Public Release: 

Washington University's Sarah Elgin is re-funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Mo.- Sarah C. R. Elgin, Ph.D., professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, named a 'Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor' in 2002, is one of eight scientists to have her original grant funding renewed in 2006. In 2002, Elgin was one of 20 'million dollar professors' to get funding when HHMI announced the program. Recently, HHMI announced the awarding of 20 new such professorships in 2006, in addition to renewal funding to help eight of the 2002 group find ways to sustain the parts of their programs that worked best and to disseminate them to the broader community of science educators.

Elgin was renewed for $700,000 over four years beginning in 2006. The renewal is focused at the college/university level, and is centered on an effort to make Biology 4342, Research Explorations in Genomics, accessible to students and faculty at other schools. Elgin will direct a workshop this June on the acclaimed course, which provides junior and senior undergraduates the opportunity to work as a research team on a large-scale gene sequencing project , beginning with sample preparation at Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) through sequence finishing and analysis. Bio 4342 is taught collaboratively with Elaine Mardis from the GSC and Jeremy Buhler from Computer Sciences.

"The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers - not only in their research, but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching " says HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation."

Cech is a biochemist who continued teaching undergraduates at the University of Colorado at Boulder even after he won a Nobel Prize.

"The HHMI professors are as excited about teaching as they are about research, and it definitely rubs off on their students," said Peter Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "Undergraduates need a window into the excitement and fulfillment that scientists get from science. They need to discover that science is a way of learning and knowing, involving critical thinking, problem solving, and asking answerable questions. In this program we are supporting faculty to use research grade innovation to advance science education."

Elgin's research focus is on the role of chromatin structure in fruit fly gene regulation. She holds appointments in biology, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, genetics, and education at Washington University in St. Louis. Elgin graduated from Pomona College with a B.A. in chemistry and received a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, working in the laboratory of James Bonner, exploring the role of nonhistone chromosomal proteins. She did postdoctoral research with Leroy Hood, also at Caltech. With Hood, she developed tools to characterize chromatin in Drosophila. After a move to a faculty position at Harvard, work with her students led to a method to determine the distribution of specific proteins in the polytene chromosomes by using immunofluorescence and to methods for analyzing the nucleosome array, including identification of accessible regulatory sites (HS sites). At Washington University, her research has focused on heterochromatin formation and gene silencing, critical to the function of genomes in multicellular organisms.

Elgin served as director for Washington University's HHMI Undergraduate Biological Science Education Program from 1992 to 2004. In addition, she began a Science Education Partnership with her children's school district in the late 1980s, which has led to the development of materials for high school teachers to use to integrate teaching of DNA science and information on the Human Genome Project into their genetics unit and to the development of hands-on science courses for K-8 teachers, taught jointly by scientists and expert teachers. These efforts are now led by Victoria May, director of Science Outreach at Washington University.

She currently serves on the editorial boards of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Molecular Cell, and Cell Biology Education. She is also a member of the University City Science Advisory Council, and serves on the advisory boards of the ENCODE project of the National Human Genome Research Institute and the European Epigenome Network of Excellence.


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