Chris Krasniak ’16, an INBRE summer research fellow, works in the lab at the MDI Biological Laboratory. Krasniak is studying a gene that may be related to kidney disease.Chris Krasniak ’16

Thanks in part to a new five-year, $18.4-million grant that funds collaboration between the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and 13 Maine institutions, a multifaceted relationship between Colby and the lab will continue into the foreseeable future.

The grant, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, is the third to fund the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). The money will provide for Colby faculty research, summer research fellowships for students, short courses and Jan Plan research, conference expenses, and scientific equipment.

As part of the INBRE award, Assistant Professor of Biology Tariq Ahmad received a five-year research grant of approximately $500,000.

“This is a big deal,” said Andrea Tilden, the J. Warren Merrill Associate Professor of Biology and a member of the INBRE steering committee.

First awarded in 2004, INBRE funding ensures that Maine, despite its lack of major biomedical research centers, receives research funding and contributes to the NIH mission—to improve human health, said Patricia Hand, vice president for administration for the laboratory in Bar Harbor. “We have people in our state who are very intelligent, who are capable.”

The INBRE network gives those capable students and working scientists opportunities to do important biomedical research, she said, and it trains future Ph.D. researchers, physicians, and others. The work funded by the grant also helps provide an educated population that will be literate in science, no matter what field they end up pursuing. “We spend a great deal of time on broad skills, life skills,” said MDIBL spokesperson Jeri Bowers. “Problem solving, critical thinking.”

Tilden, the Colby biologist, has done her own research at the Bar Harbor center for more than 20 years, and Colby science students have worked there for more than a decade. “The advantage of coming here to do [DNA] sequencing and that sort of work is that they have a full facility dedicated to this and full-time people to run it,” Tilden said at the laboratory. “Students can come in and go right to the workbench and have everything right here.”

Tilden was in the laboratory with Julie Millard, the Dr. Gerald and Myra Dorros Professor of Chemistry, and a group of incoming first-year students in the Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences. The CAPS students were working on collecting samples of plants and animals on Mount Desert Island and extracting DNA from those samples to be added to an international database used to identify species.

Meanwhile, Chris Krasniak ’16, a biology and psychology-neuroscience double major and an INBRE summer research fellow, was working with scientists in a nearby laboratory on a project focusing on a gene that may have an effect on the way the kidney filters proteins from the blood. “I’m looking at that one gene that—the loss of it—could cause kidney disease,” Krasniak said.

He said his summer research has been amazing. “It’s a great experience being in a professional lab,” Krasniak said.