JAX receives NIH award to train next generation of biologists
By Joyce Peterson
Funds will support programs to train Ph.D. candidates and postdocs in developmental genetics.
Alexander Fine is seated at a large computer monitor, crunching numbers. He says, “I have tons of data to go through and make sense of!” The second-year predoctoral student is enrolled in the joint Jackson Laboratory (JAX)-Tufts University mammalian genetics Ph.D. program, to help him gain training in computational genetics while doing research in the laboratory of Assistant Professor Gregory Carter, Ph.D.
“Graduate students are critical contributors to my research program,” Carter says. “Students are often quick to learn and apply new computational approaches, and their ability to carry this expertise forward in their careers is a great advantage in modern bioscience, even when their careers are directed toward bench-based science.”
In collaboration with Senior Research Scientist Mary Ann Handel, Ph.D., Carter is building complex genetic models to gain understanding of meiosis and meiotic recombination — vital processes in the very first stages of mammalian development.
In a few weeks Fine will move from the big computer screen into Handel’s lab, building his skills in collecting samples, running gels, sorting cells and other bench-research tasks.
Fine is one of two dozen predoctoral students who are receiving their Ph.D. training in mammalian genetics and genomic medicine in partnership with degree-granting programs at the University of Connecticut Health Center, Tufts University, and The University of Maine. Predocs take advantage of the research environment at JAX for laboratory rotations, to conduct dissertation research, and for short-term collaborative projects with JAX faculty at the headquarters campus in Bar Harbor, Maine, and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn.
JAX has recently received a five-year grant totaling $872,924 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute for Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, to support programs to train Fine and other Ph.D. candidates, as well as postdoctoral associates in developmental genetics. The principal investigator of the award, Professor, Senior Scientific Advisor to the President and Janeway Distinguished Chair Robert Braun, Ph.D., notes that these are highly competitive training grants given to a small select group of programs nationwide, and that the award to JAX validates the highly quality of training available to students and postdoctoral fellows at JAX.
Currently 54 postdoctoral associates conduct research at the two JAX campuses, and the Laboratory is recruiting an additional 10 positions. Braun comments, “For Ph.D. graduate students and postdocs, JAX offers a uniquely collaborative environment that fosters interdisciplinary ‘team science’ with no departmental barriers, as well as superior scientific support services, unparalleled mouse and genomic resources and partnerships with leading universities and medical centers.”
JAX Ph.D. predocs and postdocs can also take advantage of the Laboratory’s numerous courses and conferences focused on genetics, genomics and biomedicine, including The Whole Scientist course, specifically designed to give early-career scientists the professional skills they will need to run their own research programs.
“Alex exemplifies what we do so well at JAX,” Handel comments, “in terms of training graduate students in developmental genetics. He is thoroughly grounded in genetics and computation and bringing these skills to a developmental problem of how germ cells activate processes that lead to the formation of chromosomally normal gametes, sperm and eggs. He is great in the lab, not only honing his bench skills, but also promoting discussions and floating ideas that lead him and us down new research directions. These attributes epitomize the essence of JAX and the strengths of our graduate training program.”
She adds that Fine “also gives generously of his time and organizational skills to promote the social environment that makes JAX a great place for trainees.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to lead my own research project while being a part of a large, multi-lab collaborative project," Fine notes. "I feel strongly that this collaborative, integrative training model will provide me with the skills that I will need to lead my own scientific research in the world of modern genetics.”