Criscitiello one of first to participate in Texas A&M–CAPES Collaborative Research Grant Program

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Dr. Michael Criscitiello, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), was one of six principal investigators at Texas A&M University who was awarded nearly $300,000 ($50,000 for each principal investigator) in research funding through the newly established Texas A&M–CAPES Collaborative Research Grant Program.

Dr. Michael Criscitiello
Dr. Michael Criscitiello

Together, this international team of scientists will be studying the genes important in the adaptive immune system of Amazonian manatees. This species of freshwater manatee is threatened, and this initial study will provide information about its immune system’s ability to defend against infectious pathogens, as well as the status of its population diversity-both crucial elements in the efforts to better manage these mammals.Criscitiello is collaborating with Dr. Leonardo Sena and Dr. Maria Paula Schneider of the Federal University of Pará in Belém, Brazil. The Texas A&M research team also includes Dr. Loren Skow from the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, and veterinary student Ashley Heard-Ganir, who is participating in the Veterinary Medical Scientist Training Program.

“We will also be comparing this species’ immune genes to those of the West Indian manatee and related terrestrial mammals such as elephants and armadillos,” said Crisicitiello. “This will give us a better understanding to how these critical genes have evolved in different species to defend mammals in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater habitats.”

Criscitiello recently earned honors with the 2014 CVM Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award, the 2013 Southeastern Conference Visiting Scholar Travel Award, and the 2011 Montague Center for Teaching Excellence Scholar Award.

“Dr. Criscitiello’s work in immunology and microbiology has resulted in significant discoveries in the disciplines of genomics and evolutionary biology,” said Dr. Linda Logan, head of the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. “This research award will facilitate the college’s ability to share the expertise of Dr. Criscitiello with international collaborators in Brazil. This advancement of knowledge coincides nicely with the global one health initiative, as it will have a positive impact on animals and the environment.”

The Texas A&M–CAPES Collaborative Research Grant program is open to researchers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The lead Texas A&M principal investigator (PI) must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty and have served as a PI or co-PI on a competitively awarded state, federal, or major foundation grant in the past five years. The lead Brazilian PI must have served as a PI or co-PI on a competitively awarded CAPES research grant in the past five years. The awards are for two years.

“We are so proud of Dr. Criscitiello and all the collaborators on this project,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the CVM. “The opportunity to share knowledge through a global interdisciplinary initiative such as this extends the concept of one health across borders and advances our understanding of the relationship between population health and environmental health.”

The other Texas A&M awardees are:

  • Bradford P. Wilcox, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Antonio Celso Dantas Antonino, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.
  • Dr. Mladen Kezunovic, the Eugene E. Webb Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Glauco Nery Taranto of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.
  • Courtney Schumacher, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Geosciences and Luiz Augusto Toledo Machado, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais/Centro de Previsao de Tempo e Estudos Climaticos.
  • Paul de Figueiredo, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and Renato de Lima Santos, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
  • Susanne Talcott, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Luciana Azevedo, Universidade Federal de Alfenas.

Criscitiello also serves as a member of the Interdisciplinary Faculty of Genetics, the Interdisciplinary Faculty of Toxicology, the Whole Systems Genomics Initiative, the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Interdisciplinary Program, and the Professional Program in Biotechnology. Most recently, he assumed a joint appointment in the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology in the College of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center. Criscitiello also holds memberships in the International Society of Developmental and Comparative Immunologists, the American Association of Immunologists, the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, and the Society of Mucosal Immunology. He has authored or co-authored more than 25 peer-reviewed publications and is engaged in three ongoing, externally-funded research projects (National Science Foundation, USDA Formula Animal Health, Instituto Nacional de Pesca) and has successfully completed projects funded by the USDA Formula Animal Health and two by the National Institutes of Health.

Winter Wins National Research Award from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Dr. Randolph Winter, DVM, a veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has been named one of two 2014 ACVIM Resident Research Award Winners by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) that are working on projects funded by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation.

