Baruch Professor Jason Munshi-South
Receives Grant from The National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Grant Supports First Study Examining Genomic Impacts of Urbanization on Mammals

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Jason Munshi South

NEW YORK, NY- September 13, 2012–The National Institute of General Medical Sciences-National Institutes of Health (NIGMS-NIH) has awarded a grant of $200,000 to Jason Munshi-South, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology in Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. The grant supports his research on the evolutionary biology of native wildlife in New York City.

The study will be the first to examine the genomic basis of evolutionary change in a wild mammal adapting to an urban area, using the white-footed mouse found throughout New York City’s forested parks as a model system. “The results from this study may be broadly applicable to other species that are common residents of cities, and the gene expression results in particular may eventually provide clues to genetic changes in city-dwelling humans,” explains Munshi-South.

Recent research published by the Munshi-South lab at Baruch in 2010 and 2012 established that nearly every large NYC park contains a genetically distinct population of white-footed mice, primarily because there are not adequate vegetated corridors for mice to disperse between most parks. The grant will fund the next phase of research, which will examine mutations in protein-coding genes and the rate at which those genes are expressed in both urban and rural populations.

Genes that show a striking difference between urban and rural areas may indicate areas of the genome that have evolved in order to facilitate the survival and reproduction of the white-footed mice in urban areas. “We predict that genes evolving in NYC may code for proteins involved in immunity, reproduction, life history, and resistance to heavy metal pollution,” says Munshi-South.

To date, Munshi-South and his collaborator, Professor Rachel O’Neill from the University of Connecticut, have sequenced more than 10,000, or nearly half, of the genes that make proteins in the white-footed mice. With this new grant, the dataset will be expanded using high-throughput DNA sequencing. Potentially adaptive mutations in genomic regions from mice sampled along an urban-to-rural transect will be identified. More than 500 mice have been sampled along a transect spanning from rural areas of the Catskills and Connecticut, to suburban parks in Westchester County, NY, to urban parks in New York City.

“The geographical distribution of DNA mutations along this transect will be used to examine whether there is a gradual change in the intensity of selection from urbanization, or a sharp contrast upon crossing an ‘urbanization threshold,’” explains Munshi-South.

Munshi-South joined the faculty at Baruch College in Fall 2007, and began his studies on urban white-footed mice in Summer 2008 after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation. In addition to this project, members of his lab are currently examining ecological and evolutionary changes in urban rats, stream salamanders, and coyotes. More information on these studies can be found at the Munshi-South lab Website, http://nycevolution.org/


About Baruch College:
Baruch College is a senior college in the City University of New York (CUNY) with a total enrollment of more than 17,000 students, who represent 160 countries and speak more than 100 languages. Ranked among the top 15% of U.S. colleges and the No. 3 public regional university, Baruch College is regularly recognized as among the most ethnically diverse colleges in the country. As a public institution with a tradition of academic excellence, Baruch College offers accessibility and opportunity for students from every corner of New York City and from around the world. For more about Baruch College, go to http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
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