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UD biologist Aimee Jaramillo-Lambert has
won a $2 million federal grant to support the work of
her research group.
To enable our
fingernails to grow or new skin to form and heal an injury, our cells
make copies of themselves — exact duplicates containing the same DNA,
the combination of 46 chromosomes that makes each of us a unique
But there’s a different process involved when cells create egg or sperm cells.
Rather than duplicating themselves as they do for ordinary tissue
growth, the chromosomes instead divide and become part of new sperm and
egg cells, each containing only 23 chromosomes. This allows these cells
to join in the process of reproduction and form brand-new, 46-chromosome
cells in what will become a new individual.
“My lab studies this special process of cell division, called
meiosis, that makes sperm and egg cells,” said University of Delaware
biologist Aimee Jaramillo-Lambert, who recently won a $2 million federal
research grant to support her work. “When the sperm and egg come
together, you want each to bring 23 chromosomes, half of what is needed.
Meiosis is very similar in all organisms, from one-celled yeast to
Her research team investigates exactly how each sperm and egg cell gets
the correct number of chromosomes in meiosis and the role played by
certain enzymes and proteins in the process. She also studies the shape
of the chromosomes, especially in sperm cells, which determines some
processes as well.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Jaramillo-Lambert, who is assistant professor of biological sciences,
has been awarded a $2 million, five-year research grant, which began
July 15, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute
of General Medical Sciences. The funding comes from the Maximizing
Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which specifically
supports early-career research “among the nation’s highly talented and
promising investigators,” MIRA said.
“The formation of sperm and eggs with the ‘wrong’ number of
chromosomes is a key contributing factor to infertility, miscarriages
and birth defects in humans,” Jaramillo-Lambert wrote in her grant
application. Her research into chromosome structure and separation in
sperm and eggs, she said, will improve scientists’ understanding of how
disruptions in these processes contribute to male and female infertility
and birth defects and potentially lead to effective treatments.
Her research uses C. elegans, a transparent roundworm, as a
model to study meiosis and chromosome structure. Most meiosis research
in worms has focused on the formation of egg cells, she said, but her
team concentrates on sperm cells, in which the chromosomes are much
smaller but which contribute proteins that are important for various
aspects of early development.
Some chromosome disorders, including cases in which the number is
more or less than 46, cause such conditions as Down syndrome. But many
others result in infertility or miscarriage, Jaramillo-Lambert said, and
further research could lead to better diagnoses.
“In about 20% of cases of sterility, the underlying cause is
unknown,” she said. “The hope is that this research can help us
understand those cases.”
Jaramillo-Lambert joined the faculty in UD’s Department of Biological Sciences
in 2017. She earned her doctorate at the University of California,
Davis and did postdoctoral research at George Washington University
Medical Center and the NIH National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive
and Kidney Diseases.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published Oct. 12, 2021