Dr. Randolph Winter
Dr. Randolph Winter

“We are so proud of Dr. Winter on this achievement,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the CVM. “This recognition is indicative of our high caliber faculty and the talented interns and residents we have recruited to Texas A&M. The discoveries they make in our robust clinical research program will continue to improve the quality of life for humans and animals alike.”Winter is working with his faculty mentor, Dr. Ashley Saunders, associate professor and veterinary cardiologist in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, to investigate improved methods of treatment of mitral valve disease in dogs. Their project, titled “Biologic Variability of N-Terminal Pro-Brain Natriuretic Peptide and Cardiac Troponin I in Health Dogs and Dogs with Myxomatous Mitral Valve Disease”, is aimed at identifying important biological markers of the disease.

Funding for the project came from the AKC Canine Health Foundation that supports high impact canine health research.

“CHF is committed to funding research that helps move canine health forward,” said Dr. Shila Nordone, CHF’s Chief Scientific Officer.  “[Both winners] represent our commitment to supporting young clinician scientists, and we expect that these two men will be among the next generation of key opinion leaders in veterinary medicine.”

The prestigious ACVIM Research Award is presented annually and recognizes ten active researchers who are on the cutting edge of veterinary medicine.

Texas A&M researchers help curb rise of contamination in leafy vegetables

The likelihood that a crop of leafy greens will be contaminated by E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination, before harvest is strongly influenced by both farm management and environmental factors, according to a study spotlighted on the cover of the new issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The work, led by Dr. Renata Ivanek and her lab in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), was a collaborative effort between researchers at Texas A&M University, Colorado State University, Texas Tech University, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Spinach field

“This study exemplifies the One Health approach to research, as it highlights the link between animal, human, and environmental health,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Dr. Ivanek’s work will help the food industry provide safe products by accelerating biomedical research discoveries, enhancing public health efficacy, and expeditiously expanding the scientific knowledge base. We appreciate her excellent work and look forward to future advances in this focused area of food safety.”

Produce safety concerns have been on the rise due to large, multi-state outbreaks of illness attributed to contaminated produce, including spinach and other leafy greens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1998 and 2008, of the 68,000 illnesses in foodborne outbreaks assigned to one of the 17 considered food commodities, 13 percent were associated with leafy greens, topped only by poultry at 17 percent. Not only were leafy greens responsible for a significant portion of outbreaks and food product recalls, but the number of illnesses thought to have been caused by leafy greens was on the rise, jumping from 6 percent between 1998 and 1999 to 11 percent between 2006 and 2008.

In this study, the research team cross-referenced environmental data with information from participating farms in multiple test areas. Then, the team determined how three groups of factors-farm management, location, and weather-affect spinach contamination with
E. coli. The team studied spinach samples from 12 farms in Colorado and Texas and compared variables including the local temperature, precipitation, wind speed, soil characteristics, proximity to roads and water bodies, and such farm management practices as the farm workers’ hygiene and manure application practices.

“This study would not have been possible without the help and support of the spinach growers who participated,” Ivanek said. “I hope that our findings will be of use to them and the produce grower industry as a whole.”

Overall, the study found that farm management, location, and weather factors should be considered jointly in developing agricultural methods and interventions that reduce the threat of
E. coli contamination at the pre-harvest level. The odds of spinach contamination decreased to approximately 1 in 17 with implementation of good hygiene practices for farm workers, but they increased to approximately 4 in 1 for every millimeter increase in the average amount of rain in the month before harvest. Furthermore, applying manure fertilizer on the field increased the odds of contamination to approximately 52 in 1.

“Hygiene practices and fertilizers used are relatively easy to change,” Ivanek said. “The challenge, however, will be to use the information about how rainfall affects produce safety into an intervention, or plan, that growers could implement on a daily basis.”

