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September 7, 2017

Four Grants in Four Days

Kennesaw State researchers earn multiple NSF awards

Kennesaw State University’s Office of Research recorded a first recently: Four researchers garnered four grants over four business days.

“The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarding four grants to four different KSU researchers over four days is a really cool story for us,” said Jonathan McMurry, associate vice president for research and professor of chemistry. “It was almost surreal, where every day we were noticing a new grant coming in. It’s a very happy circumstance.”

Day One

The first NSF award of $118,840 went to Michael Van Dyke, associate professor of biochemistry, who described the focus of his research as the mechanism of action of restriction endonucleases.

“These are the enzymes that cleave to DNA,” Van Dyke said. “I hope to learn why certain DNA sequences are refractory or resistant to cleavage. This is part of the fundamental knowledge regarding restriction endonuclease function.”

Photo of Michael Van Dyke in his research lab

The potential impact of this research for humans and other organisms is immense because, according to Van Dyke, “restriction endonucleases are the basic tools for most all biotechnology – cloning, genetic engineering, agriculture, medicine, and so forth.”

Van Dyke says his work improving restriction endonucleases may one day directly impact our lives, either in the food we eat or the medicine we need.

Undergraduate researchers will have a chance to participate in this two-to-three-year research phase.

“Involving undergraduates in meaningful research is a major strength of our science program at Kennesaw State University,” he said.

Along with Van Dyke, researchers at the Biopolymer Characterization Core at Georgia Tech’s Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience are also working on the research.

Day Two

Next came news about a grant totaling $160,453 that Sigurdur Greipsson, associate professor of biology, will use to help get the lead out of polluted soils by improving the use of high-biomass producing crops (like grasses) through chemical manipulations.

“There is a strong link between resident soil pollution and the blood lead level in children,” said Greipsson. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently lowered its level of concern for acceptable blood lead levels. With this change, as many as 11.7 million children in the U.S. may be exposed to unacceptable levels of lead in soil.”

Photo of Sigurdur Greipsson, associate professor of biology, in his research lab

Exposure to even relatively low levels of lead has been shown to result in cognitive impairments, such as intelligence deficits, attention-related behavioral problems and late-onset of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as adverse cardiovascular, immunological neurological and endocrine effects.

Greipsson noted that pollution in soil is widespread, and that lead is toxic and has no biological role in our bodies. “This research project will yield new fundamental understanding of how plants avoid lead toxicity through symbiotic relationships with soil microorganisms. Also, we hope to learn how we can bio-engineer chemical applications to optimize soil remediation using plants and soil microorganisms.”

One of the unique aspects of Greipsson’s research is that the soil remediation technique could potentially be used to restore soils, and at the same time, the plant biomass could be used for biofuel production.

“The biomass of switchgrass that is harvested during phytoextraction could potentially be utilized as feedstock for producing biofuels such as ethanol,” he said. “During the process of phytoextraction, lead can be chemically extracted and collected. By linking the phytoextraction to biofuel production, potentially millions of acres of metal-contaminated soils worldwide could be turned into productive use.”

Greipsson’s co-researchers include another colleague from the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, associate professor of biology Thomas McElroy, and Marina Koether, professor of chemistry.

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