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Environmental Factor

March 2011

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NIEHS-supported trainee to attend Nobel-Lindau meeting

By Eddy Ball
March 2011

Catherine Volle in her lab

Shown in her lab at Brown, Volle is an example of how NIEHS support is being used to encourage efforts to cross disciplinary boundaries. "I sometimes think of myself as a missionary bringing chemistry to the biologists and biology to the chemists," she said of her studies. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Volle)

Sarah Delaney, Ph.D.

Delaney, who is Volle's mentor at Brown and an NIEHS grantee(, said of her student, "Catherine's enthusiasm in the lab carries over to her interest in and passion for all aspects of science and she will take full advantage of this terrific opportunity."(Photo courtesy of Sarah Delaney)

Brown University graduate research fellow Catherine Volle has been selected to attend the 61st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting( Exit NIEHS June 26-July 1 in Lindau, Germany, as part of a contingent of about 40 other NIH-supported students. Volle, who receives training support through an NIEHS grant, will join approximately 20 Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine and some 550 other outstanding students from throughout the world in a series of lectures, discussion sessions, and other activities designed to foster inter-generational scientific discourse.

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Volle is a member of the Brown University laboratory( Exit NIEHS headed by NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) awardee and chemist Sarah Delaney, Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS (see story( In her research with the Delaney group, Volle seeks to define the mechanisms by which DNA damage, resulting from an inflammatory response or other environmental source of damage, contributes to dynamic DNA mutations (see text box).

Commenting on her upcoming trip this summer, Volle said, "I'm grateful to be presented with this opportunity. It's not every day you get to meet some of the leading international scientists, both the Nobel laureates and the other young researchers, and have a dialogue with them, especially at such a formative point in a young scientific career."

As one of what the Lindau organizers describe as "international Best Talents," Volle will participate in an activity-filled week of social and intellectual interaction among laureates and students living, eating, and talking together in and around the historic island city of Lindau. Lindau sits on Lake Constance, the Bodensee, where the borders of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland meet.

The Lindau meetings began in 1951 as a sort of reunion for expatriate German scientists who left their country during the Nazi period. From the outset, organizers envisioned the meeting as a non-ideological gathering of inquiring minds dedicated to transferring knowledge between generations.

This year, the American contingent of students, recruited and sponsored by NIH, the U.S. Department of Energy, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities, will be part of a group representing 70 nations. Participating universities were able to submit six nominees each, two to each of the sponsoring groups.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is the NIH lead on the Lindau selection process. NIH, which provides support for its trainees attending the meeting, will also sponsor International Day at the meeting. The theme will be "Health and Health Research."

Using chemical techniques to investigate biological systems

In her work in the Delaney lab, Volle studies the interplay between DNA structure and oxidative damage.

Volle investigates the structure adopted by trinucleotide repeats (TNR) in various contexts, particularly in the nucleosome core particle, the most basic unit of chromatin packing. TNRs are known to form non-canonical structures in the cell, leading to their expansion in the genome.

This expansion is the cause of several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington's disease. Volle is exploring whether those non-canonical structures can form in a nucleosome, and whether the presence of the oxidative lesion 8-oxoG or its repair can induce non-canonical structure formation in the nucleosome. She is also investigating the ability of 8-oxoG to modulate hairpin structure in CAG repeat oligonucleotides and duplex constructs.

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