Danny Reinberg, PhD, Receives Howard Hughes Medical Institute Collaborative Innovation Award to Use Ants As a Model System to Study Epigenetics, Behavior, and Aging

NYU Langone Medical Center is pleased to announce that Danny Reinberg, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator, received a Collaborative Innovation Award (CIA) from the HHMI. Dr. Reinberg and his team are conducting research to understand the molecular mechanisms that act on the ant genome to draw out caste-specific distinctions in behavior, structural features, and lifespan.

The ant genome project began in 2008 when Dr. Reinberg and his team won their first HHMI CIA grant to study the epigenetic influences on behavior of members of different social castes within ant societies and to tie them to processes in other animals, including humans. As a result, his team sequenced the entire genome of two very different species of ant, and the insights gleaned from their genetic blueprints may clarify the basis of ants’ social behavior, colony hierarchy, and the extraordinary ability of some species to switch roles from worker to queen.

“We congratulate Dr. Reinberg and his colleagues for receiving another important HCIA grant from the HHMI,” said Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, senior vice president and vice dean for science and chief scientific officer at NYU School of Medicine. “We are thrilled that Dr. Reinberg’s team received this award and are excited for the insights their research will provide into aging and lifespan.”

This HCIA award will support research to determine how the constituents of chromatin are modulated to impact gene expression. Gene expression is a fundamental process in which DNA is transcribed to RNA, the direct template for protein synthesis. The regulation of the amount and types of protein made is critical to the cell's viability and its identity. During the development of multicellular organisms the scheme of events that determine exactly what type of cell will form becomes status quo in the adult so that adult cell division gives rise to the identical cell type, preserving tissue identity. This complex and fascinating process is functionally dependent on the proteins that structure the body of DNA.

Dr. Reinberg has spent 30 years studying how genes are expressed in cells and ultimately translated into proteins—the building blocks of life. He is especially interested in how epigenetics may influence longevity, which is the focus of his research on ants—in some ant colonies the queens live up to ten times longer than worker ants.

A passionate expert in the field of epigenetics, Dr. Reinberg was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) class of Fellows during a ceremony on October 6, 2012. Additionally, he received an NIH Merit Award and a Faculty Research Award from the American Cancer Society. He was also named a Distinguished Professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, where he is an adjunct professor of biochemistry. Dr. Reinberg has authored or co-authored more than 230 works in publications like Nature, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Genes & Development, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and co-edited an authoritative textbook on epigenetics.