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NIEHS Scientists at Fall GEMS Meeting

By Eddy Ball
December 2006

GEMS President-Elect Greg Stuart (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mercedes Arana
Best Post-Doctoral Poster Winner Mercedes Arana (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dario Ramirez
Best Talk/Travel Award Winner Dario Ramirez (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On October 26, the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society (GEMS) held its 24th Annual Fall Meeting on "Oxidative Stress and Damage" at the UNC Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The meeting was organized and facilitated by President-Elect Greg Stuart, Ph.D., a special volunteer with the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Genetics (LMG). The event featured invited platform speakers, as well as oral and poster presentations by three post-doctoral fellows affiliated with NIEHS.

At NIEHS, Stuart works in the Mitochondrial Replication Group with LMG Director William Copeland, Ph.D. He is supported by a National Research Council Research Associateship Award from the National Academies. Stuart's specialty at NIEHS is yeast genetics, the study of mutations synonymous with those in the human mitochondrial DNA polymerase gene, DNA polymerase gamma, that are associated with human neurological diseases. Stuart served on the GEMS Board of Directors as a councilor for three years prior to assuming his current position in 2005. He will serve as president through 2007.

At this year's fall meeting, Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry (LPC) Fellow Dario Ramirez, Ph.D., participated in oral presentations with a talk titled "Immuno-spin Trapping of Oxidatively Generated Damage to the Genome." Ramirez' presentation grew out of his work with LPC Research Chemist Ronald Mason, the 2006 NIEHS Scientist of the Year. Ramirez was principal investigator on a study, "Immuno-spin Trapping of DNA Radicals," published in Nature Methods (2006, 3:123-127) and co-authored with Mason and LPC Fellow Sandra E. Gomez-Mejiba, Ph.D. Ramirez was the winner of the Best Talk/Travel Award in the post-doctoral category and was offered a one-year position on the board as a student representative. LMG Fellow D. Wade Lehmann, Ph.D., also presented a talk at the session titled "Aroclor Derived Oxidative Damage in the Bivalve Corbicula fluminea."

The meeting also featured a poster session. NIEHS scientist Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., LMG post-doctoral fellow, won the meeting's award for Best Post-Doctoral Poster. She was principal investigator in the study "A Unique Error Signature for Human DNA Polymerase ." with co-authors LMG Fellow Miguel Garcia-Diaz, Ph.D., and LSB Chief Thomas A. Kunkel, Ph.D.

In addition to Stuart, five other NIEHS scientists serve on the GEMS Board of Directors. Gloria Jahnke, Ph.D., is secretary, and Janice Allen, Ph.D., is a 2005-2007 councilor. Biologists Rose Anne McGee, Dan Shaughnessy and Cindy Innes of the Laboratory of Molecular Toxicology are 2006-2008 councilors.

Founded in 1982, GEMS is a regionally active group of scientists, toxicologists, and others sharing a common interest in genetics and the environment. GEMS holds two scientific meetings annually with mutagenesis themes, such as the biological effects of toxicants on the environment or human health. The organization maintains a web page and blog for members and other interested scientists. "A long-standing and ongoing goal of GEMS," Stuart said, "is to actively encourage involvement at the meetings - and in science generally - by minority groups, women in science, and handicapped or other historically under-represented groups." GEMS promotes the participation of students by reducing their fees to $5.00 for membership and $10.00 for meeting registration, thus encouraging them to become involved in professional development early in their careers.

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