COSAM Researchers are Recipients of $440,000+ Grant to Study Aging, Develop New Vertebrate Model and Train 50 Undergraduate Students
Dr. Tonia Schwartz, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), is the primary investigator on a $448,345 National Institutes of Health (NIH-R15) grant, A new vertebrate model to study the role of growth factors IGF1 and IGF2 in sex dimorphism of longevity and aging, to investigate the role of growth factors in the aging process using brown anole lizards, and to understand how the males and females age differently.
“This grant allows us to study the entire life span of brown anole lizards that will provide a new model for aging to complement the current research using standard vertebrate biomedical models, mice and zebrafish,” explained Dr. Schwartz.
They will be conducting research at both organismal and cellular levels, plus involving more than 50 undergraduate students. The research includes adjusting the levels of the specific hormones IGF1 and IGF2, Insulin-like Growth Factors (IGF) to test both their early and late life effects.
“From research on mice and humans, we know that levels of IGF1 is correlated with the process of aging,” Dr. Schwartz added. “Since adult mice only produce IGF1 and adult lizards produce both IGF1 and IGF2 similar to humans, developing the lizard as a new model for aging will allow us to study the role of the IGF2 hormone in parallel with IGF1. We think this can make a significant impact on aging research.”
In the lab, the researchers will be adjusting the hormone levels in the lizards to determine if they can alter the process of aging in a sex-specific manner. At the cellular level, researchers will be studying the aging process in cell culture to determine the sex-specific differences from cells lines started from young and from old lizards.
A postdoctoral fellow from Dr. Schwartz’s lab, Dr. Aaron Reedy, is also conducting an aging study with lizards in a wild population for comparison with what happens in the lab.
More than 50 undergraduate students will have an opportunity to participate in the research project through Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURES) and as research assistants working in Drs. Schwartz and Graze’s research labs.
In the Classroom
This research will also have a direct application in the classroom at Auburn University. Both Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Graze will be elevating the student experience and providing biomedical training in COSAM classes through the CUREs.
In Dr. Schwartz’s Functional Genomics class, undergraduate students will be analyzing and interpreting genetic expression data utilizing the Alabama Super Computer.
Dr. Graze will be giving students the opportunity to have hands-on research experience in her Recombinant DNA class. Students will learn how to use gene-editing techniques to modify and produce in vitro proteins related to growth and aging.
In the Lab
Undergraduate Researchers will help take blood samples, collect hormone and genetic data, and conduct whole animal measurements of aging on the lizards including bite strength and endurance on a miniature treadmill.
Additionally, three graduate students will be conducting research throughout the study. From Dr. Schwartz’s lab, Abby Beatty will be studying the effects of the hormones in the lizards, and Amanda Clark (Dr. Schwartz’s Lab) and Ruksana Amin (Dr. Graze’s lab) will be studying the effects of the hormones using lizard cell culture.
The grant will run through July 31, 2022.