By Erin Matheson ‘18
At Scripps College and the shared W.M. Keck Science Department, the sciences are thriving and opportunities are plentiful. In late January, Biology Professor Patrick Ferree won an $830,000 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Development Program to continue his research on genome conflict and to strengthen educational outreach to programs such as Scripps’ Articulation Agreement for Transfer that prepares students transferring from community colleges to Scripps College.
Ferree’s grant, “Paternal genome elimination by a selfish B chromosome in the jewel wasp Nasonia vitripennis,” funds his continued research into genome “parasites” buried in the DNA of insects in the hymenoptera order, including ants, bees and wasps. The common conception — that the full genome works together in harmony to create — is upended by individual “selfish” chromosomes that alter and overwrite patterns of inheritance at the molecular level.
According to Ferree, “We are interested in understanding how genetic and microbial parasites manipulate the eukaryotic genome. We use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and several of its sibling species as well as the jewel wasp Nasonia vitripennis as model organisms.”
Currently, Ferree teaches Introductory Biology and Developmental Biology at Keck. Additionally, he works directly with eight undergraduate students in his lab. “I want to stay relevant in the field and it is important for me to have my students work hands-on with a modern, pertinent question that has some real meaning,” said Ferree. “I want our kids to have these opportunities.”
The Career Development Program is regarded as “the most sought-after recognition a new faculty member can receive [from the NSF],” given its intended ability to advance someone as an expert in his or her particular field. The funding will support the hiring of a post-doctoral fellow for the life of the grant and the purchase of some much-needed infrastructure, including a climate-controlled incubator and multiple PCR machines for replicating DNA sequences for study.
The post doc is anticipated to come early next Fall. “I am not going to have the post-doc be in charge of students,” Ferree said. The person will come and and be another active expert in the lab and get help and more energy in the lab.” The PCR machine and the climate-controlled incubator will be loaned out to the community colleges — such as Pasadena Community College — that have the Articulation Agreement with Scripps College in an effort to strengthen education outreach.
“What interests me is the weird stuff,” Ferree said. “How is this natural process occurring? What is happening? That’s what fascinates me.” With $830,000 to spend, Professor Ferree will be able to continue his pursuit of knowledge.