Assistant Professor and Research Team Receives $16,000 Grant

Loren Collingwood, assistant professor of political science, is part of a team of researchers from the University of Washington-Tacoma and Highline College in Des Moines, Washington, who have received a $16,365 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Election Data and Science Lab. The grant will fund a one-year study of the joint impact of ballot drop boxes and get-out-the-vote advertising on voter turnout in Pierce County, Washington.

The state of Washington is one of only three to conduct its elections exclusively by mail. Many states are adopting vote-by-mail procedures to make voting easier, and the ballot drop box plays an important role in providing a free, secure, and sometimes more convenient alternative to mailing in a ballot. In Pierce County, more than 60 percent of votes were cast via drop box in the most recent election.

There is very little research on the effectiveness of ballot drop boxes in increasing voter turnout, Collingwood said. The team of political scientists and economists will coordinate with county election officials to randomize the installation of several new drop boxes in the 2017 primary and general elections in Pierce County. By analyzing data from these drop boxes and as well as targeted get-out-the-vote mailers, the researchers hope to determine how these two tools can be combined for maximum impact.

Professor Co-authored a Paper in Nature Genetics

Jason Stajich

An organism’s DNA is comprised of four letters or “bases” – A, C, T, and G, representing adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine, respectively.

Genes are regions of DNA read by cellular machinery that makes messages and proteins which display the traits of an organism. Chemical modifications of DNA bases can affect whether genes can be read. One modification is the methylation of the base cytosine “5mC” and is found widely in eukaryotes (cells or organisms that have a clearly defined nucleus). Another modification, “6mA”, involves adding a methyl group to adenine.

The role of these different methylation strategies is not yet fully understood but in most cases 5mC turns off genes while 6mA may be a step in turning them on.

Jason Stajich, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology, was a coauthor on a paper published in a May issue of Nature Genetics that reported the unexpected prevalence of 6mA in several lineages of fungi that are typically understudied.

“While the more common and well-studied 5mC is found to mark DNA in most lineages of the tree of life, the 6mA mark has only been described in a green algae, a few animals, and prokaryotes – but never in fungi,” Stajich said. “Our work shows it is present and relatively abundant in some of the chytrid and zygomycete lineages of fungi which are typically understudied groups that my lab and other labs are focusing on in order to improve understanding of their evolution and cell biology.”

The Stajich lab, which focuses on genomics and evolution of fungi, contributed DNA, RNA, and resulting genome sequences of strains from these two lineages of fungi to the project. This research was support by a National Science Foundation Genealogy of Life grant.

“We isolated DNA that was additionally profiled for 5mC DNA methylation in species in order to compare the relative abundance of 5mC vs 6mA,” Stajich said. “An additional detailed study of the changes in 5mC across fungi is underway in my lab in a project we are calling MycoMeth.”

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