Christopher Gregg is the 2010 Grand Prize winner in the annual international competition for The Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology. He is being recognized for his outstanding contributions to research on how the parental origin of a gene affects its expression in the developing and adult brains of offspring.
“My interests are now focused on determining whether maternal and/or paternal gene expression programs in offspring are altered according to stresses and environmental effects experienced by parents,” said Gregg, a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department at Harvard University, who will join the University of Utah as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy next year. “This is an exciting possibility that could reveal pathways that prepare offspring for the environment into which they will be born.”
In his award-winning essay, “Parental Control over the Brain,” Gregg explains how he and his team at Harvard sort out how mother- and father-specific genetic cues influence their offspring’s brains. Gregg describes how the team developed a genome-wide approach to study these parental effects on different regions of the brain during various developmental stages. Through experiments with mice, they document how rare, epigenetic marks on certain maternal and paternal genes—known as genome imprints—affect the timing of gene expression in the next generation.
For example, these researchers have identified approximately 553 genes that are subject to these parental genome imprints at day 15 of embryonic development and just 372 genes under the influence of such parental effects in the adult brain.
“Genes that preferentially express one parent’s copy can be especially vulnerable to the presence of a mutation, because the other copy that doesn’t have the mutation isn’t being expressed, so there is no backup,” added Gregg. “This phenomenon is especially obvious in males with diseases involving mutations on the X chromosome. In females, these diseases tend to be less severe, because females have two X chromosomes, but males have only one.”
His findings reveal some of the specific parental effects associated with brain development and diseases, such as multiple sclerosis—and they provide a roadmap for future research in this field. “I believe these effects have major relevance for our understanding of brain evolution, function, and disease,” said Gregg.
“This award is tremendously significant for me,” he added. “The past recipients are absolutely outstanding, as are my fellow finalists. It is important to note that the work highlighted in my essay is the result of efforts from several excellent collaborators, including Jiangwen Zhang, David Haig, and my mentor, Catherine Dulac.”
The Eppendorf and Science Prize in Neurobiology recognizes outstanding international neurobiological research based on current methods and advances in the field of molecular and cell biology by a young early-career scientist, as described in a 1000-word essay based on research performed within the last three years. The grand prize winner receives $25,000 from Eppendorf, and the winner’s essay, “Parental Control over the Brain,” will be published in the 5 November 2010 issue of the journal Science.
The winner and the finalists will be recognized at the annual meeting[link: http://www.sfn.org/index.aspx?pagename=annualmeeting] of the Society for Neuroscience in 15 November in San Diego, California.
2010 Grand Prize Winner
The author of the prize-winning essay, Christopher Gregg, received his B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Lethbridge, Canada. His graduate studies were carried out under Samuel Weiss at the University of Calgary. In 2006, he joined Catherine Dulac’s laboratory at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Human Frontiers Science Program. Gregg’s postdoctoral work has focused on the development of next-generation sequencing approaches to study genomic imprinting and allele-specific gene expression programs in the brain. In 2011, he will join the University of Utah as an assistant professor, where he plans to work toward understanding genetic and epigenetic pathways that influence feeding and neuron-economic decision-making processes.
Ed Boyden, for his essay “Molecular Tools for Controlling Brain Circuits with Light.” Boyden is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his group develops tools for controlling and observing neural circuits in order to understand how they compute and to yield new strategies for the treatment of brain disorders. Boyden received his Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University working with Jennifer Raymond and Richard Tsien on the molecular mechanisms of memory storage. In a collaboration with Georg Nagel and Karl Deisseroth, he pioneered the use of channelrhodopsin-2 for optical activation of neurons. His group at MIT has developed reagents for optically silencing neural activity and hardware platforms for light delivery into the brain, and has distributed these optogenetic tools to many groups worldwide.
Adam Kepecs, for his essay “Are you Certain? The Neural Basis for Decision Confidence.” Kepecs received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, in 1997. He then switched to studying the brain, completing his Ph.D in theoretical neuroscience in the laboratory of John Lisman at Brandeis University. In 2002, he joined the laboratory of Zachary Mainen at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he began studying decision-making in rats. Since 2007, he has been an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he uses quantitative behavioral models and electrophysiological, optical, and molecular techniques to study the neural circuitry underlying decision-making in rodents.
Eppendorf is a life science company which develops, produces and distributes systems for use in research laboratories worldwide. Its product range includes pipettes, dispensers/repeaters, and centrifuges as well as consumables such as micro test tubes and pipette tips. In addition, Eppendorf provides automated devices for liquid handling, a full range of equipment for DNA amplification, instruments and systems for cell manipulation. Eppendorf was founded in Hamburg in 1945 and has more than 2500 employees worldwide. The company has subsidiaries in 20 countries and is represented in all other markets by distributors. In fiscal 2009, the company’s sales revenues amounted to € 433 million with earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of € 72.2 million.
Read the full text of essays by the winner and the finalists.
See a list of past Eppendorf & Science award winners.
Learn more about the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, including how to enter for 2011.