Arthur Clark, a British science fiction writer, formulated three laws of science fiction, one of which states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” According to Lance Davidson, a bioengineer at Pitt, the developmental processes of organisms are “magical.”
“I feel like when we watch the embryo develop, we’re looking at this advanced technology. We don’t understand how it works. It feels like magic to us,” Davidson said. “And as an engineer, I think I want to be able to control that as technology.”
Davidson recently received $2.2 million Method to extend the search in time award from the National Institute of Health for his research on morphogenesis, the biological process by which cells, tissues and organs develop. His laboratory uses frog embryos and studies the biochemical processes involved in morphogenesis.
“We are focusing on one of the great mysteries of biology. How come organisms form into such diverse shapes and functions? Davidson said. “I speak for my species as well as for my kingdom. It’s not just animals, but plants and all kinds of multicellular life – each has a different shape and form.
Davidson’s work helps to “translate” the human genome into the organisms they represent and to understand how organisms develop. He wants to know how organisms take information from the genome and create living biological systems. The NIH awards MERIT fellowships to investigators who are “significantly superior and very likely to continue to perform exceptionally well.” It is also one of the highest honors a researcher can receive.
Fatima Syed-Picard, a professor in the School of Dentistry, said she believes Davidson deserves the recognition. Davidson was a mentor to Syed-Picard during her doctorate, and she still considers him a mentor in her academic career.
“The first thing I thought was well deserved,” Syed-Picard said. “It just makes sense. It goes without saying that he is such an amazing innovator, scientist and engineer, [well deserved] It’s the first thing that comes to mind. »
David Finegold, a human geneticist at the School of Public Works, said he was delighted Davidson received the award as he believed Davidson really deserved it.
“Dr. Davidson is not someone who brags or boasts, and his accomplishments really speak for themselves,” Finegold said. “I was pretty excited when I heard [he got it]its performance is prodigious.
Davidson said the MERIT award is incredibly helpful for her research project. He said this means he won’t have to worry about writing grant proposals for the foreseeable future, allowing him to focus on his research.
“It actually funds me for 10 years potentially without having to write a major grant again. I can focus on this project, I can have graduate students focusing on it,” Davidson said. “And I think that’s such a relief, it reduces my stress and it’s also a fantastic vote of confidence from my field.
Finegold said the MERIT award shows how decorated, innovative and important Davidson is in his field.
“Some of us are still concerned to recognize that we may not be able to keep up and run with the younger ones,” Finegold said. “Lance doesn’t just run with the youngsters, he gets ahead of them, that’s a good thing.”
According to Davidson, when scientists first sequenced a human’s genome, they couldn’t tell what color their eyes were. Davidson said with the MERIT award, his research will be able to “harness” the enormous amount of information coming from genomics. His research combines both biology and physics to understand the biological processes in the development of frog embryos.
“We know how cells do things – we know a lot about cell biology on the one hand. We have lots and lots of sequence data from different organisms. We are now a washout with genomic information,” said Davidson: “But we don’t really know how the two really relate. It’s basically a black box right now.
Davidson said the MERIT grant allows his lab not only to focus more on his research, but also to ask larger, longer-term questions and expand his team with more people who are passionate about morphogenesis.
“I think it gives us the opportunity to start working in this area,” Davidson said, “and making the necessary investments in both figuring out how to find students interested in this and combining the type of physique and genomics in a new direction.