NSF Awards Professor Patrick Ferree $830,000 CAREER Grant for Genome Research

Assistant Professor of Biology Patrick Ferree
Assistant Professor of Biology Patrick Ferree

Claremont, Calif. (February 2, 2015)—Assistant Professor of Biology Patrick Ferree received an $830,000 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Development Program to research genome conflict. Ferree teaches in the W.M. Keck Science Department of Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College and Scripps College.

The grant, “Paternal genome elimination by a selfish B chromosome in the jewel wasp Nasonia vitripennis,” supports Ferree’s ongoing research into genome “parasites” buried in the DNA of insects in the hymenoptera order, including ants, bees and wasps. The common conception—that the full genome works together in harmony—is upended by individual “selfish” chromosomes altering and overwriting patterns of inheritance at the molecular level.

One non-essential extra chromosome, known as Paternal Sex Ration (PSR), seen in jewel wasps, strips away the paternal genome, ensuring the larval wasp will develop into a male. This act benefits the PSR chromosome because it is only transmitted to new offspring through sperm cells made by males.

“Our experiments reveal how selfish chromosomes can hijack the rest of the genome,” Ferree said of his ongoing research in 2012. “It begs the question if this type of effect might occur in humans.”

The funding supports the hiring of a post-doctoral fellow for the life of the grant and the purchase of research equipment, including a climate-controlled incubator and multiple PCR machines for replicating DNA sequences for study. The grant will significantly strengthen the educational outreach component of Ferree’s research.

Ferree earned his BS in biology from UNC Chapel Hill, his PhD in biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

About the W.M. Keck Science Department

The W.M. Keck Science Department is the interdisciplinary home to all biology, chemistry, and physics faculty for Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Scripps colleges. The department is administered cooperatively and is housed within an 81,000-square-foot center located at the intersection of the three colleges. The department offers 13 discrete degree options, including dual-degree programs in partnership with schools of engineering and majors in conjunction with disciplines outside the sciences. The W.M. Keck Science Department provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary instruction in small class settings and numerous opportunities for students to conduct research.

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