“As consumers, we all depend on producers, food handlers, and food safety regulators to ensure the food we eat is safe, especially foods that are consumed raw,” said Dr. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, head of the VIBS department. “In order to increase food safety, legislators and food producers need objective evidence about sources of contamination.  Dr. Ivanek’s group provides scientific evidence that will inform farm managers about where improvements can be made before harvest to help reduce contamination of spinach with E. coli and pathogens.  While it may seem intuitive that farm worker hygiene can be a source of bacterial contamination of raw leafy greens, it was an unproven concept until this careful epidemiologic study from Dr. Ivanek’s group.  This is an excellent example of the contributions of veterinary epidemiologists to the improvement of human health and the food industry.”

The study, financed by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-AFRI) program, was published in the April 2014 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. “This research is an excellent example of colleagues from various disciplines working synergistically to solve universal health and well-being issues,” said Dr. Mike Chaddock, assistant dean for One Health and strategic initiatives at the CVM.

Texas A&M Project Hoping To End Alarming Decline Of The Bobwhite Quail

COLLEGE STATION – The iconic bobwhite quail, a favorite among hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike throughout the United States, has literally flown the coop – its numbers have been decreasing alarmingly for decades, but a groundbreaking project led by a team of Texas A&M University researchers could prove to be a big move toward understanding historic and future bobwhite population trends.

Bobwhite Quail
Photo of Bobwhite Quail

The project, which took two years to complete, also involved colleagues from the University of Missouri (Drs. Jerry Taylor and Jared Decker), Texas A&M AgriLife Research (Drs. Charles Johnson and Dale Rollins), Texas A&M’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences (Dr. Markus Peterson), and two private-industry scientists (Dr. Scot E. Dowd and Paul M. Seabury).Dr. Chris Seabury and research associates (Yvette Halley and Eric Bhattarai), along with members of the Schubot Exotic Bird
Health Center
(Drs. Ian Tizard, Donald Brightsmith) at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences have completed the first-ever draft genome assembly for a wild bobwhite quail named Pattie-Marie, and their work has been published in the current issue of the scientific journal PLOS

“By sequencing and assembling the bobwhite quail genome, the team produced the most comprehensive resource currently available for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in the bobwhite,” Seabury says.

Dr. Chris Seabury
Dr. Chris Seabury

One of the most prized American hunting birds, and a cultural icon among outdoor enthusiasts, the bobwhite quail has undergone a mysterious decline that has been documented for more than 50 years.  Once present by the millions in the Midwest, South and Southwest, bobwhite numbers are down as much as 80 percent in some areas.

In Oklahoma, declining bobwhite quail numbers are especially alarming, with one study relating that decline to the number of quail hunters, which has dropped from 111,000 in 1986 to only 30,000 last year.

The bird was recently named the No.1 bird in decline in North America by the Audubon Society.

In Texas, equally serious declines have also been noted.  According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department figures, the bobwhite quail has declined every year since 1981.

At present, there appears to be no single or specific reason for the decline. Loss of natural habitat, changes in land use, pesticides, the potential for bird diseases, and even climate change have all been mentioned, but no definitive explanation has been discovered for the quail decline.

“Our study is important because prior to this, we had no ability to use whole-genome technologies to monitor levels of genetic diversity over time, define the genetic relationships among existing populations, or draw important inferences regarding bobwhite physiological interactions with their environment,” Seabury explains.

“We now have a formal resource for studying the bird and identifying new or perhaps even more specific reasons for its serious decline.  This resource gives us a way to look at new population and management strategies, but also a means to conduct very detailed molecular studies focusing on ecotoxicology, reproduction, and physiology.

“Now we can peel back new layers of science to thoroughly look at many different levels of the quail problem, including the utilization of whole-genome information for monitoring modern genetic diversity, reconstructing historic population trends, and even considering genetic similarity in relation to the translocation of wild bobwhites to suitable habitats.”

The study was funded by private donations from Joe Crafton, members of Park Cities Quail, and the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation.


Chris Seabury

(979) 845-2720

Keith Randall

(979) 945-4644

Computed Tomography Image Selected for Journal Cover

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Medical imaging saves lives. Mammograms find breast cancer, ultrasounds show the extent of injuries after an accident, and MRIs detect brain aneurysms. Diagnostic imaging is also an increasingly important tool in veterinary medicine.

