Research interest: Plant Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Environmental Science
Dr. Bajcz’s research focuses on how and why plants, especially flowering plants, reproduce in the ways that they do. In particular, his past research on plants in the raspberry (Rubus) and blueberry (Vaccinium) genera has investigated the trade-offs that limit the extent to which plants can reproduce in any one way, including ways of importance to humans. He is also interested in finding out what makes for a “successful” reproductive structure on evolutionary time scales and how plant reproductive behaviors may change as a result of global change processes. He also prioritizes integration of advanced statistical and computation tools (such as simulation models) into modern ecological research to answer otherwise difficult questions. He is currently supervising student researchers studying competition for pollinators between native and non-native shrubs and trade-offs between reproduction and defense in shrubs native to New Jersey.
Research interest: Immunology
I am interested in the immune response mediated by receptors called pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). These receptors bind to unique structures of microorganisms or viruses to induce the activation of immune responses that clear the invader. However, evidence suggests that signaling through these receptors may also lead to cell death or immune-mediated disease. Specifically, I am focused on understanding how PRR recognition of HIV and related viruses leads to the T cell death and immune dysfunction seen in AIDS. Some non-human primate species are naturally infected with an HIV-like virus and do not experience T cell death and immune dysfunction following infection.
My laboratory is examining the nucleic acid-binding PRRs in these non-human primate species to determine how they may differ in structure or function from the homologous receptors in humans. Such differences may play an important role in allowing these non-human primates to avoid the pathologic consequences of infection and may provide new avenues for HIV therapy.
Research interest: Molecular Biology and Cancer Biology
The Dunaway lab is interested in understanding the global regulation of protein synthesis. Translation, the mechanism by which proteins are synthesized based on the information encoded in mRNA, is an essential process in all living organisms. Consisting of initiation, elongation and termination phases, many aspects of this process are conserved across bacteria and eukaryotes. The elongation phase, in particular, has several conserved steps and universally requires two protein elongation (EF) factors.
However, fungal translation elongation was determined to be unique in its absolute requirement for a third factor, the ATPase eEF3. While the exact function of eEF3 is unclear, eEF3 binds close to the E-site of the ribosome and has been proposed to facilitate the removal of deacylated tRNA from the E-site. In the Dunaway lab, we are particularly interested in understanding eEF3’s in promoting translation and using this information to develop novel therapeutics targeting eEF3 to combat life threatening fungal disease.
Research interest: Neurobiology of Alzheimer’s Disease
The three pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are senile plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and neuronal loss. However, the biochemical pathways that link plaques and tangles to neuronal degeneration are unclear. In our laboratory, students choose research projects that focus on trying to elucidate these pathways and to identify novel targets to protect neurons. Examples of projects include: modifying of receptor activation that can protect neurons from damage; use of growth factors to enhance neuronal health; and altering immune cell activity to promote healthier responses.
Research interest: Biology
I am broadly interested in biological invasion at population and community levels, and across ecological and evolutionary time scales. I wish to understand the factors that influence the establishment and subsequent success of exotic species in a novel community and the features of communities that predispose them to invasion. Using a bacterivorous protist model system, I have found that the size of an invading population and the number of times invading individuals enter a community influences the establishment and success of invaders and that the immigration rate of established species influences a community’s invisibility.
I want to understand how specific aspects of the invasion process and characteristics of the invader influence the impact an invasive species has on the native community. For instance, the degree to which invaders and established species specialize in their resource use may have an important role in invasion processes. I am currently examining the effect resource specialization has on exotic species’ competitive and invasive abilities, and on the sensitivity of community members to the effects caused by invasion.
Finally, I want to understand how the effects of invasion extend from an ecological into an evolutionary time scale and, more generally, in the forces involved in adaptive radiation. I have planned a project employing an insect model system to address this question
At Drew, I have mentored students in field studies that examine the impact of invasive catfish on the structure of vertebrate and zooplankton communities in Drew’s two ponds. The students’ work suggests that the presence of catfish has a powerful impact on the composition and diversity of the pond community. In addition, my research students have studied the biological and physical aspects of diel vertical migration in Drew pond zooplankton, and the effect of Kitchell Pond on the physical, chemical, and biological factors of Loantaka Brook upstream and downstream of the reservoir.
