Dr. Cameron, who earned his Ph.D., at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, is now celebrating a $35,000 grant by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement to support his continued research in yeast prions. The prestigious Cottrell College Science Award, is designed to fund cutting-edge research for early career scientists who work with undergraduate students.
Only 48 scientists are awarded grants each year by the RCSA, the oldest foundation for science advancement.
Biology Professor Dale Cameron grew up in Gol Gol, Australia, on his parents’ farm. While they were busy harvesting grapes and running a vineyard, he was raising and breeding chickens to show at local agriculture shows. The experience as a young student officially sparked his fascination in the basics of biology and genetics.
His work in molecular biology at Ursinus focuses on the role of self-propagating misfolding proteins – or prions – in yeast. Yeast cells are a powerful (not to mention cheap and easy to grow) genetic model organism wherein he and his students can observe, and often manipulate, the consequences of misshapen proteins that accumulate in cells.
The long-term implications of his research could help illuminate why diseases like “mad cow” disease and Alzheimer’s happen and might even show that these complicated misfolding proteins possess, not just a destructive and infectious quality, but a yet undiscovered role that may be beneficial to cells.
“This is a great opportunity and will provide two years of funding, as seed money, with the goal to demonstrate that we have good ideas worthy of federal funding in the future,” says Dr. Cameron. His research students are also at work developing a new approach to measure the growth rate of yeast cells in order to detect subtle differences in those rates. “This grant supports work that will examine how mishappen proteins are handled by a particular quality control system within the cell,” says Dr. Cameron. “Millions of proteins are always being made in our cells, and sometimes they twist into the wrong shape. Yeast cells, which are organized much like human cells, can help us understand protein misfolding, which is associated with diseases of aging.”
In each cell, proteins that are damaged or no longer needed are eventually degraded through a system called the ubiquitin proteasome system, or UPS for short. This helps to minimalize the damaging effects of having misfolded proteins build up within a cell.
Functioning as the “garbage disposal system” of the cell, the UPS is a focal point of Cameron’s research. “Part of what we are studying is whether the UPS simply degrades misfolded proteins, including prions, or if it is involved in a more complex way.”
By K. C.