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|• Going Fission: Charles Hoffman|
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Fishing is an ancient discipline practiced for millennia for both survival and sport. Fission, a relatively new practice, is not as easily understood but certainly as popular—with scientists, at least. "I'd rather be fission," the tagline under the e-mail signature of biology professor Charles Hoffman, suggests as much.
Fission refers to the kind of yeast that Hoffman uses in his research. It also describes his recent efforts to create a new method of drug development.
In a lab in Higgins Hall, Hoffman and a team of four other scientists conduct enterprising research on single-celled fission yeast organisms. Their aim: to manipulate yeast cells to detect chemical compounds that could ultimately be used as pharmaceuticals.
According to Hoffman, this new method of drug discovery could help produce treatments for asthma, inflammatory diseases, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease, among a host of other afflictions.
"Our research is predicated on two questions," says Hoffman: "How does yeast respond to the best food in its environment—in this case glucose—and how does it know when the food is there?"
To find the answers, Hoffman has used the adaptability of yeast to study a trait familiar to humans: its appetite for sweets. He sets up an experimental dinner table—replete with heapings of glucose molecules—and then watches the yeast feast. He now adds the step of genetically altering the yeast and screening it against a laundry list of compounds that may alter its chemical makeup.
Based on the results of his team's work on drug development, Hoffman hopes to find new compounds that could improve people's health.
"Completing that step would enable us to follow up on leads and develop a whole range of other capabilities," says Hoffman. "It would also be advantageous for BC, stimulating scientific research on campus, attracting top faculty and students, and showing that BC is a great place to do innovative work."