Calcium on the move

Biologist Christopher Gillen shares a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study calcium transport mechanisms

Associate Professor of Biology Christopher Gillen and his students will be researching the mechanisms by which animals regulate calcium transport, thanks to a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Gillen won the four-year grant with colleagues at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The research, which may have medical implications because of calcium's importance to health, will use the freshwater crayfish to study the regulation of calcium-transporting proteins. "We are taking both cellular and molecular approaches," says Gillen. "Crayfish are a good model for these studies because they transfer calcium out of their carapace before molting, sequester it internally, and then transport it back into the carapace as the new shell hardens."

During the four years of the grant, Kenyon will receive approximately $80,000 to fund aspects of the project. A number of students will have the opportunity to undertake research as part of the effort.

Calcium-transport studies involving the crayfish have been going on for several years at Wright State, in a lab directed by Michèle Wheatly, professor of biological sciences and dean of the university's College of Science and Mathematics. Gillen worked in the Wright State lab during his sabbatical in 2004-05. He and Wheatly, along with Wheatly's research assistant, Yongping Gao, are coprincipal investigators in the grant-funded project.

A Kenyon senior, Meredith Wylde of Northampton, Massachusetts, worked with Gillen, Wheatly, and Gao at Wright State this past summer. The four coauthored an abstract on one of the proteins that was presented in January 2006 at the national meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Orlando, Florida.

Gillen, a graduate of Lafayette College who received his Ph.D. from Yale University, joined the Kenyon faculty in 1997. In 2002, he received a Trustee Teaching Excellence Award.