Research interest: Neurophysiology
I am interested in exploring how various central neurotransmitter systems are affected by pharmacological and environmental manipulations, and how these changes, in turn, are related to behavior. My research has focused on the biological consequences of stress and the neurochemical effects of drugs of abuse. Recent theories have emerged which suggest that both stress and drugs of abuse activate certain common pathways within the brain, while chronic exposure to either stimulus can lead to long-lasting changes in the responsiveness of these pathways.
Our laboratory examines the effects of stress and drugs of abuse on neurotransmitter release in these pathways and attempts to correlate the neurochemical changes with observable behaviors. Investigation of neurochemical changes in response to these stimuli may provide clues about the neural circuitry underlying the behaviors and physiological states associated with drug addiction and stress-related mental illnesses.
Research interest: Molecular Biology and RNA interference
RNA interference, a powerful reverse genetics technique, can be used to specifically down-regulate gene expression in a wide variety of organisms, from tiny single-celled fission yeast to humans. RNA interference is significant not only as a new biological pathway and a useful tool for research scientists, but also as a novel approach to a new class of therapeutic agents. My research interests are to discover new homologs of key RNA interference proteins, such as Dicer, by bridging bioinformatics tools with experimental data. This allows me to study a protein’s evolutionary conservation and provides the opportunity to further investigate the role of particular domains or key amino acid residues using mutagenesis.
Research interest: Pathophysiology
Our lab is interested in studying the etiology of neuro-behavioral disorders such as, Bipolar Disorder, schizophrenia, clinical depression, clinical anxiety, OCD, ADHD and autism. Recently we have been using immunochemical assays to measure and quantitate proteins of the Akt and MAPK pathways, including growth factors and receptors involved in signaling these pathways. Overall, studying the biology of these growth factors and intracellular pathway genes and cascading proteins, as they relate to these disorders, may lead to future therapy.
Research interest: Behavioral Ecology
I am interested in animal behavior and population biology. Current research in my lab focuses on small mammal species on Drew’s campus and at the Great Swamp Watershed Association’s Conservation Management Area, investigating the impact of white-tailed deer on the small mammal community as well as the responses of wild mammals to natural disaster and disease. My previous research focused on primates in both the Peruvian Amazon and the rainforests of Uganda, where I studied ecological factors influencing patterns of group-living and social behavior, as well as primate communication.
Post-secondary education in the sciences
Molecular Biology, RISE
My lab uses the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, to examine basic biological processes and to model human diseases. Currently, the lab is focused on two projects; chemoreception in the worm, and developing a worm model for Parkinson’s Disease. In the chemoreception project we are trying to discover the receptors responsible for the attraction of C. elegans to a panel of volatile odorants. Fragments of candidate receptors are amplified by PCR from genomic DNA and cloned into RNAi expression vectors. Worms feeding on bacteria containing these vectors have reduced expression of the candidate receptors. These worms are then used in chemotaxis assays against a panel of odorants.
For the Parkinson’s Disease project, we are using worms expressing Green Fluorescent Protein in the dopaminergic neurons to monitor the degradation of these neurons by the neurotoxin MPTP. We will look for genes that protect the worms from neuronal damage in order to find new targets for drugs to treat Parkinson’s Disease.
Research Interests: Microbial fermentation, bioprocess development, therapeutic natural products, renewable fuels and chemicals.
My students and I are working on an antibiotic we discovered to be produced by a strain of the Gram-negative bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens. This is a microorganism isolated by the New York State Museum laboratory which can kill zebra mussels, an environmental problem in the waters of the northeast USA. Zebra mussels kill desirable aquatic species and also clog up pipes of industrial power plants using water from lakes and rivers. We do not know whether the antibiotic discovered here at Drew is the same agent that is killing the zebra mussels. If it is, our research can rapidly accelerate the pace of research at the Museum so that environmental implementation will occur soon. If it is not, it could be of medical importance as a new antibiotic. Drew students have learned how to grow the P. fluorescens strain, how to assay antibiotic production, and are currently determining the best physical and nutritional conditions for conducting the fermentation.