Abstract: Experimental Evaluation of Evolutionary Pressures on Prion Competition

My Upperclassman Monroe project has a broad, clinical application and will be the beginning of my research for the next two years with my PI, Dr. Helen Murphy. My research involves working with prion strains in a yeast model to better understand the evolutionary pressures that can dictate the variation in disease aggressiveness across patients. Prions are thought to be the cause of widely problematic neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, as well as Mad Cow disease. This research aims to understand the mechanisms that determine the lethality of different strains as well as more accurately understand the actual process of prion evolution.


I will be conducting my research using yeast because its fast replication time and relatively similar genetic material make it an ideal experimental model for human prion experiments. Like I mentioned briefly before, this research will extend well beyond my 7 weeks period this summer, so my goals this summer are minor in scale compared to the overall project. What I will be aiming to accomplish this summer is first is to create a proof of concept. I will be creating synthetic prions that mimic human ones but can be used in yeast, and will be testing for varying phenotypic expression across strains. The purpose of this is to ensure prion aggregation of individual strains meets expectations as well as provide a base line for future experiments to be compared against. My next goal will be to take these freely infecting prions and implement their genetic sequence into the genome of yeast strains along with tagging agents that we can use to ensure strain uptake and track prion type competition. The reason this is important is because we want to see not only how prions themselves compete, but also the evolutionary competition of the raw genetic material that creates the prions. This will take some extensive work but will allow for a very strong platform to base the rest of the research on.

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