Dr. Ashley Saunders's dog
Dr. Ashley Saunders examines a dog

The dog’s case was highlighted in a recent issue of the Journal of Veterinary Cardiology. Due to the unique aspects of the case; successful treatment; and the overall clarity and quality of the accompanying images, one of the three dimensional reconstructed images of the heart defect was selected as the journal cover.When a canine patient with a heart murmur was referred to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), a team led by Dr. Ashley Saunders used a computed tomography (CT) scanner and a software program to create a three dimensional model of the patient’s heart. The images were used to help the team develop a detailed treatment plan for a complex problem: correcting an uncommon heart defect that was causing the murmur and associated health problems.

“The images allowed us to visualize the dog’s anatomy, identify the abnormalities, and make quick decisions about his surgical plan,” said Saunders, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). “The information from these images helped us perform a successful procedure that resulted in an excellent outcome for the patient.”

“At Texas A&M, we work to put the very best tools in the experienced hands of our clinicians,” said Dr. Eleanor Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Our Diagnostic Imaging and Cancer Treatment Center is a leading-edge facility that enhances our ability to treat difficult cases and to provide an advanced level of care. The article and cover photo are a tribute to Dr. Saunders and to our excellent cardiology team. The collaborations they establish, and the advanced technology they use in their daily patient care, allows them to make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve.”

Journal cover featuring the CT image
Journal cover featuring the CT image

The CT scanner used for the angiogram study is housed within the
Diagnostic Imaging and Cancer Treatment Center at the CVM, one of the only facilities of its kind. The 3D reconstruction was performed with software at the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS). Access to these resources and this technology aids veterinarians at the CVM in providing the very best patient care and saving animals’ lives.

“Being featured on the journal’s cover is a notable accomplishment,” Dr. Sandee Hartsfield, professor and head of VSCS noted. “Only a limited number of submitted papers are recognized with a cover image, and both the articles and the images must be of the highest quality.”

Gaitedness of Horses Found Across the World

COLLEGE STATION, TX – The smooth movement of gaited horses is caused by a genetic mutation that can be found across the world, according to a recent study.


Icelandic Horse in flying pace.
Icelandic Horse in flying pace. The pacing horse moves the two legs on the same side of the body in unison. Photo: Freyja Imsland.

The paper, “Worldwide frequency distribution of the ‘Gait keeper’ mutation in the DMRT3 gene,” was published Tuesday in the journal Animal Genetics.

“We have previously demonstrated that a single mutation in the DMRT3 gene has a large impact on gaitedness in horses, and it was therefore named ‘Gait keeper,'” said Dr. Leif Andersson, one of the authors of the article and a Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study Faculty Fellow collaborating with researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). This gene codes for a protein in a specific subset of neurons in the spinal cord that coordinates the movements of the animal’s legs. The mutated version of the gene causes a truncation of the DMRT3 protein, a genetic “mistake” that allows horses to pace and amble.

“The CVM has a reputation as a world leader in genomic research,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “The collaborative efforts of our genomic scientists will continue to make an impact, not only in the equine industry through studies such as this one, but also in other species, including humans, through the application of the lessons learned from this investigative approach. This study is yet another example of contributions to One Health.”

This recent research shows that the mutation arose only once and then spread across the world via positive selection, Andersson said. In other words, early humans probably noticed that some horses had the ability to move in unique ways, and they then selected those horses for breeding, most likely because they offered a smoother, more comfortable ride, called a “running walk” in some breeds. Horse breeds that are known to perform these “ambling gaits” are referred to as “gaited,” and the researchers found that the mutated version of the gene is common in these breeds. They analyzed genes of 4396 horses from 141 breeds and found that the mutation is spread across Eurasia from Japan to the British Isles, in Iceland, in South and North America, and in breeds from South Africa.

