Roanoke College

Biology professor collaborates with international research team

  • Biology professor collaborates with international research team

  • 10/05/10
  • SALEM, Va. - Dr. Marilee Ramesh, associate professor of biology at Roanoke College, is part of an international team of researchers whose work recently was featured on the cover of a leading scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article "Insights into evolution of multicellular fungi from the assembled chromosomes of the mushroom Coprinopsis cinerea (Coprinus cinereus)" reported on the team's multi-year work on the genome assembly and annotation of the mushroom's DNA. A genome is the complete set of an organism's genetic material.

    Ramesh spent a recent sabbatical as a Visiting Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There she worked on one component of the genome project, characterizing the repetitive elements in the DNA sequence of the mushroom. The distribution of repetitive elements, in conjunction with protein coding sequences and patterns of chromosomal activity, can begin to tell how the genome functions as a whole entity to create an organism.

    Ramesh says, "My sabbatical really allowed me to focus on learning new technology associated with annotating genomic sequence. Being able to work with this technology not only allowed me to contribute to the genome project by conducting the repetitive element analysis, but also to develop teaching exercises for my genetic students." 

    This fall, Ramesh and two assistants will continue analyzing these DNA sequences. Sydney Webb '11, of Hillsville, and Marguerite Ballou '13, of Covington, are both part of the College's Undergraduate Research Assistant Program, which allows students to work with members of the faculty on original research projects. These projects generally result in publication in a professional journal and/or presentation at a professional conference. Webb also worked with Ramesh as a 2009 Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges' Summer Scholar.

    Ramesh, Webb and Ballou will concentrate on discovering the function of the genes that have been identified through the genome sequencing project. "Over the next decade," Ramesh explains, "work will focus on characterizing the function of all of this information. That is one reason it has been so exciting to be involved with this project-it opens the door to a whole new array of research projects.' 

    A consortium from 28 institutions worked on the genome project and included researchers from the University of North Carolina, the University of California, the University of Oxford and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Roanoke College is the only liberal arts college represented in the group.

    The result of the consortium's work was to provide an invaluable resource for the scientific community to use in future research projects, as now the mushroom's genome sequence and annotations are searchable through a Web-based interface. "I was thrilled to be able to interact with collaborators from around the world," Ramesh says, "and to contribute to a resource that will be used by the research community over the next decade." 

    Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just 280 colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review names Roanoke as one of the "best in the Southeast" and U.S. News & World Report includes Roanoke on its "Up-and-coming National Liberal Arts Colleges" list.

    For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.
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