Prof Receives $1.2 Million to Study Cells
to a $1.2 million grant from the Laura A. Katz, associate
professor of biological sciences, will spend the next five
years researching the evolutionary history of microbial cells.
According to Katz, her research project, titled “Reconstructing
Eukaryotic Phylogeny Through Multigene Analyses of Microbial
Eukaryotes,” is likely to contribute to wide-ranging
innovations in human healthcare, environmental stewardship
and in establishing biological principles.
With the NSF funds, Katz will lead a research team at Smith,
including numerous undergraduates, in the close examination
of the evolutionary relationships among 200 eukaryotic microbes.
(Eukaryotic cells, which contain nuclei, are distinguished
from bacterial cells, which lack nuclei.) Although we are
most familiar with larger eukaryotes such as plants, animals
and fungi, Katz explains, the bulk of eukaryotic diversity
is comprised of the microbial organisms that will be the subject
of her research.
Katz’s project is the largest evolutionary study of
eukaryotic microbes to date. NSF will invest a total of $3
million distributed among members of the research team.
(middle) with her students
Katz is the lead investigator on the project, which includes
collaborators David J. Patterson, of Marine Biology Laboratories
in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Donald E. Burgess, of the American
Type Culture Collection, a bio-resource center in Manassas,
Virginia; and Debashish Bhattacharya and John Logsdon, both
in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University
Many human diseases, including malaria and amoebic dysentery,
are caused by eukaryotic microbes, Katz says. “Understanding
the evolutionary history of disease-causing microbes will
yield important insights as physicians choose among drugs
to treat disease.”
the bulk of the production of earth’s oxygen is derived
from microbial activity in oceans. Katz's research will illuminate
the biological diversity of these microbes. Her study will
also shed new light on cellular innovations that arose during
the evolution of life on earth.
Most of Katz’s research on eukaryotic cells will take
place in her laboratory in Burton Hall. The college already
owns most of the equipment necessary for molecular studies
of microbial cells, she notes.
Katz involves numerous Smith undergraduates in her research.
She teaches courses on microbiology, evolutionary biology
and biological diversity.
Katz is also the recipient of two other NSF grants. In 2001,
she received a five-year, $412,000 CAREER Award from the foundation,
given to junior faculty members to support early career development.
And in 2002 she received a three-year, $217,600 collaborative
grant to study microbial diversity in oceans.