“During such ambling gaits the horse has at least one foot on the ground, which means that the vertical movement of the rider is minimal,” Andersson said. “For instance, Paso Fino is a breed from Latin America in which the frequency of the ‘Gait keeper’ mutation is nearly 100 percent. It is claimed that the Paso Fino gait is so smooth that you can have a glass of wine in your hand without letting it spill!”

“Now that we have the genetic tools with enough power, we are beginning to find unexpected insights into how genes influence movement,” said Dr. E. Gus Cothran, a clinical professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at the CVM and another of the article’s authors.  “Dr. Andersson and I are hoping to continue this work with the goal of understanding how other genes can influence the basic gait pattern inferred by DMRT3.”

Morris Animal Foundation Funds Veterinary Student Advancing Animal Health

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Texas A&M second-year veterinary student Anastasia Koinis was recently selected to receive a Morris Animal Foundation Veterinary Student Scholar program award supporting her summer research project on avian bornavirus (ABV). Each year, the Morris Animal Foundation funds the Veterinary Student Scholars (VSS) program to help provide students hands-on exposure to veterinary medical research.

Anastasia Koinis
Anastasia Koinis

“I have worked for the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center for the last couple of years and became interested in the ABV research they have been doing,” Koinis said. “I plan to use the award to help pay for vet school and living expenses.”

The VSS program awards grants up to $4,000 to veterinary students who hope to establish a career in clinical or basic animal health and/or welfare research.  Students are carefully chosen based on their academic standing, a proposed research project consistent with the foundation’s guidelines, and endorsement from a research mentor.

“Our college encourages not only our graduate students, but also our undergraduate and veterinary students, to engage in research programs and to seek external funding awards to support their research,” said Dr. Robert Burghardt, acting associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “The faculty in our college has provided strong mentorship to students like Anastasia, and as a result, our students who participate in research programs continue to be recognized nationally and internationally for their efforts.”

Her research project investigates the synergism between an antiviral drug with a flavonoid on the avian bornavirus; this virus causes a fatal neurological wasting disease in parrots. Preliminary results suggest that the combination may increase the antiviral activity.

“While in her first year of the professional veterinary program, I was able to interact with her and observe her skills in the Veterinary Microbiology course, where again she impressed me with her abilities and knowledge,” said Dr. Jeffrey Musser, Koinis’ mentor. “I could think of no better student to assist me in our research on viral diseases in birds, so I approached Morris Animal Foundation and forwarded her as an MAF Veterinary Student Scholar candidate.”

This program provides a unique opportunity for students to expand their knowledge of veterinary medicine, as well as provide research experience before beginning a career of their own.

Texas A&M Professor Awarded Grants for Autism Research

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Work underway at Texas A&M University, sponsored by two foundations with a deep interest in autism, may one day provide clues to one type of autism. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a set of complex developmental disorders characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted behaviors, interests or activities.


A mouse with overexpression of Ube3a

Dr. Scott Dindot, Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, recently received two grants to create mouse models of chromosome 15q duplication syndrome (Dup15q syndrome), one of the most frequent known genetic mutations in those with ASD. In this disorder, an individual has too many copies (as many as seven or eight) of a series of genes located on a region of chromosome 15q (hence the name Dup15q).

Oddly, only duplications on the chromosome inherited from the mother seem to determine whether an individual will be affected. Rarely are paternally derived duplications seen in patients with autistic-like behaviors. This is because genes within 15q, including one called UBE3A, are subject to genomic imprinting, a phenomenon where the allele from one parent is active and the one from the other is silent.  In the brain, the
UBE3A gene is active only on the maternal chromosome.  Therefore, scientists believe that an overabundance of UBE3A in the brain causes the neurological deficits seen in patients with Dup15q syndrome.

Mouse models are essential to advance understanding of the biological processes that cause ASDs, as well as to test potential therapies. A good model-which Dindot is trying to create-has both construct validity (meaning that they carry a mutation in a known risk gene) and face validity (some physical or behavioral resemblance to the human disorder).

