Professor of Biology Tamara Davis has received a nearly $400,000 National Science Foundation grant that will extend her research on genomic imprinting through July 2023.
The majority of genes in mammals are expressed from copies inherited from both parents, but a small number—called imprinted genes—are only expressed from one of the two copies. Davis’ research focuses on DNA methylation, which plays a leading role in directing differential expression of the mother’s versus the father’s copy of imprinted genes. This project will examine the mechanisms responsible for maintenance of DNA methylation at imprinted genes to better understand how distribution of this DNA modification on the two parental copies results in their different expression patterns.
"It is important to understand how methylation is acquired and maintained because normal patterns of mammalian growth and development are perturbed if the expression of imprinted genes is dysregulated," explains Davis.
The grant provides paid research opportunities for Bryn Mawr undergraduate students, who will be conducting and critically evaluating scientific research under the direct supervision and mentorship of Davis during both the summer and the academic year. In addition, there is specific funding to support students in Bryn Mawr’s STEM Posse program, which fosters the education of a diverse cohort of students from urban public high schools.
Each undergraduate research student is assigned an independent project that is aligned with the overall goals of Davis’ research program.
“The students learn to be responsible for their work and they also become broadly trained in a variety of experimental techniques that researchers need to employ in order to answer biological questions,” says Davis.
Students in the lab also attend weekly lab meetings, at which they either present their current data or discuss an article from the current primary literature that is related to their work. All undergraduate research students present their results to the Bryn Mawr College community annually; additionally, seniors write and present a thesis based on their original research.
“Engagement in this sort of research at an undergraduate level is how we prepare our students to be the next generation of research scientists,” says Davis. “Students who perform independent research projects gain more than a skill set; they also gain self-confidence as they learn to implement experiments and present their data in oral and written formats.”
Since May 2000, 61 students have conducted research in Davis’ laboratory, including seven students who worked in her lab during the 2019-2020 academic year. Thirty-two of her students have presented their research at local and regional undergraduate research symposia, and 18 of these students have won prizes for their posters. Furthermore, student work is regularly presented at scientific meetings and is incorporated into manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals. Thus far, 31 undergraduate research students have been co-authors on eight of Davis’ publications.
Of the students who have worked in Davis’ lab and have graduated from Bryn Mawr, 91 percent have continued in the life sciences: 22 went to graduate school, 21 went to medical school, two went to veterinary school, one went to nursing school, and four are currently working as research technicians with the intent to pursue a career as a research scientist or as a medical doctor.
The Bryn Mawr College Department of Biology has a long history of providing research training for undergraduate students in biology. The participation of undergraduates in active research projects is encouraged through supervised research (Biology 400/403) as well as through a summer research program in the sciences; on average, 60 percent of biology and biochemistry and molecular biology majors conduct research on campus.