CSULB Student Receives Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award

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Summer University ProgramFruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) may seem like pests to most people, but their simple biologic structure makes them ideal hosts for a variety of scientific experiments.

For her work in identifying a fruit fly gene that can be useful in diabetes and other biological studies, Melissa Kaye Jones from Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) received the 2012 Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award at the 24th annual California State University Biotechnology Symposium held recently in Santa Clara. The CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) sponsors the statewide event.

The Long Beach resident earned her B.S. degree in biology with an option in cell and molecular biology and a certificate in biotechnology from CSULB.  She’s now working on her master of science in biology in the lab of Professor Lisa Klig, an expert in molecular genetics.  Jones co-authored her presentation with Klig and Associate Professor Elizabeth Eldon.

“Winning the CSUPERB Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award is an amazing feeling,” Jones said.  “This award is not only for the research I’ve done, but also celebrates the hard work and support from the other students in our lab and Dr. Klig.  She has played a vital role in my academic career and been an incredible mentor for me.  She truly cares for her students and wants them to succeed in everything they do, and we are greatly in her debt for that.”

Jones’ work focuses on an enzyme called myo-inositol oxygenase (MIOX) that helps break down a sugar, myo-inositol, which is important in many biological processes.  “MIOX is implicated in diabetes, but the mechanisms are largely unknown,” she said.  Scientists already found the MIOX gene in mice but not in fruit flies, until now.

“We have found a gene in fruit flies that codes for a protein which is 54 percent identical to the mouse MIOX protein and contains a number of features known to play a role in the functioning of the MIOX protein,” Jones said.  “Using RNA interference technology, we were able to show that a decrease in the CG6910 protein in the fruit flies rendered them unable to survive with inositol as their sole carbon and energy source.  This establishes that CG6910 is the MIOX gene in fruit flies and so fruit flies can be used as a model to study the role of inositol catabolism in diabetes.” Catabolism is the process of breaking down molecules that releases energy in organisms.

The Eden Award honors the late Don Eden, a professor at San Francisco State University who served on the CSUPERB board.  Recipients receive a $750 award toward their education plus up to $1,000 for travel expenses to present their research at a national or international scientific meeting.

The award will aid Jones in her goal of eventually earning a Ph.D. and conducting gene translational studies in order to become a biomedical researcher.

“The CSULB master’s program in biology offers students the opportunity of receiving a high-quality degree while teaching them the skills necessary to succeed as Ph.D. candidates or to enter into industry,” Jones added.  “I knew I would have a lot of options once I received my master’s degree.”

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