The first grant, from the Dup15q Alliance (a nonprofit run entirely on grants and donations with over 900 affiliated families from around the world), for $40,000 has allowed for the creation of Dindot’s first mouse model of Dup15q syndrome. Although the first mouse was an important initial step, more than one model is needed. The second grant, from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), for $85,000 will help Dindot and his team to generate and characterize a series of five more mouse models of Dup15q syndrome.

In the brain, the gene codes for at least three separate isoforms, or types of UBE3A, each a slightly different protein with very subtle variances in their amino acid sequences. However, researchers don’t currently understand what these differences mean.

“Each line of mice we are generating will overexpress a particular UBE3A isoform,” Dindot said. “This will allow us to determine the role of each isoform in the development of Dup15q syndrome.”

Furthermore, mouse models of human genetic conditions express, in some instances, different characteristics, depending on the genetic background of the mouse the researchers originally used. This can be a particularly important issue when performing behavioral studies in mice.  So, to account for the effect of the “background strain,” (as the genetic backgrounds are called) Dindot and his colleagues are making each of the three models using two very different strains of mice, for a total of six.  The Texas A&M Institute of Genomic Medicine will be assisting in this collaborative effort.

Once these models are molecularly validated, (in other words, shown to be expressing high levels of Ube3a in the brain), they will be made widely available to the scientific community through a partnership between SFARI and The Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit genetics research organization that maintains a vast database of mice that can be ordered and used by scientists around the world.

“Dr. Dindot’s work on mouse models for Dup15q syndrome has the potential to unlock new pathways of discovery for treatments and therapies for autism spectrum disorders,” said Dr. Robert Burghardt, Acting Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. “These two grants recognize the importance of his work, and the tremendous expertise that is brought together through this collaborative effort.”

The development of an inducible UBE3A transgenic mouse model will facilitate studies of the behavior associated with UBE3A over-expression in the brain on a cellular level. The model could also be used to test potential therapies and to determine the period of development during which a therapeutic intervention could be optimal.

“Dr. Dindot’s research encompasses basic, clinical, and translational research and is, therefore, ideally suited for the Veterinary Medicine setting,” said Dr. Linda Logan, Professor and Head of VTPB. “Given that most successful investigators tend to take either one path or the other, it is very difficult to find high quality scientist who can fluently speak the languages of basic science and clinical research. Dr. Dindot has been successful in both arenas, which is a rare accomplishment.  The impact and scope of his current work along with his passion for research bodes well for his future endeavors and I am confident that he will continue to be successful in his scholarly pursuits.”

“We are very grateful to the Dup15q Alliance and SFARI for providing funds to generate these mouse models of Dup15q syndrome,” Dindot said.  “I would like to particularly thank Kadi Luchsinger and Guy Calvert at the Dup15q Alliance, Alice Luo Clayton and Marta Benedetti at SFARI, and Larry Reiter at the University of Tennessee, who is a co-principal investigator on the Dup15q Alliance grant.  This is an important project; we are humbled and honored to be a part of it.”

Texas A&M Researcher Awarded NIH and ADA Grants for Diabetes Research

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Beiyan Zhou, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology (VTPP) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), recently received a $1.54 million grant from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)-part of the National Institutes of Health-to study the role of microRNA in diabetes. The grant, which is spread over five years, comes soon after Zhou won a Junior Faculty Award from the American Diabetes Association (ADA).


Dr. Beiyan Zhou in her laboratory
Dr. Beiyan Zhou in her laboratory

The award from the ADA, which is designed to provide support to junior faculty who are establishing their independence as researchers, will provide $120,000 per year for three years (2013-2015) for the direct cost of research. Zhou’s application was supported by letters of recommendation from scientists at institutions across the United States, including Harvey Lodish, Professor of Biology and Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhou’s postdoctoral advisor; Daniel Linzer, Provost of Northwestern University; Rajesh Miranda, Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at A&M and Stephen Safe, Distinguished Professor in VTPP.

