PNRI Opens its Doors for Behind-the-Scenes Look Into Genetics Research

Last weekend PNRI opened our laboratories to the public. Excitement reverberated on every floor as people enjoyed this opportunity to see genetics research up-close, free of charge. Supporters traversed the halls where some of the brightest minds in genetic research spend their work week. 

From Cancer Evolution to Predicting Diabetes

On the top floor, Dr. Michael Metzger and his team explained how they traced the lineage of a contagious cancer in clams and cockles back over 400 years of evolution. Mouths were agape as lab members demonstrated how they care for live marine bivalves in the lab and displayed collected samples under the microscope. 

Down the hall, scientists at the helm of PNRI’s work on the TEDDY Study shared findings that can improve prediction and treatment of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and autoimmunity in children. TEDDY–The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young–is a first-of-its kind international collaboration to identify environmental factors associated with an increased risk of T1D and autoimmune disorders like celiac disease. This work has been at the heart of our institute for over 20 years, and it was an honor to share that progress with so many on Saturday.

Dr. Michael Metzger explains his lab’s research on transmissible cancer found in shellfish.
Dr. Bill Hagopian discusses TEDDY Study findings on the environmental determinants of type 1 diabetes.

The Genetics of Stress and the Mysteries of Jumping Genes 

On the next floor members of the Stubbs Lab staffed interactive stations throughout their space. They presented a deep dive into the genetics of brain development and how our individual genetic codes may determine how we respond to stressful life events. Guests were alight with interest as researchers drew connections between genetics and the development of conditions like depression, autism, and type 2 diabetes. The implications of this research are tremendously exciting, as Dr. Stubbs and her team lay the groundwork for future personalized treatment for stress-related diseases.

Just yards away in the McLaughlin Lab, tour groups were invited into a room off the main lab where complex machinery and delicate instruments give way to a simple couch and a whiteboard. This is where Dr. Rick McLaughlin and his team work through scientific questions together. Their focus is transposable elements, sections of our DNA that transpose themselves or “jump” from place to place within our genome, sometimes causing disease. The McLaughlin Lab is uncovering the mysterious nature of these genes, further unraveling the secrets of the human genome in support of a healthier future.

Dr. Chris Seward of the Stubbs Lab explains their research on the genetics of brain development.
Dr. Rick McLaughlin describes his lab’s exploration of transposons or “jumping” genets.

In the Carvalho Lab, Dr. Cláudia Carvalho gave an overview of her research with maps of genetic sequences showing structural variants, her lab’s area of expertise. These variants can cause patients with the same disease to experience vastly different symptoms. The Carvalho Lab collaborates with researchers around the world, studying rare diseases and providing answers to clinicians whose patients’ illnesses are unexplained. 

Finally, in the Dudley Lab, researchers described how they use yeast cells as a model for the human metabolism. Inherited metabolic disorders, in particular urea cycle disorders, cause serious health complications and can be fatal. Dr. Aimée Dudley and her lab members are taking urea cycle disorders head on with their novel technology that is revolutionizing how these diseases are diagnosed. 

Dr. Cláudia Carvalho shares her lab’s recent findings on genetic structural variants that cause disease.
Russell Lo explains how the Dudley Lab uses the awesome power of yeast genetics to develop genetic screening tools.

From a Seedling to a Mighty Tree

Back in our newly refurbished lobby, guests enjoyed drinks and appetizers as they buzzed with excitement over the fascinating science they had just observed. 

The evening culminated in a touching speech by PNRI CEO Dr. Jack Faris, paying tribute to the late Dr. David Galas, who lent his brilliance to PNRI for over a decade, and passed away last year. He spoke of how Dr. Galas’ intellect and creativity seeded a forest of innovation at our institute and beyond throughout an illustrious career. The chattering lobby fell silent to watch time-lapse video of a pinecone bursting forth dramatically into a tree – a symbol of the legacy of Dr. Galas’ extraordinary discoveries.

Members of Dr. Galas’ family joined us from across the country as we celebrated his enduring impact, dedicating our main conference space as the Galas Conference Room. Dr. Galas’ grandsons cut the ribbon on this room that has already held nearly forty years of scientific discussion and innovation and will continue to do so for decades to come. 

PNRI CEO Dr. Jack Faris pays tribute to the late Dr. David J. Galas.
Members of the Galas family inaugurate PNRI’s Galas Room.

Each guest left with a tiny live pine seedling, going back to their homes whether around the block or around the globe. We hope that each of these hopeful little trees will take root and branch out, just like our research. One question, one idea, can lead to myriad discoveries and infinite possibilities. 

Welcoming enthusiastic newcomers to the lab is a special occasion we cherish. We are grateful that so many of our supporters could join us on Saturday and look forward to hosting more tours where people can come together to learn and grow in our space. 

Explore the album below to see photos from the day.

PNRI Lab Tour - May 4, 2024