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Aug. 5, 2008
Contact: Debra Simon, Higuchi Biosciences Center, (785) 864-5209.

KU earns grant to aid researchers in identifying genetic disease risk

LAWRENCE — A researcher at the University of Kansas has received nearly $2.5 million in federal funding to study the genetic control of traits that affect crop yield, human disease risk and drug response.

Stuart J. Macdonald, assistant professor of molecular biosciences at KU, heads the five-year project funded by the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.

“Ultimately, we wish to identify the precise DNA sequence differences that exist among individuals and determine which cause variation in traits like height, hair color and, of course, disease risk,” Macdonald said. “Our work will provide valuable insight into the genetic control of such traits using the powerful experimental tools available for the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly).”

The new grant will provide the research community with a multifaceted set of resources and tools to efficiently identify genetic factors that cause trait variation in the fruit fly. Results will help guide the design and interpretation of future studies that seek to identify variations in those genetic factors as they relate to human disease risk.

“Stuart’s work will lead to better techniques for identifying the genes that underlie complex diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said Robert Cohen, professor and acting chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences. “The identification of such genes is the critical first step in the development of both drugs that combat diseases’ progression and screening procedures to identify people at risk for the diseases.”

The grant will fund experimental biology at KU’s Lawrence campus. Much of the necessary computational work will take place at the University of California-Irvine under the direction of Tony Long, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

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