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Michigan State University

Superfund Research Program

Research Experience and Training Coordination Core

Project Leader: Jamie J. Bernard
Grant Number: P42ES004911
Funding Period: 2022-2027
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Project Summary (2022-2027)

The overarching theme of the Michigan State University (MSU) Superfund Program (SRP) Research Center is to understand environmental, microbial, and mammalian biomolecular responses to environmental contaminants that act as ligands for the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). The Research Experience and Training Coordination Core (RETCC) aims to enhance the center’s success by promoting collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Disciplines represented include: biochemistry, computational biology, engineering, data management and analysis, molecular biology, pharmacology, soil science, social science, and toxicology, providing trainees with integrated opportunities to value and seek new perspectives.

Cross-training of students is achieved through a multifaceted training approach involving laboratory-based research plus formal and informal instruction. This is designed to accelerate movement towards “Convergence,” the third revolution in the biological sciences (molecular biology being the first, and genomics the second) (Sharp et al., 2011) by bringing the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and mathematics together. The MSU SRP Center is a paragon of this movement, as evidenced by the collaborations leading to joint publications by the toxicologists, engineers, and mathematical modelers involved in the project.

Interdisciplinary research is accomplished by promoting nine specific aims: (1) Monthly Virtual Laboratory meetings where the Michigan State, Emory, Purdue, and Rutgers researchers link by video conferencing, with emphasis placed on presentations by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows; (2) a four-session interactive Seminar Series providing a conceptual and motivational framework for trainees to appreciate the value of embracing multi-method, interdisciplinary research involving teams of diverse individuals; (3) diverse trainee recruitment and retention; (4) providing interdisciplinary training to students through (i) formal instruction (a Computational Biology course and a physiologically based Toxicokinetics course — both presented as intensive three- and five-day hands-on short courses), (ii) a seminar series organized by the graduate student and postdoctoral fellows who invite the speakers, and (iii) support travel to provide special educational opportunities, visit a lab to learn a new technique; (5) a Systems Biology/Genomics Journal Club; (6) a one-semester course meeting 1 hour a week, focused on the social dimensions and communication of environmental health research; (7) to provide basic introduction to data management and analysis; (8) to provide information about the Center’s activities and trainees to the SRP on a quarterly basis; and (9) to institute procedures for compliance with the requirement that all graduate students and post docs enter their relevant information in the National Institutes of Health’s CareerTrac in a timely fashion.

This package of activities serves as an innovating and coordinating hub to bring together all involved in the SRP center. If the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the non-laboratory portions of these aims will be accomplished in digital learning environments.

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