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Bowdoin College Shares in $18-Million INBRE Grant for Biomedical Research and Training

BRUNSWICK, ME – Bowdoin College is among 13 institutions sharing in a federal grant worth about $18 million to strengthen biomedical research and training in Maine. Bowdoin’s share is nearly $800,000, most of which is to be disbursed over five years.

The announcement was made by the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, the founder and leader of the statewide network. It’s part of the INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) program, established 18 years ago and covering 23 states and Puerto Rico.

The grant, awarded every five years, will fund the renewal of the Maine INBRE program, whose members include the University of Maine and The Jackson Laboratory, as well as undergraduate institutions like Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby Colleges, College of the Atlantic, and others. “The renewal will allow us to continue a very successful program to create biomedical research and research training opportunities across the state, and especially among our undergraduate partner institutions,” says James A. Coffman, director of the Maine INBRE program and associate professor at MDI Biological Laboratory. “Maine INBRE provides opportunity where it does not otherwise exist,” he added.

Josiah Little Professor of Natural Sciences Patsy Dickinson spearheads Bowdoin’s grant application process. “To me, the importance of the grant is the ability it gives us to support the level of student research that we have going on here. Every summer we typically have eight to ten students conducting research funded by INBRE.”

Furthermore, she adds, much of the work done during these summer fellowships forms the basis for projects undertaken throughout the academic year, often as senior honors projects. “This grant lets the students undertake research at a much higher level than they could otherwise do.”

The official title of the grant, she said, is Comparative Functional Genomics, “which refers to the use of model systems to look at health-related biomedical problems, mostly at the molecular level.” This summer, the INBRE grant is supporting eight student projects using a variety of systems, including zebra fish, fruit flies (or Drosophila), lobster, yeast, and plants.

“While some of this research may one day contribute to the development of new medical applications,” says Dickinson, “the INBRE-funded projects are more about research training than doing frontline research, so we also send students to national conferences and bring guest speakers here. Another opportunity funded through INBRE is an annual two-week residential research experience at the MDI Biological Lab that we take students to every spring break.”

While the biggest portion of the grant funds student research, there is also money for new equipment, says Dickinson. “The biggest thing we’re getting this time is a new, updated bioanalyzer. It’s a machine that enables you to look at the quality and quantity of RNA and DNA extracted from organisms. This new model will be much more student-friendly.”

Bowdoin faculty will also benefit from the grant. The award includes nearly $78,000 for research training faculty awards, which are distributed over a three-year period. Professor of Biology Michael Palopoli is to receive funding for his research project, titled Evolution of Gene Regulation Within and Between Species of Drosphila.