Villanova Geneticist Receives $560,959 NSF Grant

Dennis Wykoff is the Dennis M. Cook ’90 Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics in the Department of Biology

Villanova, PA – The National Science Foundation awarded a $560,959 grant to Dennis Wykoff, PhD, the Dennis M. Cook ’90 Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics in the Department of Biology in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to support his research project on fungal disease.  

The project, “RUI: Characterization of thiamine signal transduction pathway in Candida glabrata and other Ascomycetes,” investigates how closely related fungal species have changes in their genome specific to nutrient starvation, and how those subtle genomic differences allow for changes in each species' behavior. This is Dr. Wykoff’s fourth sole-investigator NSF grant at Villanova University, having been awarded over $2.15 million to support research in the past 12 years.

Dispersed fungal diseases in the human body are often more than 50 percent lethal. If an antibiotic crisis were to occur, there would be an antifungal catastrophe because there are currently only three classes of antifungals that can be used to treat these diseases.

Candida glabrata is the second most common cause of yeast infections, thrush and Candidiasis. The research in Dr. Wykoff’s laboratory uncovers the mechanisms by which yeast cells are able to send and respond to starvation of thiamine, a critical vitamin. Dr. Wykoff is uncovering mechanisms of gene regulation in this simple fungal system. Long-term, by preventing the regulation of genes required for thiamine synthesis, the laboratory hopes to uncover novel antifungal treatments.

“This award from the National Science Foundation recognizes the importance of Dr. Wykoff’s research and its potential long-term implications,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, dean, Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It also supports the commitment of our teacher-scholar faculty to providing outstanding collaborative research and learning opportunities for both our undergraduate and graduate students.”

Seven Villanova undergraduate students will be a part of Dr. Wykoff’s research team in 2019-2020. They are: Biology students Ryan Albagi ’22 CLAS, Kristen Barbour ’20 CLAS, Lilian Bui ’21 CLAS and Julia Ungras ’22 CLAS; Biochemistry student Alison Mody ’20 CLAS; and Computer Science student Manav Thadani ’22 CLAS. Biology graduate student Anita Loshnow ’20 MS will also work on the research.

Dr. Wykoff has published more than 23 manuscripts in prestigious journals such as Biochemical Journal, Genetics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He received his BS degree in Biochemistry from the University of California, Davis, and his PhD in Biological Sciences from Stanford University. After completing postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard University, Dr. Wykoff joined the Villanova faculty in 2006.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.