Biology professor Kevin Militello awarded $387,768 for second round of research

Kevin Militello, associate professor of biology, has been awarded a renewal of the Academic Research Enhancement Award grant for his project “Cytosine DNA Methylation and Transcriptional Repression in African Trypanosomes.” 

The $387,768 award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will provide for supplies, data, travel, a part-time research technician and stipends for student researchers over the summer.

In the first round of research, Militello’s lab found a modified DNA base in Trypanosoma brucei, a parasite that carries the African sleeping sickness.

“There’s been a lot of interest over the past couple years in new bases … It’s like a language,” he said, comparing finding the new bases to finding new letters in the alphabet. “We’re trying to figure out what it is.”

“Even though it’s modified, it’s considered a new base,” said senior Sarah Cantatore, a biology student researching with Militello. “In biology, a small change makes a big difference.”

In this round of research, Militello said that he hopes to determine which organisms have the new bases, which genes have them and what their function is.

“Usually the modified base inactivates the gene,” said Cantatore. “No one’s been able to create a vaccine against the sleeping sickness because the organism has a protein coat that rapidly changes … the modified base may be involved in controlling the genes responsible for the protein coat.”

According to Militello, he routinely has three to seven students in the lab.

“Their data has gone into published articles … even in the grant submission,” he said.

With money tight, Militello said that this grant is important for “student growth.” There are close to 900 biology students at Geneseo and not enough research positions for everyone.

After receiving his Ph.D. in microbiology from SUNY Buffalo, Militello completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard School of Public Health in 2005 and has been at Geneseo since.

“I wanted to support the [State University of New York] system,” said Militello.