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Becky Delventhal awarded prestigious NSF grant

delventhal in the lab
September 22, 2023
Meghan O'Toole

Assistant Professor of Biology Becky Delventhal was awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her lab research.

The grant will fund Delventhal’s research of the tissue-specific role of the ER membrane protein complex (EMC) in the development and maintenance of a multicellular organism. This research is a new direction for Delventhal's lab, which previously has primarily focused on a model of traumatic brain injury in fruit flies.

About half of Delventhal's research students are still studying traumatic brain injury, but the new grant-funded project comes out of a serendipitous finding from a prior research project.

“We found that when we decreased one particular gene, specifically in a type of cell in the brain called glia, the flies we were studying displayed a striking outcome where they developed normally but died just a few days after becoming adult flies,” Delventhal explained. The normal adult fruit fly lifespan is two to three months.

Delventhal explained that humans have a version of this recently-discovered gene, and it is conserved all the way down to yeast and fungi. “We’ve found out that there appears to be a specific role of this gene in the nervous system, so this NSF grant is going to fund the exploration of this gene.”

Delventhal credits her research students Majo Orozco Fuentes ’24 and Otoha Tatami ’24 for first identifying the findings and gathering all the preliminary data that supported the grant application. With the funds from the grant, Delventhal plans to hire more students in her lab.

“The grant enables us to hire students and actually pay them she said. “We could even hire a graduated student to stay in the lab and work full time.”

Student access to research opportunities was one of the major drives for Delventhal's application for the grant.

“Many of our students have significant financial need. Getting the grant gives us the power to ease the financial stress on students,” Delventhal explained. Paid opportunities makes research feel more accessible for students who would not be able to do research unpaid. For the student identity as a scientist, there is something really powerful in knowing your labor is valued and you are being compensated as a member of a scientific research team.”

The grant will also fund the purchase of necessary research supplies and equipment in the lab.

The NSF grant is specifically geared toward faculty at non-research-intensive institutions in order to help build research capacity. 

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Majo Orozco Fuentes ’24 in Delventhal's lab

Orozco Fuentes had the opportunity to perform research with Delventhal on Molecular Mechanisms of Injury-Induced Neurodegeneration during the summer after her first year at Lake Forest as part of the Richter Scholar Program. As a Richter Scholar, Majo researched the fertility of flies after a traumatic brain injury and how other metabolic pathways were also affected by this type of injury. She was inspired to pursue this topic by Delventhal’s previous research and was able to see the type of scientific research that can be done with flies and how much can be learned from them.