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April 25, 2013 Volume 34, No. 28

Mizzou Advantage’s first faculty hire is a genome analyst

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NEW FACES Christine Elsik, an associate professor in CAFNR, specializes in analyzing genomes that have been sequenced. She has performed research on gene sequencing in beef cattle. Photo by Rachel Coward.


The researcher says her work can help breed cattle

Christine Elsik is the first new hire for Mizzou Advantage. She has a joint appointment as an associate professor in the animal and plant sciences divisions of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR). Elsik, who comes to MU from Georgetown University, specializes in analyzing genomes that have been sequenced.

“Genomes consist of billions of nucleotides, but only a small fraction of those code for the genes that actually do the functions that many biologists want to learn about,” Elsik said. “Basically, I’m the bridge between the sequencing output and the researchers who use the sequence.”

Mizzou Advantage’s objective is to foster interdisciplinary campus research. Ellis’s hire last summer is part of its plan to hire 20 faculty over the next five years.  

“A big focus of Mizzou Advantage is networks, so we put together people from different disciplines who are working on particular projects in their areas of expertise,” said Meg Phillips, Mizzou Advantage program director. “All of these hires are intended to bridge those networks to make them larger and stronger. We provide a lot of support to put people together from different disciplines to solve real-world problems,” Phillips said.” 

Elsik joined MU because she wanted to get back to an agriculture college, she said. She has worked in the past on the sequences of beef cattle, and she has continued that research at MU. 

Elsik said that her work could provide information that can lead to gene markers that help select animals for reproduction traits.

“They may also identify genes that are related to disease and stress resistance and be able to develop better ways to manage animal health by knowing what those genes do,” Elsik said. “There are a lot of different applications that can be used for animal management.”

Another area that Elsik has worked on is the sequences of the honeybee. In agriculture, honeybees are important pollinators, so there is a lot of concern about honeybee health. Learning more about honeybee genes could help with the management of problems such as colony collapse disorder.

Rolled out in January 2010, Mizzou Advantage is seeing outcomes in research collaboration and monetary outcomes through grants due to those projects. The program also has outside partners, including government agencies, businesses and international partners.

“The ultimate goal is to raise the stature and the impact of the university,” Phillips said. “There are solutions to real-world problems that we can find just by having all these resources and people with expertise in place on one campus.”

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— Jason Vance