Kevin Amses and Jon Massey were selected to participate in the University of Michigan Predoctoral Training Program in Genetics. The interdisciplinary program provides enriched genetics education for students receiving their doctorate degrees in six departments, including ecology and evolutionary biology. The program, one of the oldest training programs supported by the National Institutes of Health, continues to be a vital component of graduate education and biomedical research at U-M.

The Genetic Training Program’s goal is to train the future generation of leaders in genetics who can combine disciplinary expertise with the new research opportunities of the genomic era.

“Despite being ranked highly among the most renowned types of symbioses in nature, predator-prey relationships are poorly understood at the molecular level,” said Amses. “Foundational research in predator-prey systems has largely focused on charismatic mammals where the behavioral and spatial qualities of interactions are often highly complex, limiting the depth of questions that can be adequately addressed in these systems. By focusing on simpler microbial systems, we can alleviate some of these difficulties and conduct more targeted genetic research in predator-prey systems. To this end, my research is centered on learning more about the genetic elements that determine prey specificity in predaceous fungi that consume small soil animals and protozoans.

“The microbial system of interest to me stars Stylopage hadra, a predaceous soil fungus that eats nematodes (roundworms) for dinner. Through targeted analysis of the genomic signature of prey specificity in this uncharismatic and understudied ubiquitous soil fungus, this work will at its heart ask one simple question that remains a central unanswered question in biology: Why do predators like some prey species more than others? I am humbled and honored to be conducting this research as a fellow of the prestigious Genetics Training Program at the University of Michigan, which will be entering its 38th year of NIH funding.”

Amses' two-year program begins Sept. 1, 2016 with a stipend of just over $23,000 per year in addition to full tuition and fees. His advisor is Professor Timothy James.  

Massey studies the genetic basis of species differences in behavior and morphology in the fly genus Drosophila. He is trying to map the location and effect of genes that underlie courtship and pigmentation divergence between two closely related fly species using genetic mapping techniques and genome editing technology.

“Ultimately, I would like to be able to understand the genetic mechanisms that cause species to look and behave differently,” Massey said.

“How does variation in genes create variation in appearance or behavior? By dissentangling this relationship, we hope to learn how biodiversity originates and evolves in nature, which may also provide insights into how complex traits arise in general, like those involving cancer or psychiatric disorders."

Massey’s two-year position runs through 2017 with a stipend of just over $23,000 per year in addition to full tuition and fees. His advisor is Professor Patricia Wittkopp.  

James is EEB’s department representative to the executive committee of the GTP. GTP faculty from EEB include: Professors Gina Baucom, Liliana Cortés Ortiz, James, Priscilla Tucker, Wittkopp and Jianzhi Zhang. Other current EEB students in the GTP are Beatriz Otero Jimenez (advisors Professor John Vandermeer and Tucker) and Marcella Nidiffer (advisors Cortés Ortiz and Tucker).

A major strength of the GTP is the interdisciplinary, small group setting of the curriculum. As such, they have carefully crafted an outstanding training program that includes didactic coursework, small group discussions, and interactions with national and international thought leaders in genetics. The GTP provides an intellectually exciting combination of training in genetics in the context of a diverse scientific environment.