Stowers Scientist Sarah Zanders Receives 2018 Basil O'Connor Award

Sarah Zanders, PhD

The March of Dimes Foundation has presented Assistant Investigator Sarah Zanders, PhD, with the Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award. This highly competitive award is designed for scientists embarking on their independent research career. It provides Zanders with $150,000 over two years.

Zanders’ research centers on understanding how selfish genetic elements exploit cell division and lead to an abnormal number of chromosomes, a common cause of genetic disorders including some human birth defects. Some cancer cells also have abnormal numbers of chromosomes.

While most genes expressed in meiosis—the cell division process that gives rise to gametes such as eggs and sperm—contribute positively to fertility, the selfish DNA sequences persist without providing any known benefit. These selfish genetic elements are commonly referred to as gamete-killing meiotic drivers and exist in a variety of organisms, including some mammals. However, they have not yet been identified in humans.

Zanders will continue to study gamete-killing meiotic drivers in yeast to gain a better understanding of how meiotic drivers exploit cell division. Eventually she hopes to be able to expand the studies to human sperm samples to search for evidence of meiotic drivers in humans. This research has the potential to provide insight into human chromosomal defects and disorders, and ultimately improve human fertility.