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New grants to support breakthrough discoveries

By Hannah Ashton

Four-dimensional tissue self-assembly, integrated river health and ultra-tiny spectrometers: The 2022 College of Science Research and Innovation Seed (SciRIS) award recipients will use collaboration to fill critical knowledge gaps across numerous scientific disciplines to drive real-world impact.

The SciRIS program funds projects based on collaborative research within the College of Science community and beyond. There are two tracks through the program: SciRIS (Stages 1-3) and the SciRIS individual investigator award (SciRIS-ii).

SciRIS Stages 1-3 funds teams in three stages of increasing funding to support training, research and capacity-building, accelerating work toward external funding opportunities. SciRIS-ii funds individual faculty to establish research relationships with external partners, enabling them to demonstrate the feasibility of their ideas and quickening the pace of scientific discovery.

SciRIS-ii Awardees

The following three scientists received SciRIS-ii awards: Bo Sun, Clayton Petsche and Ethan Minot.

Associate Professor of Physics Bo Sun’s research aims to lay the foundation for programmable four-dimensional tissue self-assembly. Current technologies have been unable to harness these naturally occurring processes to assemble dynamic tissue structures for biomedical and therapeutic applications. Four-dimensional tissue self-assembly is critical for many physiological processes including acute wound healing and in lethal tumor metastasis.

Sun and his collaborator, Yang Jiao from Arizona State University, will be building on eight years of collaborative research in the field of cell mechanics and cell migration that has resulted in eight publications.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Clayton Petsche will use his SciRIS grant to help three graduate students complete sub projects within the realm of arithmetic dynamical systems. The research will be entirely student-focused and will help establish their research credentials before entering the postdoctoral job market.

Professor of Physics Ethan Minot will use his award to bring ultra-miniaturized spectrometer technology to Oregon State and pursue follow-up opportunities.

In 2022, with co-authors from Finland, Minot was part of a study published in Science that resulted in a powerful, ultra-tiny spectrometer. Contributing to a field known as optical spectrometry, their discovery could improve everything from smartphone cameras to environmental monitoring.

Minot plans to bring the technology to Oregon to grow the new field of research.

SciRIS Stage 1 Awardees

Four groups of scientists received SciRIS Stage 1 awards up to $10K.

Associate Professor of Statistics Yuan Jiang, along with Anna Jolles, professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, received a SciRIS Stage 1 grant for a project which will help fill a knowledge gap and provide crucial tools to understand microbial community dynamics.

The team will develop a novel analytical pipeline that harnesses longitudinal microbiome data to define the ecological roles of host-associate microbes. Although the accumulation of microbial communities is essential to animal health, there are few statistical routes adequate for characterizing microbial community dynamics through time.

Integrative Biology Professor Anna Jolles and Carson College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Claudia Häse will use their SciRIS Stage 1 award to study eco-evolutionary host-bacterial-phage dynamics. Collaborating with a researcher from the University of Louisiana, the group will be using the Pacific oyster and shellfish pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus as a model system.

In a project entitled “Bioinformatics for integrated river health,” Integrative Biology Professors David Lytle and Anna Jolles, along with Justin Sanders from the Carson College of Veterinary Medicine, will bring together expertise across disciplines to provide an integrated approach to understanding river health. The group will combine expertise in bioinformatic and genetic methods for characterizing aquatic invertebrate communities, aquatic parasite and pathogen communities, and fish microbiomes. Samples will come from the lower Colorado River, an ecologically and culturally significant ecosystem.

Biochemistry and Biophysics Associate Professors David Hendrix and Colin Johnson, along with Professor of Chemistry Claudia Maier and Patrick Reardon, director of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility at Oregon State, received a SciRIS Stage 1 award to create a pipeline of computational and experimental methods for the prediction, identification and functional characterization of microproteins. Previously dismissed due to their small size, microproteins are now thought to play significant physiological roles including pathological roles in cancer progression.

Disease Mechanism and Prevention Fund

Researching Parkinson’s disease, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer received a grant from the College of Science Disease Mechanism and Prevention Fund for a project entitled “Why is a fly a good model to study my grandmother’s tremors?”

Similar to the SciRIS-ii, the fund is focused on assisting individual faculty efforts to establish research relationships with external partners for projects specifically related to health science.

Using fruit flies, Vrailas-Mortimer’s goal is to determine how a stress response protein protects against Parkinson’s-associated iron-induced oxidative damage. Parkinson’s affects over one million people in the U.S. and her research could provide the basis for future therapeutic strategies.