Student-researchers power through pandemic, achieve publication goal

Dec 16, 2020 | Applied and Natural Sciences, Innovation, Research, Students

In a quest to continue scholarly activity during laboratory shutdowns during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Jamie Newman and her students completed a literature review that was recently published in Stem Cells and Development. 

cover art

Students in the School of Biological Sciences recently published “Mediator’s Kinase Module: A Modular Regulator of Cell Fate,” in a recent issue of Stem Cells and Development. Professor Tom Futrell created the magazine’s cover art to help explain the authors’ work.

The review summarized research that seeks to understand how cell fate is determined. Specifically, the manuscript examines the role of an evolutionarily conserved, yet still poorly understood, protein complex in that decision-making process. 

Newman’s lab studies adult stem cell biology to better understand how these cells behave, what goes wrong during development or at the onset of disease, and how these cells may be used as a therapeutic option in the future. All the cells an in adult have the exact same genome, but the way in which the genes of the genome are expressed determines whether a cells becomes a bone cell, muscle cell, fat cell, or one of a number of other kinds of cells. 

“The mechanisms that control gene expression are complicated and multifaceted,” Newman said. “The protein complex reviewed in this recent publication is one that is critical to ensure proper, cell-type specific gene expression profiles. Despite the critical nature of this complex, the 30 subunits and two protein modules have long been the study of many research labs around the world in an attempt to better understand and potentially target these specific proteins to control cell fate and treat disease.” 

Two MSNT PhD students, Joseph Straub and Sree Venigalla, performed research and writing for the review. Both are in the process of completing their graduate work and along the way have been supported by a Graduate Assistantship from the School of Biological Sciences and the Justin and Jeanette Hinckley Endowed Superior Graduate Scholarship in Biological Sciences. 

School of Design Associate Professor Tom Futrell created the figures in the manuscript. Together, the important subject matter and quality of the illustrations prompted the editor to invite Newman and her group to create the cover artwork for the upcoming issue.

“This is an honor both for the students and for Tom, and the artwork’s inclusion demonstrates a growing recognition of the power that art and science have to communicate effectively,” Newman said. “The publication’s editor, Dr. Graham Parker, noted that the final cover art is ‘gorgeous.’”