UC Biologist Receives NSF Grant for Research on Eye Organization

The National Science Foundation has recently awarded a grant to McMicken’s Department of Biological Sciences Professor Elke Buschbeck to support her research on a strangely organized eye, which is unique among all known eye types. 

Buschbeck’s research is based on the study and comparison of the larvae of Sunburst Diving Beetles and fruit flies. The larvae of the Sunburst Diving Beetle are a highly specialized, visually guided predator. The eyes of these beetles have unique properties and are structurally and functionally sophisticated, which raises the question of how this eye organization may have arisen developmentally.

Buschbeck is the principal investigator for this research, which she will be conducting in collaboration with co-researcher Tiffany Cook from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The two received this grant as a result of their complementary strengths in probing fundamental gene function and investigating optical organization. Sunburst Diving Beetle larvae have functionally novel eyes, but how such novelty forms could potentially be understood by using the powerful genetic framework of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies). 

Buschbeck and Cook use these two organisms in parallel to test for the generality of developmental patterns. Specifically the project will use RNAi knock downs in beetles, and fruit fly molecular genetics to attempt to establish how eye development genes influence conserved and/or derived aspects of eye organization. 

Buschbeck also has long had a collaborative relationship with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. She contributed to a graphical display that was posted at the zoo’s beetle exhibition, highlighting her research findings on the beetle larval eyes. In addition to this recent grant, Buschbeck has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation since 2002. 

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