UACES Facebook Egan investigates how plants maintain health by repairing damaged proteins
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Egan investigates how plants maintain health by repairing damaged proteins

By Robby Edwards, Director of Communications
Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences
June 7, 2019

Fast Facts:

  • Martin Egan awarded 3-year, $426,000 NIH grant
  • Grant supports research and undergraduate student research
  • Research has implications for human and plant health 

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Martin Egan, assistant professor of plant pathology at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has been awarded a three-year, $426,000 grant by the National Institutes of Health to investigate proteostasis — research that may have implications for human and plant health.

Rice Blast Research

NIH Academic Research Enhancement Awards are given to support meritorious research, expose students to research and to strengthen the research environment of the institution.

“I am extremely grateful to the NIH and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for supporting our research program” said Egan, who holds a research appointment in the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and a teaching appointment the U of A Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

“I am excited to be able to increase the undergraduate presence in our research group and provide many more opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in hands-on molecular cell biology research at the University of Arkansas,” Egan said.

Jean-Francois Meullenet, director of the experiment station and associate vice president for agriculture-research for the Division of Agriculture, said the grant both recognizes and fosters the kind of leading edge science for which the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station is known.

“We are very happy to see Martin receive this award from the NIH, which will help him further strengthen his research program in fungal cell biology,” Meullenet said. “Martin’s basic research is far-reaching with potential translations ranging from controlling fungal plant diseases to treating human fungal diseases. We are fortunate to have him on the faculty.” 

The research

A growing body of research has revealed that cells can conduct their own version of triage, confining damaged or potentially toxic proteins to specific compartments within the cell where the proteins can then be repaired or broken down later, Egan said.

The long-term goals of Egan’s research are to determine how damaged proteins are transported to these cellular quality-control areas, what happens to them when they get there and what are the consequences for the cell if this process is disrupted. In humans, impaired proteostasis is associated with neurodegenerative disease.

Egan and his team are currently using the fungus Aspergillus nidulans to track what happens to damaged proteins when they are sequestered within a cell. He said Aspergillus cells are extremely long and thin like human neurons, and use the same type of basic cellular transport machinery to move cellular components along these cells. This makes Aspergillus a useful model organism for understanding how damaged proteins are transported in humans and what happens when this process goes wrong.

He plans to select three to five undergraduate students to join his research team. Their role will include using advanced microscopy techniques and learning the cellular fate of damaged proteins in living cells.

“These undergraduates will gain invaluable hands-on experience in live cell imaging and image analysis, which will prepare them for a future career in cell biological research,” said Egan.

“It’s exciting that Dr. Egan has been chosen for this nationally competitive award in support of cutting-edge research,” said Bumpers College Dean Deacue Fields. “It points to the significance of the research taking place in our college and the quality of our faculty. The most exciting component to me is the opportunity for our students to be directly involved throughout this project. This will be a wonderful learning experience for them as they support Dr. Egan.”

“Professor Egan’s research enhancement award demonstrates his commitment to conducting meaningful and impactful research and his dedication to students, both of which are the heart of our work here at the U of A,” said Jim Coleman, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “While professor Egan received a Chancellor’s Innovation Fund grant for a different project, the grant was instrumental in establishing a collaborative partnership with physics professor Yong Wang that will be continued with this project. Their work is a great example of the collaboration and innovation the fund seeks to inspire on our campus.”

Student researchers on the team will come from the honors programs in Bumpers College and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and Instagram at ArkAgResearch.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture. For more information about Bumpers College, visit our website, and follow us on Twitter at @BumpersCollege and Instagram at BumpersCollege.

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Media Contact: Fred Miller
Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(479) 575-5647