Research Areas

Larry Jacobs on Computational Biology and the SSP

Larry Jacobs, SSP '15, describes how he was introduced to computational biology and his experiences in the Summer Student Program.

We are an independent, not-for-profit research institution. Our work is dedicated to the betterment of human health through research in mammalian genetics. Below are general descriptions of research areas pursued here and available to summer students. Please also review our research areas and faculty listing to learn more about the lab where you may conduct your research.

Science Writing and Communication

The Science Writing and Communication Intern works between our Digital Communications and Creative groups. The internship provides ample opportunity to develop writing, editing, and digital media skills and an ability to convey scientific ideas to a general audience. The Intern’s potential responsibilities include written profiles of Jax faculty and students, articles on current research, social media and blog posts, photography, and production of short form videos. Interns also have the opportunity to write for both internal and local publications, learn from highly regarded science writers at the annual Press Week, and pursue projects of their own design.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Bioinformatics and computational biology are use computing resources to solve biological problems that are too large or complex for the human mind to solve. Bioinformatics involves the application of computers and databases to the storage and retrieval of biological information, and computational biology develops software applications and uses statistics to address specific biological questions.

We have expanded our research base over the last ten years, particularly in these two fields. Former students have defined and searched for gene deserts, compiled databases for oncogenes, and mined databases for various disease-related phenotypes.

Cancer

Cancer biology research deals with the initiation and progression of the disease. Studies involve both individual loci related to cancer onset and genome-wide phenomena. Cancer studies range from investigating basic immunological pathways and their connection with the disease to developing or characterizing specific mouse models of cancer. The Laboratory was founded in 1929 as one of the first cancer research institutes in the United States. Research contributes to our understanding of various types of the disease, including mammary, ovarian, and prostate cancers, as well as leukemia, and AIDS.

Previous Summer Student work in the field includes development of models using CRISPR/Cas9, examination of the mechanisms of metastasis, exploring the effectiveness of a treatment drug, and comparing normal and cancer cells’ microRNA expression patterns.

Developmental Biology and Aging

Developmental biology is the study of organism growth, from conception until the end of embryogenesis. Organismal growth and development continue with time, and eventually these changes fall into the studies of aging and senescence.

Unraveling the blueprint for mammalian development from conception to death is the focus of several research groups at Jackson. Study of reproductive disorders, fertilization, embryology, and aging are the broad categories that encompass this work. Investigations range from developing culture conditions associated with measuring egg development and in vitro fertilization, to piecing together gene pathways in embryogenesis. The study of senescence encompasses such subjects as the onset of disease associated with old age.

Recently, summer students have studied female reproductive senescence, genetics of spermatogenesis, and the differences between germ cell and embryonic development.

Genomics

Genomics studies focus on whole-genome phenomena in an organism. Research involves examination of multiple loci interactions as opposed to single gene activity.

Virtually all the research done at Jackson contains a prominent genomics component. In addition to the study of disease models, there are more academic ventures being pursued in the study of genomics. These range from developing new techniques in molecular biology to Human Genome-related projects to gene mapping and elucidating chromosome structure.

Immunology and Infectious Disease

The immune system is one of the more dynamic and complex systems in mammals, necessary to protect us from infectious disease. Genetic pathways and environmental stimuli interact, triggering and maintaining a defense system to guard the health of an entire organism. In conjunction with the immune system, hematopoiesis, or the development of blood cells, is an essential component to maintaining health.

The genetic basis for immune function including response to infectious disease can be studied using defined mouse models and in clinical studies.

Past students have undertaken such tasks as developing mouse models for immunological studies, observed mutations involved with platelet production, examined the frequency of hematopoietic stem cell mutations, and examined composition of gut microbiome in both young and aging human and mouse samples.

Metabolic Diseases

Several million people worldwide are affected by obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, gallstone formation, hypertension, and glaucoma. Although these diseases are treatable, they still take a toll on society and individuals in terms of health care and emotional and physical costs.

Deciphering the genetic basis for these diseases is the focus for some members of JAX staff. Using breeding schemes, transgenic (introducing a gene or part of a gene into an animal), knock-out technology (effectively inactivating a gene through genetic manipulation), and gene editing (CRISPR-Cas9) JAX mouse models are providing a wealth of information to scientists in the field.

In past summers, interns have searched for genes regulating HDL production and developed a treadmill to test for various metabolic disorders.

Neurobiology and Sensory Deficits

It is estimated that thousands of genes are specifically expressed in the mammalian nervous system. Their interactions and pathways are phenomenally complex, ranging from brain development to daily central nervous system function to contributing to psychological states and behavior.

Neuroscience research at JAX involves discovering gene mutations that can cause debilitating central nervous system diseases. The genetic basis for epilepsy, glaucoma, and many other sensory disorders, as well as elucidating the function of specific cell types in the brain, are foci for JAX investigators.

Previous summer students have studied such varied subjects as neurodevelopment and congenital stationary night blindness.