr. Professor of the Natural Sciences. She has expertise in biochemistry and molecular biology. Loprete’s publications have appeared in the Fungal Genetics Newsletter, Mycologia, and Canadian Journal of Microbiology, among others. Loprete holds a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and a B.A. from Clark University.  

Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes is Assistant Professor of Chemistry with expertise in pharmacology. Jackson-Hayes’ publications have appeared in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochimica Biophysica Acta and Microbiology. Jackson-Hayes holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center at Memphis and a B.S. from Tougaloo College.