Spotting a Trend in the Genes

by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor

Spots on the abdomens of fruit flies are really, really small. What a researcher and his graduate student are discovering about them could be gigantic.

Thomas Werner, assistant professor of biological sciences, and his PhD student Komal Kumar Bollepogu Raja have discovered that three genes that cause cancer and disease in humans also "paint" the spots on the fly's body. This discovery could allow researchers to study how those genes work in fruit flies (Drosophila) and apply that knowledge to treating cancer in people.

"The last common ancestor of man and fruit flies lived about 600 million years ago," Werner says. "All the genes needed to build a body were already present in that ancestor, and today we still share virtually all of our body-building genes with fruit flies. This is why we are able to study human diseases like cancer in fruit flies."

Werner and Raja are interested in how DNA encodes body forms and patterns in animals. They use color patterns as a model.

They've made strong connections between developed spots and those three genes, all of which have cancer- and disease-causing counterparts in humans. Thus, the abdominal spots of this tiny fruit fly could be a great model for understanding genetic pathways that cause cancer.

"We are looking here at proto-oncogenes, which are cancer genes that cause disease when they are active in an uncontrolled manner," Werner says. "Both humans and flies have them, and in flies they learned to paint black spots on their abdomen."

This reveals that old genes can learn new tricks; they just need to become part of a new genetic pathway, like, in this case, adding designer patterns to a boring garment. "And you get your evolutionary novelty without having to invent new genes," Werner says.

Werner's been down this research road before. He famously introduced stripes onto the spotted wings of fruit flies ("from a leopard to a zebra"), showing that a certain cancer gene is sufficient to induce pigment patterns on Drosophila wings, and landed on the cover of Nature magazine. The magazine's cover hangs in his office.

"Now we want to use our new methods to find out how the abdominal pigment pattern is generated, and how it is encoded in DNA," says Raja."

The genes that seem to paint the pigment spots on the abdomen are important for other reasons, Werner says. Some of them have additional roles in defining the head-to-tail axis in animals and are crucial for the proper development of the vertebrae in humans. If these genes misbehave during the development of the human embryo, gross disabilities or embryonic death will occur.

"Many diseases like cancer and vertebra-related disabilities are caused by the misbehavior of genes, when they are expressed at times and places or in amounts they are not supposed to," Werner says. "And our work focuses on understanding how the cancer- and disease-causing genes in the fruit fly are regulated, and how they regulate their downstream target genes."

The biggest future possibility, however, involves those three "bad" genes. Werner and Raja believe they can identify targets for gene therapies against cancer and genetically inherited developmental defects.

Targeting these genes when they start misbehaving could lead to happier and healthier tomorrows for many people: a grand result from miniscule research.

CD47: An AK-47 in the Battle Against Cancer?

by Marcia Goodrich, magazine editor

For most of their natural lives, red blood cells hide safely under the radar of the body's immune system, thanks to a cloak of "don't eat me" protein called CD47. Ching-An Peng wants to co-opt that clever trick to fight cancer.

Voracious white blood cells called macrophages normally protect organisms by engulfing cell debris and pathogens. However, if they encounter something covered with CD47, such as a red blood cell, they tend to leave it alone.

"I thought, 'Why not use CD47 to help deliver drugs?'" said Peng, who holds the James and Lorna Mack Endowed Chair in Bioengineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering. "We could camouflage them and avoid the immune response."

To find our more, visit the CD-47.

Funding Opportunities available through the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC)

The MSGC website is now open for Fellowship, Pre-college Education, Public Outreach, Teacher Training, and Research Seed Grant proposals.

Michigan Tech's internal deadline date for proposal packages is noon, Friday, Nov. 9. Women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply for all MSGC funding opportunities.

Only US citizens may apply for the MSGC Fellowships.

For Research Seed Grant award recipients: funding cannot be used to purchase equipment. Funding may be used for travel and to purchase supplies and services. Funding may also be used for salaries for faculty and students who are US citizens. Funding cannot be used to pay salaries, stipends, or travel for those who are not US citizens. Individuals who have received a Research Seed Grant in the prior year are not eligible to submit a proposal.

Funding awards will be announced during February 2013.
For application directions, see Grant.

For more information, contact Lisa Wallace, Office for Institutional Diversity, at 487-2474 or at .

MDOT Traffic Signal work at US-41 and MacInnes Drive

The Michigan Department of Transportation will be working to replace the traffic signals at the intersection of US-41 and MacInnes Drive. This work will start on Monday, Oct. 15, and continue for several weeks.

The work consists of replacing the main steel poles at each corner, replacing all of the traffic and cross walk signals, and replacing sections of concrete curb and sidewalk at the corners. This will result in partial closure of the pedestrian sidewalks to allow the contractor to do their work. The contractor has promised to allow pedestrian access on one side or the other of MacInnes Drive at all times during construction. Please be considerate of their work and follow the signs.

For more information, contact Facilities Management at 487-2303.

Homecoming Sale Announced

Celebrate Homecoming from 8 to 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, at the Campus Bookstore and University Images. Take 25 percent off Michigan Tech apparel in school colors black/gold/silver. The sale is for one day only so come on in and celebrate Homecoming on Husky Friday and save.

Stand Against Violence Presentation

The campus community is invited to come to a presentation hosted by People Against Violence Endeavor (PAVE). Presenters Chuck Derry and Ed Heisler will be on campus at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22, in M&M U115. They will discuss men's role in gendered violence, how our culture supports violent acts, and what we can do to move forward.

