Professor wins grants to study mitochondrial DNA
Moumita Das is a Scialog Fellow
Rochester Institute of Technology professor Moumita Das has won seed funding for cutting-edge research that explores mitochondrial DNA and intercellular cargo transport.
Das, an assistant professor in RIT’s School of Physics and Astronomy, is a Scialog Fellow on two research teams supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Last April, the Moore Foundation, Research Corporation, and Simons Foundation sponsored the conference Scialog: Molecules Come to Life, which brought together approximately 50 young researchers who work at the intersection of biology and the physical sciences. The Scialog fellowship program encourages collaboration among theorists and experimentalists who propose research in promising areas considered too risky for traditional funding sources.
The three science philanthropies have awarded seed funding totaling $963,750 to six teams of 15 scientists. Das won a combined $112,000 in two awards, for her work on teams investigating “Heteroplasmy: Population dynamics of mitochondria in mammalian cells” with Daniel Needleman from Harvard University and Douglas Weibel from University of Wisconsin, Madison, and “Commoditizing advanced molecular imaging techniques” with Ibrahim Cissé from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Megan Valentine from University of California, Santa Barbra; and Ali Yanik from University of California, Santa Cruz.
Das is a theoretical physicist who works in the field of biophysics. She is conducting computational modeling and analytical calculations to support hypotheses and predictions for both projects.
The heteroplasmy research is an emergent topic that looks at population dynamics of mitochondria in mammalian cells. Mitochondria, the powerhouse of each cell, controls energy production, initiates programmed cell death, and participates in cell signaling.
Mitochondria have their own DNA distinct from nuclear DNA. All organisms are thought to have low levels of variation in mitochondrial DNA. Changes in mitochondrial DNA are thought to be connected to a range of human health conditions, including epilepsy, heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, Das said.
“We are studying the population dynamics of healthy and unhealthy mitochondria to see how that might control the functioning of the cell,” she said. “Understanding how harmful changes in mitochondrial DNA accumulate over time and under different selection pressures can have a profound impact on our understanding of cell biology and the origins of some human diseases.”
Das’ second project involves molecular imaging of intercellular transport. The proper functioning of cells depends on molecular motors to carry cargo, such as organelles and vesicles, inside cells, she said. Her study of the process will support the design of a new type of imaging technique.
RIT undergraduate Kevin Ching and post-doctoral researcher Subravat Dey are working with Das to develop models and computer simulations of “molecular motors transporting cargos in crowded cellular environments.” RIT undergraduate Kellianne Kornick is working with Das on the mathematical modeling of mitochondrial DNA. Ching and Kornick, both physics majors, will give talks about their research at the American Physical Society meeting in New Orleans in March.
Das and her Scialog teams will present their initial results at the next Scialog: Molecules Come to Life conference April 27-30 in Tucson, Ariz.
March 17, 2019
RIT heads to Game Developers Conference 2019
More than 100 RIT students, faculty, alumni and staff are visiting San Francisco this week to attend Game Developers Conference 2019, the world’s largest professional gaming industry event of the year. The RIT MAGIC Spell Studios booth is displaying four games created at RIT.
March 15, 2019
Award-winning journalist, RIT Minett Professor to lead women’s leadership conference at RIT, March 22
Saunders College of Business hosts the 10th annual Power Your Potential Women’s Conference, which celebrates National Women’s Month and invites area businesswomen to gain insights from their peers and engage in educational activities geared toward helping women succeed.
March 15, 2019
Data science community to gather at RIT for regional DataFest hackathon March 29-31
Teams of three to five students will have 48 hours to mine a complex data set pertaining to a real-world problem. Teams will test their statistical analytic and data science skills to find the best solution.
March 13, 2019
RIT Associate Professor Suzanne O’Handley nationally recognized for mentorship
RIT Associate Professor Suzanne O’Handley has been selected by the Council on Undergraduate Research and the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation as the 2019 CUR-Goldwater Scholars Faculty Mentor Awardee. O’Handley, a faculty member in RIT’s School of Chemistry and Materials Science, was chosen from 10 finalists for her considerable achievements as a dynamic scholar, teacher and mentor.