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Clarkson professor receives $30K grant to study digestive system

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POTSDAM - Kenneth Wallace, an associate professor of biology at Clarkson University, recently received a $30,000 addition to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant.

The funding has enabled him to double the tank space for his research organism, Danio rerio - more commonly known as zebrafish. The new system is a state-of-the-art, double-sided recirculating rack system that houses 124 tanks of varying sizes.

“I use zebrafish in my research due to the similarity of their digestive system to humans,” according to Wallace. “The organization and genetics of fish and human digestive systems are similar enough to obtain answers relevant to both species.”

Research in Wallace’s laboratory has recently been focused on development of cells in the lining of the intestine.

“Because these cells are rapidly lost, they do not develop typical methods of communication with neurons,” Wallace said. “Instead, a number of cells lining the intestine differentiate into secretory cells to mix between cells that absorb nutrients. These secretory cells ‘taste’ the intestinal contents and then keep the rest of the body updated on what is passing through the intestine by secreting a variety of substance from hormones to neurotransmitters.”

The responses to these secretions are changes in intestinal movement, secretion, and absorption. The number of and secretions from these cells tend to be altered in common digestive diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.

The additional tank space will be critical for new zebrafish lines that will aid in understanding how these secretory cells form and communicate.

Wallace is also using zebrafish in collaboration with Silvana Andreescu, an associate professor of chemistry, to better understand the safety of engineered nanoparticles in biological systems. Andreescu has expertise in electrochemical techniques, which have been utilized to monitor the health and toxic response of the whole organism after nanoparticle exposure.

Wallace has also begun a collaboration utilizing zebrafish with Cintia Hongay, an assistant professor of biology, in order to obtain a vertebrate perspective on the RNA modification enzymes that she has previously investigated in yeast and fruit flies.

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