Pitzer Spotlights

2004-2005 Spotlight Archives

Biology professor receives NSF Grant

Irene TangZhaohua Irene Tang, assistant professor of biology in Pitzer College’s Joint Science Department, has been awarded a $340,000 three-year grant by the National Science Foundation Program of Signal Transduction/Cell Regulation. Her project is titled, “Cell-cycle Regulation of LAMMER-related Kinases.”

Professor Tang describers her project as an ongoing study of the functions of Dsk1 and Kic1, which belong to a newly emerging class of dual-specificity protein kinases known as “LAMMER” kinases during the cell cycle. Protein kinases are enzymes that catalyze the reactions to add a phosphate group to a protein, thereby regulating the function of the protein.

Tang explains: “Cells reproduce by means of the cell-division cycle, a complex series of interdependent molecular and cellular events that lead to the division of a cell into two daughter cells. At a cellular level, in essence, cancer development begins with the uncontrolled cell-division cycle, whereas the aging process starts with a reduced ability of the cell to grow and proliferate. The long-term objective of the project is to study important molecular targets for deciphering the regulatory mechanisms of cell life and death, and to gain new knowledge about how a cell functions as a basic unit of life.

“These LAMMER-related kinases are conserved throughout the evolution and play causal roles in cell growth and programmed cell death, in differentiation including neuronal stem cell induction, in hepatitis B virus infection, and in cellular sensitivity to anti-cancer drugs such as cisplatin. Although critical, the regulation of these kinases in response to external signals and internal cues for cell survival and function remains unclear. This study will fill the gap in the in vivo investigation of the kinase families and shed light on the biological roles of the kinases, which are fundamental to all living organisms.

“Besides the scientific impact,” Tang says, “implementing the research activities will contribute a unique perspective to the scientific environment in undergraduate colleges. The project will directly involve more than 25 undergraduates every year in research and incorporate part of the project into the Cell Biology and other courses in the Molecular Biology Program, thus engaging students with project-based laboratories and promoting the integration of research and science education. This project will also provide opportunities for students to experience the excitement of current biology and stimulate students’ interest in biological research. Moreover, this project will contribute to the diversity of future scientists in biology by encouraging underrepresented minority and women students to participate in research.”

For more on Pitzer’s Joint Science Program with Scripps and Claremont McKenna colleges, visit www.jsd.claremont.edu.