Colorado College Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology Jennifer Garcia has been awarded a $235,000 grant from the highly competitive Boettcher Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Award Program. The program supports early career investigators in Colorado whose research has a direct impact on human health.
The three-year grant will fund a study in baker’s yeast that investigates a new cellular process that discards RNA, a type of genetic material, to help cells survive stress. Garcia says some of the molecular players she has implicated in this novel decay pathway also have been shown to play a role in the fatal neurodegenerative disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This suggests that lessons learned in her study could illuminate future clinical studies on ALS and other diseases.
“Using baker’s yeast, proven to be a model organism where rapid experiments can yield significant knowledge into complex processes, we aim to uncover the finer details of this cellular discard process and how impairments within this pathway can lead to cellular dysfunction. Hopefully this research can help motivate future research to further understand and treat this terrible and fatal neurodegenerative disease.” Garcia says. “Those with ALS lose control of muscle movement, leading to paralysis and death.”
Currently, treatment options have been limited as ALS is a complex disease, associated with mutations in many different genes that perform a variety of functions and can develop sporadically without any familial history. Garcia’s study seeks to understand how various dysfunctions related to ALS are connected to stimulate more clinically relevant research for ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders.
“As a teacher-scholar, I’m excited by the opportunity to not only perform research that may impact human health, but also to be able to teach students at Colorado College through research opportunities supported by the Boettcher Foundation,” Garcia says. “My hope is that these research experiences will help foster the growth of our students to become contributing members of the biomedical community in Colorado and beyond.”
Garcia joins Associate Professor of Chemistry Amy Dounay as Colorado College’s second “Boettcher Investigator,” as recipients of the award are called. The grants help Boettcher Investigators establish themselves and their research, and as a result, they become competitive for major awards from federal agencies and private sources. To date, the 68 Boettcher Investigators have gone on to receive a total of $80 million in NIH awards for the State of Colorado.
Garcia earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry/chemistry from the University of California, San Diego and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, San Francisco. Additionally, she was a National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
She joined the Colorado College faculty in 2016 and teaches Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology, Laboratory in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and upper division courses in Yeast Genetics, the Regulation of Gene Expression and Epigenetics. She also has co-taught a course in the Bridge Scholars Program.