“Dr. Zhou is an outstanding member of our faculty, both in her research and her mentorship of our graduate students,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “We congratulate her on earning these awards in recognition of her outstanding research endeavors. Faculty members such as Dr. Zhou continue to raise the bar of excellence in scientific discovery, and we are fortunate to have her here at the CVM. Not only is her work highly relevant, it is well-aligned with One Health, one of the grand challenges for Texas A&M.”

“Diabetes is one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States and worldwide,” said Zhou, who joined the CVM in September of 2009.

“Most of the current insulin-sensitizers and anti-diabetic drugs focus on improving diabetic symptoms, but not curing diabetes,” Zhou said. “My long-term career goal is to provide the basis for the development of novel therapeutic strategies to treat insulin resistance-related diseases, such as Type-2 diabetes.”

“Dr. Zhou’s novel approach to finding a solution for the epidemic of diabetes is moving this type of research to a whole new level,” said Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies at the CVM. “The future of scientific discovery that addresses the ongoing health problems for people and animals will be led by innovative researchers such as Dr. Zhou. We are excited to see her efforts recognized through these highly competitive grants and awards. We are proud to have her as a faculty member, colleague and outstanding mentor for undergraduate and graduate students.”

Macrophages, which are an important and normal part of the immune system, undergo a “distinct phenotypic switch,” known as macrophage polarization, from one that is anti-inflammatory in lean tissues to one that is pro-inflammatory in obese tissues. This inflammation can then cause trouble with insulin resistance, which then, in turn, leads to Type-2 diabetes.

The polarization of macrophages in fat tissue is regulated by a specific microRNA called microRNA-223 and by the protein Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR -gamma), but the interactions between the two, and just how they affect macrophages, remains unclear. Zhou’s research seeks to understand just how this regulation happens, with the ultimate goal of perhaps being able to regulate and stop the chain that leads to diabetes. Targeting the microRNAs in macrophages to inhibit macrophage-mediated inflammation could offer a novel approach to preventing or treating insulin resistance and insulin resistance-associated diseases, such as Type-2 diabetes.

“I’m so appreciative of all of the support I have received here, both scientifically and from the department,” Zhou said. One of the criteria for the ADA award is institutional support.

Guoyao Wu, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Robert Chapkin, Regent Professor in Department Nutrition and Food Science; and Safe all supported Zhou in her application for the NIH grant.

“I believe the strength and expertise of this team contributed to the success of the funding,” Zhou said. “I’m very proud to receive the award.”

Texas A&M University Ushers in New Era of Scientific Discovery

Threadgill Named to Lead Newly Formed Whole Systems Genomics Initiative

Officials from the Texas A&M University System, Texas A&M University, and the Texas A&M Health Science Center welcome Dr. David Threadgill back to Aggieland to assume the helm as Director of the Whole Systems Genomics Initiative. Pictured (l-r): Dr. Linda Logan, Professor and Head, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, CVM; Dr. Glen Laine, Interim Vice President for Research, Texas A&M University; Dr. Bhanu Chowdhary, Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies, CVM; Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, CVM; Mr. John Sharp, Chancellor, Texas A&M University System; Dr. David Threadgill, Director, Whole Systems Genomics Initiative; Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, President, Texas A&M University; Dr. T. Samuel Shomaker, Dean of Medicine and Vice President for Clinical Affairs, TAMHSC; Dr. David S. Carlson, Vice President for Research and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, TAMHSC; Dr. Hubert Amrein, Associate Department Head, Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, TAMHSC.

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Texas A&M University, the flagship institution of The Texas A&M University System, announced a new research initiative that will revolutionize scientific discovery and fundamentally reshape the world during the 21st century.



The Whole Systems Genomics Initiative (WSGI), a strong faculty conceived program at Texas A&M University developed as part of the Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI) will define the future of genomic science, enabling researchers to address some of the most pressing challenges facing modern society through innovative and collaborative scholarly programs. While recent advances in technology have led to impactful discoveries in deciphering and engineering genomes, the next era of genomic science will push the frontiers of discovery as researchers work together in a coordinated effort to identify novel applications for this new knowledge.

