New Levinger Grant, More Student Research

Dr. Louis Levinger, a professor in York College’s Department of Biology, has received a National Institute of Health total award of $248,894 for a three-year period for the project, “Regulation on Substrate Binding and Catalysis in tRNase Z."

Broken down, the “parent grant” amounts to $50,000 per year for a total $150,000 over the three-year period. However, with indirect costs to be covered as well, the grant’s total will add up to $248,894 under the R15 Diversity Supplement in health-related research.

With the additional funds, Dr. Levinger can pay his lab assistants – qualified York scholars in the biological sciences. Applying students for the diversity supplement must be US citizens or permanent residents in addition to their scholarly qualification. However, summer support for undergraduates does not require that the student be a US citizen or permanent resident.

Levinger, who mentored Salk Scholar, Angela Hopkinson, ’06, now a PhD student [in the Microbiology Program] at the Medical School of the University of Michigan, is currently mentoring three more such students – Sabina Paul, Kyla-Gaye Pinnock and Christopher Wilson, whose research interests in biophysics most closely mirrors his mentor’s. The award, also known as an R15 Award, will support the research interests of these particular students.

On the proposal for the grant, Professor Levinger stresses the necessity of the grant to give students early research experience.

He says of Pinnock, the named candidate for this particular grant, “The ability to participate in a research project can be accelerated and enriched by early involvement….Full understanding of a project requires about three years of training accompanied during the last two years by the upper division coursework in the major.”

According to Levinger, paying students for working in the lab is of importance for more than [the] obvious reasons.

“When I was an undergraduate working in a lab I got paid and it was important to me; and I had bills,” he said. “Getting paid for what you do is important. And getting the supplement to the R15 Award makes it more feasible to do so [pay the student researchers].”

Dr. Levinger’s latest grant is one of many York faculty members have brought in this past academic year, setting the stage for the success of the newly-formed, School of Arts and Sciences debuting this fall; and it bodes well with Dr. Panayiotis Meleties, the dean of that school.

“Professor Levinger’s prowess in cutting-edge RNA enzyme research is matched by his dedication to mentor and promote his students' success,” said Meleties. “The continuous funding is a testament to his work.”

Levinger who came to York in the fall of 1990, with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and having completed post-doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has brought in millions of dollars in research grants to the college; he has published prolifically in his field, including a paper earlier this year in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC).

His current research interests in Eukaryotic tRNA End-Processing, includes research on the molecular biology of RNA and concerns the activity of an enzyme involved in the processing of transfer RNA (tRNA).

The professor, whose students routinely proceed to medical school or into PhD programs in the biological sciences, says that mutations in tRNA can cause mitochondrially transmitted diseases including diabetes, deafness, blindness, epilepsy and heart disease. He adds that mutations in the pre-tRNA 3’ end processing endonuclease (tRNase Z) “have been suggested to be associated with prostate cancer susceptibility,” thereby, making the research in this enzyme biomedically significant.

So significant, in fact, that he notes he has brought in over $2 million in “extramural funding” to investigate this and related topics and has collaborated with colleagues in Japan, Finland, Germany and France.

Over the course of his career thus far, Dr. Levinger has trained nearly 40 students and technicians in biomedical research in preparation for careers in this vital field.

Professor Levinger, who is a copious researcher, works so closely with his protégés that several, including Angela Hopkinson, have also been listed as co-researchers/authors on published papers.

But all research and no breather would probably make for a bored professor, so Levinger also takes pride in campus-wide co-curricular activities such as springtime’s Green Fest, where last May he helped plant some of the 180 trees given to the campus by the New York City Parks Department. He was also an enthusiastic volunteer for the Tour de Queens’ triumphant stop at York in July.

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