A $535,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund new courses and research

The storm-petrel, a bird species native to the northeastern Atlantic coast, is well known for its longevity. Less certain is the reason the birds live so long. A $535,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Kenyon researchers to study the genetic roots of the birds' long lives.

Robert Mauck, the College's Harvey F. Lodish Faculty Development Professor in the Natural Sciences, has been studying the storm-petrel for years. He notes that the ends of chromosomes called telomeres in the storm-petrel appear to lengthen with age. This apparent lengthening contradicts conventional wisdom, which holds that telomeres shorten over time. With the grant, Mauck will undertake a three-year study that explores the causes of telomere lengthening.

The project will give Kenyon students ample opportunities for hands-on research. "We are looking for students for the next three years to be working in the lab on the molecular side of the project and in the field at Kent Island in New Brunswick, Canada," says Mauck.

The Kent Island fieldwork will take place at the Bowdoin Scientific Station, which Mauck directs. The island is home to a storm-petrel population that has been studied since 1954. "The island has a wonderful population of birds with known ages," which aids tremendously in a study on bird longevity, Mauck notes.

The grant will also fund a new course that will be dedicated, in part, to exploring this phenomenon. The course will be taught by Mark Haussmann, currently an instructor at Swarthmore College, who will come to Kenyon for three years as a postdoctoral researcher and teacher. Several high-end devices used for genetic research will also be acquired through this grant.

"The benefits of this project are manifold," says Mauck. "It presents a lot of exciting opportunities."