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Schulz lab receives grant to conduct genetic study of Missouri crayfish

May 23, 2013

Procambarus clarkii

Procambarus clarkii is one species of Missouri crawfish the Schulz lab is using to conduct genetic studies as part of a project recently funded by a Faculty Incentive Grant. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Garcia)

Professor David Schulz, a neurobiologist in the Division of Biological Sciences, has received a Faculty Incentive Grant from the Arts and Science Alumni Organization to study the crayfish of Missouri.

Schulz will clone and sequence ion channel genes that influence the neural networks that control heart beat (cardiac network) and food processing in crayfish. The sequence data will then be used to generate species-specific tools that can be used to understand how these neural networks function as well as how neural networks have evolved in different species.

Crayfish — also called crawdads and crawfish — are small crustaceans that resemble small lobsters. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website, Missouri is home to at least 35 species of crayfish, most of which can be found in and around streams in south central Missouri.

Schulz’s study will utilize this diversity to shed new light on the evolution of these two vital neural networks. By identifying similarities in the genetic sequences across the different species, as well as how their gene products function in neural networks across species, the researchers hope to be able to understand how neural networks evolve as well as how ecological pressures may influence their evolution.

“This is a novel combination of neurobiology, phylogenetic, and evolutionary analyses and will provide interesting and valuable insight into both the process and results of natural selection,” says Schulz.

The grant will be used to support three undergraduate students, who will do most of the cloning and will help with analysis of the sequencing data. The funds also will be used to purchase the molecular reagents and sequencing services needed to perform the work.

Faculty Incentive Grants are awarded annually by the MU A&S Alumni Organization in an effort to support the work of A&S faculty. Funding is provided in the categories of research, scholarship of teaching, and professional development.

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Written by: Melody Kroll

Related research strengths:
Evolution, Genetics & Genomics, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology