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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell given $350,000 NIH biology research grant

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In 2010, neuroscientists at Grinnell studied synapses. While it may not have the same ring, Grinnell’s neuroscience department is going places.

“There’s definitely an element of exploration,” Professor Clark Lindgren, Biology, said of his research.

The department recently received a $351,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to further their research on synaptic transmission.

Though Lindgren, Zheng Su ’11, Xingjie Zhang ’13 and Kathryn Walder ’12 may not know exactly what their research will discover, they are sure that they will add to the relatively little known about certain aspects of synaptic transmission.

“The big picture is that we hope to discover some properties of how synapses work. What I think is particularly exciting about the kind of research that we do is that we’re exploring the natural world and it’s inside us… It’s the stuff we use to think with,” Lindgren said.

There may also be practical applications to their research.

“We hope we can give some insight into the reasons for [muscular distrophy] or some therapeutic [alleviations] for its symptoms,” Lindgren said.

The research will first focus on completing research Lindgren and Su started on auto-modulation, a process that occurs at all chemical synapses and can function peripherally on its own. Su is also trying to get images of the modulation.

Next, Lindgren and Walder will work together to discover more about a type of neurotransmitter: a peptide called NAG.

“Despite the fact that it’s reported to be the most abundant peptide in the mammalian central nervous system, relatively little comparatively is known about it,” Lindgren explained.

Their research will also focus on the role of glial cells in the body, which scientists hypothesize act as the metaphoric glue between a neuron and a muscular cell to allow for better synaptic transmission. Lindgren and his team hope to pinpoint the role of glial cells in neurotransmission. Walder adapted a technique used on frogs that was discovered by a researcher at USC to use on the lizard cells.

“We’re basically killing these cells,” Lindgren said. “In biology, if you’re trying to figure out how stuff works, you go in and you break it, then you go in and you figure out what’s wrong.” He often uses this technique in his research.

Lindgren and his team want to hire a full time technician sometime within the next year. He anticipates that he will have a hard time overseeing all the new research that the grant is facilitating. During the school year, Lindgren said it will also be nice to have someone in the lab who can keep things going even when his student team is busy with homework of their own.

Grinnell professors have traditionally focused more on their curriculum than their research, but Lindgren thinks the recent influx of grant money will increase the amount of research done at the college.

“The name Grinnell College will be better known, and that will have trickle down effects. The more people who hear what’s going on here, well, that benefits everybody,” Lindgren said.

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