Derry and Heisler have both worked extensively with women and men in violence-related situations and now focus their energy on organizing men and boys as allies in the fight against violence.

For more information, see PAVE, or email Tom Maynard at .

KSO Begins a Four-city UP Tour: "From Russia With Love"

by Bethany Jones, marketing manager, Rozsa Center

The Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra presents the first night of a four-city concert tour of an electric all-Russian concert, "From Russia with Love," at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, in the Rozsa Center.

General admission for the performance at the Rozsa is $18.75. To purchase tickets, call 487-2073, go online at Rozsa, or visit Ticketing Operations at the SDC.

SDC box office hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and noon to 8 p.m., Sunday. Please note the Rozsa Box Office is closed during regular business hours and will only open two hours prior to show times.

For more information, see Rozsa.

Khana Khazana Tours Asia

This Friday, Michigan Tech will be treated to Asian fusion cuisine, courtesy of Khana Khazana. Featuring a combination of Chinese, Thai and Korean dishes, Friday's lunch will be a truly diverse dining experience, including larb ped (a Thai duck and herb dish), dak kang jung (Korean sweet and spicy fried chicken), and braised pork ribs with potato (a mildly spicy Szechwan Chinese dish). A vegetarian alternative is available on request.

Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Memorial Union Food Court. A full meal including a fountain drink costs $6.95. Individual items are $2.50 each.

Khana Khazana is a weekly international lunch, a collaborative effort of international students and Dining Services.

Three Environmental Talks 10/18 and 10/19

Tom Heberlein, an environmental sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will give three public presentations at Michigan Tech on Thursday, Oct. 18 and Friday, Oct. 19

Thursday, October 18
A River Runs through it: Lessons from Rivers and Lakes
2 to 4 p.m., GLRC 202
Book signing, informal discussion with refreshments to follow. Open to the public.

Navigating Environmental Attitudes: Lessons from Wolves
7 p.m., Forestry G002
Book signing with refreshments to follow. Open to the public.

Friday, October 19
The Role of the Social Scientist in Environmental Research and Management
12:00 p.m., Academic Office Building 201
Department of Social Science Brown Bag discussion, all welcome

For more information, contact Assistant Professor Richelle Winkler (SS) at

Chemistry Seminar

Suman Sinha Ray, dean's fellow and postdoctoral research associate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, will present "Mechanics of Micro- and Nano-Textured Systems: Nanofibers, Nanochannels, Nanoparticles and Slurries" at 3 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, in Chem Sci 101. A discussion period will follow. Refreshments will be served, and all are welcome to attend.

For more information, visit Chemistry.

Biological Sciences Seminar

Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, a research scientist at the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, will present "Studying Wetland Ecosystems from Space to Aid in Resource Management" at 2 p.m., Friday Oct. 12, Dow 642.

EPSSI Seminar

Luke Van Roekel, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at Northland College, will present "Langmuir Cells, Small-scale Eddies, and the Large-scale Ocean: A Modern Day David vs. Goliath" at 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 15, in M&M U113.

In addition to his ocean-modeling research, Roekel has studied alternative teaching techniques in college science classes. If you would like to talk with him while he is on campus, contact Professor Raymond Shaw (Physics) at 487-1961 or at .

For more information, see EPSSI Seminar.

Environmental Engineering Seminar

Assistant Professor Evan Kane (SFRES) will present "Assessing Biogeochemical Consequences of Wildfire in Arctic and Boreal Forests: Examples from Ongoing Collaborative Research at MTU" at 3 p.m., Monday, Oct. 15, in GLRC 201. The public is welcome.

Canvas Tip of the Week: Submitting Midterm Grades from Canvas

Entering midterm grades into your Canvas grade book has been made much easier this semester. All the Banner-created Canvas courses for fall semester 2012 were pre-set by default to have a midterm assignment and grade book column with an appropriate letter grade scheme attached.

This means instructors can simply go directly to their Canvas grade book and type the SA and UN grades right into the midterm column without having to select, modify or attach a letter grade scheme to it first. They will then need to go to Course Tools and click on Submit Grades Electronically via Canvas to use the Grade Wizard to extract those grades and submit them to Banner.

* Submit Grades Electronically via Canvas--enter grades into the Canvas grade book then use the Grade Wizard to extract them and submit them to BANNER.
* Submit Grades Electronically via Faculty Self Service--type grades directly into Banner and submit them.

You can access these links later at Course Tools.

For directions on Submitting Grades Electronically via Canvas, visit Submitting Midterm grades from Canvas.

For more information or help with Canvas at Michigan Tech, and to register for eLearning workshops, visit Canvas One Stop.

In the News

Debra Levantrosser Setman, cofounder and 2012 chair of the Michigan Lean Consortium, recently interviewed Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, assistant vice president for administration, regarding Michigan Tech's lean journey.

To listen to the podcast, see Michigan Business Network.


Pat Joyce, professor emeritus in the School of Business and Economics, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture at the University of Split, Croatia, during the 2012-13 academic year. The award was announced by the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Joyce will conduct seminars on the use of in-class and laboratory experiments for economics instruction and bring these experiments into the university's classrooms. Joyce is one of approximately 1,100 US faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright US Scholar Program this academic year.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.