UMF biology professor and student assistants discover new gene new


UMF students (left to right) William Sampson, Andrew Wilcox and Anyssa Phaneuf work with Timothy Breton, a member of the UMF’s Faculty of Biology (far right), to process animal tissue for analysis on a recent trip to the MDI Biological Laboratory .

FARMINGTON – The University of Maine at Farmington is pleased to announce that a national research project led by Dr. Timothy Breton, assistant professor of biology at UMF, discovered a new gene in fish that could have implications for understanding several diseases occurring in humans. including diabetes, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder.

The three-year research project, recently published in the international journal Scientific Reports, is funded by multiple grants totaling over $ 75,000 from the National Institutes of Health through the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) and the MDI Biological Laboratory .

The gene discovered by Breton and his team of student assistants is a new member of a family of hormone receptors. There are hormone receptors on the surface of every cell. They bind to hormones in the body, causing a cell to take on a new role.

Researchers discovered three genes in this family in 2000 and worked to understand them. Breton’s discovery of the fourth gene could help shed light on how this particular family of hormone receptors work and potential biomedical applications.

“My team is very excited about this discovery,” said Breton. “While our current research does not seek a cure for these diseases, it does give scientists a better understanding of how these types of genes work in all vertebrates and, hopefully, can lead to promising biomedical applications in the future.”

The UMF study used DNA analysis to examine all animals with these genes and found a fourth with the same DNA signature in a variety of fish species.

“This new gene was obviously hiding,” said Breton, “but we had to back up our conclusions with basic research and hours in the laboratory and months of extensive calculations.”

“The ‘aha moment’ happened in 2019 with me and two UMF students in the UMF science laboratory in Ricker Hall,” said Breton. “We found that based on our calculations, we had actually discovered a brand new gene and both students had exactly the same reaction: ‘Wow! I can’t wait to tell my mother! ‘”

“This amazing discovery by Dr. Breton and his team of student assistants demonstrate the real importance of university research at the UMF. We are so proud of his efforts and the educational commitment and dedication of his team to pursue what has the potential to change the way scientists study this family of genes and their effects on human diseases, “said Edward Serna, UMF President.

Four UMF students majoring in biology have been taking part in the research project led by the UMF with scholarship-financed assistant positions since 2019. These include: Anyssa Phaneuf, a senior from Manchester, New Hampshire; William Sampson Graduated from Windham 2021; Tamera True Graduated from Norridgewock’s Class of 2020 and Andrew Wilcox Graduated from Livermore Falls’ Class of 2021.

Phaneuf’s experience with Breton’s research helped her apply for and be accepted into the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP) at Harvard.

“I only started working on this project last year,” said Phaneuf. “I had to use new laboratory techniques that are not taught in class, and I learned some aspects of behind-the-scenes research that you don’t always think about as a student. Working on it even helped me with some of my coursework. I had better technique in my lab classes, I had a new perspective and understanding of the classroom projects, and it helped me improve my academic writing and presentation skills. “

“Working on this project is actually one of the reasons I changed my career plans. I originally planned to study medicine, but now I know I am aiming for a career in research and will therefore do a PhD. after graduating from UMF, ”said Phaneuf.

Additionally, Ilze Smidt von Bates and Benjamin Clifford from Southern Maine Community College 2021 were mentored by Breton with Maine INBRE Summer Research Fellowships. Other researchers on the project were Taylor Lipscomb and Casey Murray, who were college students at the University of Florida.

“When I started the project, Dr. Breton had already discovered the novel sreb3b gene, so of course I was excited to get started, ”said Sampson. “I had never done genomic research, quantitative polymerase chain reactions, in situ hybridizations, or participated in high-level scientific work. But I really enjoyed working in the Breton laboratory. I’ve witnessed so much of the real research process outside of the classroom. When I’m ready to apply to grad school, I have no doubt that my undergraduate research experience at UMF will give me a boost. “

Dr. Matthew DiMaggio, Assistant Professor of Aquaculture at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, was the key contributor to the project. All participants are published co-authors of the journal article.

The third year of research funding started this summer and will run until spring 2022. Breton and his team will be with Dr. DiMaggio and Chris Martyniuk, Associate Professor Dept. of Physiological Sciences, at the University of Florida, to continue this work. This research should provide more insight into how the receptor family works in fish and help support future research in humans.

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