Biologist Awarded Seed Grant for Stress-Defense Protein Research

Rebecca Sides (left) and Jeffrey A. Lewis observe yeast samples in Lewis' Microbial Stress Biology Lab at the University of Arkansas.
Photo by Matt Reynolds

Rebecca Sides (left) and Jeffrey A. Lewis observe yeast samples in Lewis' Microbial Stress Biology Lab at the University of Arkansas.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a leading national science and technology consortium comprised of more than 100 institutions, has awarded a University of Arkansas biologist a $5,000 seed grant to study stress-defense proteins.

Jeffrey A. Lewis, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, was one of 35 faculty members in the nation to win the competitive award. He will use his Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award to gain a better understanding of acetylation, a type of modification within cells that may help cells adapt to stress.

Defects in stress defense can damage cells and have been linked to human disorders ranging from cancer to neurodegenerative disease. Better understanding of the process and triggers of acetylation will help researchers better understand cell resiliency.

“Healthy cells rely on a delicate balance of many different and interconnected cellular processes,” Lewis said. “Disruption of any of these processes can lead to catastrophic effects on cellular physiology. Cells must be able to sense and respond to stressful situations that threaten this balance.”

Using brewer’s yeast cells, which share fundamental cellular processes with human cells, Lewis’ research team is studying a protein modification called acetylation. Originally thought to be unique to a class of DNA-compacting proteins called histones, recent studies have identified thousands of proteins that are also acetylated.

“About 15 percent of all yeast proteins are acetylated, but for the vast majority of proteins we don’t know what that modification is doing,” Lewis said. “This discovery of a vast universe of acetylated proteins has revealed a key gap in our knowledge.”

Rebecca Sides, a cell and molecular biology doctoral student in Lewis’ lab, has found methods to identify and quantify the proteins that change in acetylation during heat stress.

“By identifying proteins whose acetylation state changes during stress, we can come up with testable hypotheses for the function of acetylation,” Lewis said.

The Powe program provides seed funding to enrich the research and professional growth of young researchers and result in new funding opportunities. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Economic Development at the U of A is matching the award.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.



Jeffrey A. Lewis, assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences

Chris Branam, research communications writer/editor
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