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$2.1m MERIT award extension to Escalante

Jorge Escalante of the department of microbiology conducts an extensive research operation into one of the most complex challenges in health science - biosynthesis of the coenzyme B-12. The National Institutes of Health, longtime supporters of his investigations, this fall renewed a prestigious long term commitment to this important research:

The MERIT, Method to Extend Research in Time, award is an extension of $2.1 million to an initial five-year award announced in 2010. It will support Escalante's research through 2020.

One of the most complex coenzymes in nature, B-12 is an essential human nutrient that is produced by many, but not all, microorganisms. Its impact on human health ranges from the development of the nervous system in infants to the prevention of diseases related to the metabolism of fats. Human pathogens such as salmonella require B-12 to establish intestinal infections.

"Our coenzyme B-12 work benefits from important collaborations with structural biologists and spectroscopists. Such collaborations allow us to look in detail, from a biophysical and structural standpoint, into how the proteins involved in the assembly of B-12 work. We are trying to learn how the organisms synthesize this very complex molecule, which is the focus of the grant," said Escalante, a UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor in Microbiology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Because Escalante's laboratory in the department of microbiology focuses on one of the most fundamental questions of biology, the investigations provide extraordinary training opportunities for developing scientists even as they seek solutions to basic questions.

A truly important important last point that we were glad to learn about. Not only are Escalante's research endeavors showing real progress, as acknowledged by NIH; they are also providing critical training ground for the next generation of research scientists. There is perhaps no better situation than learning from a tenacious researcher who believes in his science and in sharing his knowledge. Great opportunitities for our students, including undergraduates, who consistently find slots in his lab. This another example of leading edge research attracting some of the best young scientists in the world while at the same time advancing the capabilities of medical science. Congratulations to Dr. Escalante, his team and to our department of microbiology.

Image: Jorge Escalante, right, works at a lab enclosure with his senior graduate student Norbert Tavares. (Credit: Robert Newcomb/UGA)

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