Baruch College Assistant Professor Krista C. Dobi Wins Major Grant from National Institute of Health
Krista C. Dobi, PhD, who teaches in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, has received a $459,732 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support her research into treatments for muscle wasting. The grant was made through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences division of the NIH and its Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) Program.
Professor Dobi is the first Baruch faculty member to receive a SCORE grant which will allow her to cover research costs and to support five undergraduate student researchers in her lab.
According to Dobi, the NIH grant will enable to expand her research on how muscle properties, such as size, shape, and orientation, are specified in the developing fruit fly embryo. In particular, the research examines how a gene regulatory protein, Apterous, directs the formation of muscle attachments.
The hope is that one day, the research can be used to inform work by other researchers who use vertebrate cells or animals for the development of treatments for muscle wasting diseases.
Dobi added that her research will examine embryos that genetically manipulate the amount of Apterous protein. “Then we will use fluorescently tagged antibodies that recognize proteins at the junction of the muscle and tendon to examine this structure in the mutants,” she explained.
Learn More: Three Questions for Professor Krista C. Dobi
What sparked your interest in this research area?
I think fruit flies are a really wonderful system to ask all sorts of genetic questions! I spent several years as an undergraduate in a lab studying anterior-posterior patterning in Drosophila, and I think fruit flies are fantastic model system for students to participate in research.
As a graduate student I became interested in transcriptional control of cellular processes. Muscle development in the fly requires the integration of a large number of gene regulators. Drosophila embryonic muscle is also a great system because the eggs are transparent, and so we can watch the entire development of the musculature using fluorescent microscopy.
Can you explain earlier iterations of this research and how the new grant will advance your work?
As a postdoc I performed a screen looking for previously uncharacterized regulators of muscle identity - the factors that make two muscles distinct from one another. I ended up discovering twelve additional transcriptional regulators of muscle specificity, including one gene, midline, that was expressed in a subset of lateral transverse muscles. It's a very interesting group of four muscles because while they share the properties of other muscles in the pattern (they are all multinucleate, innervated by motor neurons and have the ability to contract) the lateral transverse muscles do not attach to the segment border the way the other 26 muscles do.
So I've been focusing on the seven transcriptional regulators that control the development of these four muscles, and have tried to identify the processes under the control of these regulators. This research led to the discovery that Apterous may regulate muscle attachment.
The grant will allow us to determine whether our hypothesis is correct and to determine how this regulation of attachment occurs.
How does your lab research apply to the real world?
These are very basic research questions: how do cells determine their shape within a tissue? And specifically, how is the formation of an attachment between muscles and tendons (the myotendinous junction) regulated?
In the (very) long term, determination of these regulatory pathways will help guide the development of therapies to replace damaged muscles. In particular, if you want to replace a muscle that has wasted due to aging, cancer cachexia or other muscle diseases, you want to make sure that you replace it with a muscle that shares the original's size, shape, and other properties.
Therapies in mouse or human models will need to program a muscle cell to adopt those properties either in vitro or in situ.
And, one of the important real-world impacts of my research is that I'm able to involve undergraduates at Baruch in basic scientific research, which gives them the opportunity to gain experience with laboratory techniques and to make their own discoveries.
Mentoring students is a significant part of my role at Baruch, and being able to do hands-on science is integral to students choosing to pursue career paths in STEM.
Two of Dobi’s Students Win Awards
Separately, two of Professor Dobi’s students won awards this spring for projects conducted in her lab. Sharon Tang (’20) won a "Grants in Aid of Research" award from Sigma Xi (the scientific honor society), and Dalia Fainberg (’20) won a Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Award from the Genetics Society of America.
Tang (Baruch Honors Program, CUNY BA Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies in Bioethics and Behavioral Neuroscience) won for her senior thesis research, "Motor Neuron Connections and Innvervation of Muscles in Drosophila Melanogaster". Fainberg (Psychology) won for her independent study work on craniofacial muscle development in Drosophila.
About Professor Dobi
At Baruch, Professor Dobi is an assistant professor in biology and teaches in the department of natural sciences. After receiving her PhD at Harvard University in genetics, Dobi served as a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she received a NIH/Ruth L. Kirschstein fellowship to study transcriptional regulation of muscle development in Drosophila melanogaster.
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(Story published on 5/18/20)