MACHIAS, Maine – University of Maine at Machias biochemistry professor Dr. Shallee Page has been awarded a $200,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to study the DNA of fast-growth soft-shell clams and the relevance of fast-growing cells to human health.
Page’s research will focus on a particular strain of clams raised at the nearby Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research (DEI) in Beals that are growing at a rate that is considerably faster than others. By inbreeding the clams, researchers at DEI have selected for a pool that is reliably fast growing. DEI is the marine field station for UMM’s marine biology program and is directed by Dr. Brian Beal, professor of marine ecology.
The overall goal of the grant-funded project is to determine on a genetic level what is making the clams grow faster, said Page, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
The grant provides funding for three undergraduate student researchers, high-tech computers for analyzing genetic data, DNA and RNA sequencing, and workshops at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
The group will use comparative functional genomics to evaluate gene structure, its role in growth and development, and evolutionary relationships, based on the gene sequence of the soft-shell clam and related species.
Page and his student researchers have spent the fall semester analyzing the clam DNA in collaboration with a University of New Hampshire researcher, Dr. Charles W. Walker, who provided the genomic sequence.
The research will provide insight into not only growth patterns, but also the susceptibility to tumor formation among mollusks, providing information relevant to evolution and public health.
“Growth and signaling pathways are critical determinants in cancer,” said Page. “By analyzing these fast-growth genes, we hope to gain a better understanding of the connections between fast-growing cells and cancer susceptibility.”
Once their research is complete, Page and his students hope to have their findings published in a scientific journal. “There has been a lot of research on fast-growth fish, but this is the first on fast-growth clams,” said Page.
The two-year grant is awarded by the Maine IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence through the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.