(Posted October 3, 2005)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Jill Keeney, professor of biology at Juniata College, received a three-year $194,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how viruses replicate within cells, using structural DNA elements within yeast cells as a model that behaves similarly to viruses.

The grant award advances Keeney's research from a previous NIH grant in which Keeney and student researchers isolated particular genes within yeast cells that controls replication of retroelements. "We will be looking at how the genes we identified control replication of these viral-like DNA elements" Keeney says. "The genes we are studying are involved in DNA repair and recombination within the yeast cell."

Keeney's grant is part of an NIH program, Academic Research Enhancement Award, which supports undergraduate research projects at non-research intensive colleges and universities across the country. Approximately 30 percent of the college researchers applying for the grants receive them.

Keeney will work on the project with two to four student researchers during the academic year and will use two student researchers during Juniata's summer break.

Keeney has received a variety of research grants from NIH, including the previous $123,000, three-year grant and a $432,000 Faculty Early Career Development grant. All of her previous grants centered on related genetic issues of how retroelements replicate within the cell structure of yeast.

"These structures within yeast behave, that is move around within a cell, in similar ways to the way viruses behave," Keeney explains. "So the materials we work with are not infectious, but they can sort of stand in for how a virus behaves in the cell."

Keeney is department chair for the Department of Biology. She joined the Juniata faculty in 1994. She earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Penn State University in 1985, and went on to earn a doctorate in immunology in 1990 from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. In addition to introductory biology, she teaches courses in bioinformatics, advanced genetics and molecular biology techniques.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.