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Research and Innovation

Zakas Awarded $1.9M NIH Grant for Maternal Genetics Research

The NC State Belltower at dusk and night. Photo by Marc Hall

Christina Zakas of NC State’s Department of Biological Sciences has received a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate how maternal genetics affects human health and development.

The grant was made as part of the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award program of the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The program aims to provide researchers with greater stability and flexibility in an effort to enhance scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.

Christina Zakas
Christina Zakas

Zakas’ project is titled “Maternal Genetic Effects Shape Developmental Evolution.” Maternal genes have important effects on offspring development, but few studies to date have identified how variation in maternal genetic loci alter regulatory processes and shape developmental outcomes. Zakas’ team will use a unique model system to understand how genetic interactions between maternal background and offspring genotype influence embryogenesis and ontogeny.

The project will be the first to investigate the intraspecific genetic basis for evolutionary developmental transitions. The researchers hope to reveal the architecture and genetic mechanisms through which maternal genetic effects shape developmental evolution and lead to novel developmental programs.

“The MIRA is a particularly helpful funding mechanism because it allows for flexibility,” Zakas said. “It allows us to try new approaches depending on what we learn and how the research unfolds.”

Zakas will lead a team of investigators on the project composed of graduate students, postdocs and undergraduate researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences.