University of Vermont

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Public Relations:Josh Brown (802)656-3039
Specialty:genetics, membrane receptor biochemistry and physiology
Biography:Van Houten is Chair of the Biology Department and Co-Director of the Vermont Genetics Network. Funded by a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of a new initiative called Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) ,UVM is one of 24 U.S. research universities leading projects to build critical mass and infrastructure in the broad area of genetics; to increase competitiveness of the new genetics faculty at UVM and four Vermont baccalaureate schools; to increase the number of undergraduates who go on to biomedical careers from the baccalaureate colleges; to create a human network, support it through electronic communications, and make it sustainable to provide a new bioinformatics capability in the state; and to increase the diversity of biomedical scientists. Van Houten also serves as the Assoc. Project Director for Vermont EPSCoR, a program that builds science and engineering research infrastructure in Vermont, at UVM and four year colleges and the private sector. Increasing diversity of the science and engineering community also is a goal of EPSCoR. Van Houten's other research interests center on chemoreception using Paramecium, a single-celled animal, as a model. These cells are like little swimming neurons and, like our neurons that detect odors or tastes, they respond to stimuli by membrane electrical changes. We approach sensing of chemical stimuli on several levels: membrane biochemistry to identify receptors and "signal transduction" components that turn a chemical stimulus signal into an electrical one; molecular genetics to clone genes for receptors and other proteins in chemoreception and to make predictable changes in the gene and protein sequences;measurements of calcium and calcium metabolism by fluorescence and isotopic methods; measurements of internal, second messengers such as cyclic nucleotides; electrophysiology to characterize membrane electrical changes; motion analysis to digitize normal and mutant swimming. Chemosensory receptors studied include special ones that are attached to the cell surface through fatty acid linkages, and that are found in special lipid domains on the cell surface.