University of Dundee

Over 2 million more in grants for College of Life Sciences gene researchers

19 Aug 2010

Researchers at the University of Dundee studying how cells control the output of specific genes have been awarded £2.8million in grants by the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity.

Dr Joost Zomerdijk, based in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at the College of Life Sciences, has been awarded £1.1million and Professor Jeff Williams, also based at the College of Life Sciences, has been given £1.7million.

These grants will support the work of six post-doctoral researchers and a technician for five years.

“I am extremely delighted to have been awarded a five year Programme Grant from the Wellcome Trust to investigate how cells control production of RNA from the ribosomal RNA genes, a process crucial to cell survival, cell growth and division” said Dr Zomerdijk.

“Ribosomal RNAs are the key component of ribosomes, the protein synthesis factories of a cell. Each cell needs to make millions of copies to sustain cell growth and proliferation. These RNAs are copied from the ribosomal RNA genes in a process called transcription. Deregulation of transcription can disrupt normal cell growth causing cell death or runaway cell growth and has been implicated in certain human diseases.”

“The award will allow my team to advance our research into ribosomal RNA gene expression, which has been supported for ten years by the Wellcome Trust and, most recently, by the University.”

The work of Professor Williams and his team is concentrated on discovering how a specific group of proteins, the STATs, control the transcription of other genes.

He studies STATs in a single-cell organism called Dictyostelium. Human STATs are vital to the functioning of the entire immune system so fundamental studies such as these are likely to be relevant to human disease.

“This approach is of importance because of the surprisingly close relationship between Dictyostelium and organisms such as ourselves,” said Professor Williams. “The DNA of Dictyostelium contains many genes, such as STATs, which were previously thought to be restricted to animal species such as man.”

“It is usually much easier to study how genes work in a simple organism such as Dictyostelium and the insights obtained using Dictyostelium can often help our understanding of gene functions and their associated disease states in man.”