Posted Mar 22, 2017

Story by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research. 

A number of innovative research projects ranging from the sciences to the arts and engineering have been granted funding through Princeton's Office of the Dean for Research.

Each year, the Dean for Research Innovation Fund gives support for exploratory research projects that might not otherwise qualify for external grants. This year's awardees include recipients from disciplines ranging from chemistry to the Princeton University Art Museum, and include projects that can benefit society and fulfill the quest for knowledge about the natural world.

The awards were given in three categories: new ideas in the natural sciences, new research projects that team Princeton scientists and engineers with industry, and research collaborations between artists and scientists or engineers.

Two ideas in the natural sciences include projects from Julien Ayroles and Thomas Gregor, of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics:

Genetic footprints of selection The shift of human populations from rural to urban environments comes with major changes in diet, pathogen exposure and incidence of chronic diseases such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. To explore how natural selection shapes the human genome, Julien Ayroles, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Dino Martins, visiting lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Mpala Research Centre, will study changes in gene regulation when people migrate from an ancestral rural environment to an urban setting. Working with individuals from the Turkana tribe in northern Kenya, Ayroles and Martin will contrast the genomes of people who stayed in their ancestral land to those who moved to cities, shedding light on how the interplay of genes and environmental factors affect human health.

Tracking colonies of self-organizing animals A school of fish, a raiding column of army ants, the synchronous flashing of fireflies — these self-organizing biological systems are fascinating to watch but difficult to study. To explore the mechanisms underlying these behaviors, Thomas Gregor, associate professor of physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Daniel Marlow, the Evans Crawford 1911 Professor of Physics, will design and construct a system for tracking individual ants in a colony by marking them with tiny amounts of radioactive dyes. The researchers' goal is to monitor the ants' activity via positron emission tomography (PET), a commonly used cancer screening method, and to use computer algorithms to construct models of insect behavior.

Link to the full story can be found here.

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