Capitol Hill briefing showcases NSF-funded research

By | September 22, 2016

On September 20, a standing-room-only crowd of congressional staff and research advocates attended the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Capitol Hill briefing on developmental biology research. Jane Silverthorne, PhD, the Deputy Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences introduced the event, which featured the role of fundamental biological research funded by the Foundation.

Angela DePace, PhD, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, showed the development of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster from a single cell to a fully formed animal in high-resolution video. She explained that the key process driving the development of all of the different cells in the Drosophila was gene regulation, which determines which genes are turned on and off in any given cell. Her laboratory takes data on gene regulation in Drosophila to develop sophisticated computer models that are revealing important aspects of development across animals.

Ashley Seifert, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky, described an important process related to development: regeneration. Seifert explained that it was commonly thought that tissue regeneration did not occur in mammals. However, during field research with colleagues at the University of Nairobi, Seifert found that the African spiny mouse can regenerate skin and cartilage. His laboratory is investigating the process of regeneration in these tiny animals, which appears to involve macrophage cells. This work has important implications for biomedical engineering and medical science.

Both DePace and Seifert underscored the importance of NSF support to their research and to the field at large. Asked about the study of biology from a non-medical perspective, DePace suggested that the next generation of technologies will come not from computer science or engineering, but from the life sciences.