“Genomic science, as the newest frontier in scholarly research, is throwing open the door to a revolutionary way of approaching our health, the health and welfare of animals, and the sustainability of our environment,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “Strengthened by the collaborative efforts of faculty experts from across the system, the Whole Systems Genomics Initiative announced today represents the catalyst for the next quantum leap in scientific discovery.”

The CRI provides one-time funds to Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University for the recruitment and hiring of faculty members. Funding, at $33 million for 2013 and 2014 with an anticipated $34 million in 2015, comes from the Available University Fund (AUF) distribution, and is available for the recruitment of key faculty who have a proven track record of success in developing and implementing large, multi-investigator, federally funded programs.

Dr. David Threadgill (’83, ’89), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a leader in genomics, has been recruited from North Carolina State University as the Director for the WSGI. Equipped with a notable history of developing scholarly teams in highly successful interdisciplinary programs, Threadgill will be tasked with positioning Texas A&M as a global leader in genomics by aligning teams from diverse expertise and disciplines currently located at Texas A&M, and establishing rich collaborations both nationally and internationally. Threadgill will have academic appointments as Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), and Professor and holder of the Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics in the Department of Molecular & Cellular Medicine in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Threadgill arrives at Texas A&M with a solid framework for the WSGI already in place, which represents 184 faculty members in 39 departments and units across nine colleges, Texas A&M Health Science Center and other A&M System components. In addition, the establishment of the WSGI reinforces Texas A&M’s commitment to One Health, the concept that animal, human, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked, and to the creation of a world class genomics program that will be preeminently positioned to serve society’s changing needs.

“This innovative program has the potential to vastly improve the lives of humans and animals, and to advance agricultural productivity,” said Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, President of Texas A&M University, “by leveraging one of our strengths at Texas A&M:  collaboration by outstanding faculty, students and staff from several disciplines to address real-world issues.”

The genome revolution will lead to rapid advancements in personalized medicine for human, animal, and plant disease management; genetically engineered organisms for improved biofuel production and environmental sustainability; and enhanced efficiency of food production and security. At the same time, researchers engaged in genomic discovery will also need to address new ethical, social, legal and policy challenges that arise as new discoveries profoundly impact animals, people, and the environment on a global scale.

With a strong vision for the WSGI, Threadgill will lead a diverse team of researchers that will stimulate interdisciplinary research, increase accessibility to critical infrastructure and funding for genomic investigations, and create synergy among faculty members and trainees already engaged in genomic research in various species. Through enhancing these existing collaborations, Texas A&M University will be able to leverage its nationally and internationally renowned expertise in veterinary medicine, medicine, biomedical sciences, agriculture, engineering, and public policy in a coordinated effort to solve future societal concerns of Texas, Texans and the global population from the leading edge of scientific discovery.

“As the only College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in the State of Texas, it has been our mission to engage in high impact research that serves the needs of Texans, the nation, and the world,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “As Director of the Whole Systems Genomics Initiative, Dr. David Threadgill will facilitate interdisciplinary research among university faculty from numerous departments and colleges across campus with decades of experience and knowledge in genomics.  He will be a leader in accelerating the advancement of new knowledge in this exciting field, actively engaging current and future generations of genomics experts.  Dr. Threadgill’s recruitment represents a solid partnership among the CVM, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M AgriLife, and others campus wide. I extend a special thanks to Chancellor John Sharp for his vision in creating the Chancellor’s Research Initiative, which enabled this recruitment, to President Bowen Loftin for his leadership in financially supporting key presidential faculty hires, and to Provost Karan Watson and Interim Vice President for Research Glen Laine for overseeing the campus process.  It’s a dynamite team in Aggieland.”

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences will serve as the home college for the WSGI, but significant contributions supporting the initiative have come from Texas A&M University System Office of the Chancellor; Texas A&M University Office of the President, Provost and Vice President for Research; Texas A&M Health Science Center and its College of Medicine; and Texas A&M AgriLife Research, as well as leadership support from other Texas A&M colleges and departments.