His research jumps the boundaries of chemistry, biology and physics. Where could Bill Davis '94
have gotten such an idea? Try Drury.
"My work is interdisciplinary on purpose," he says. "I've always had broad interests," and when he came to Drury he was able to find the common ground among those interests, instead of being forced to narrow his point of view.
After graduate school at Northwestern University and a Humboldt postdoctoral fellowship at the Technical University of Munich, Davis is now an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Washington State University. (Even the job title is interdisciplinary!) His research centers on two problems:
1. Can DNA conduct electricity? It's a long, thin molecule with lots of electrical charge. Davis and others wonder if it can be used as a molecular wire. His preliminary results indicate DNA may be able to conduct electricity only under very specific circumstances. But even without that application, Davis' explorations of how charge is distributed along a DNA strand could help us understand how damage to DNA spreads or is constrained, which in turn could help explain the origins of some diseases at the most basic molecular level.
2. How does DNA interact with the proteins that regulate it? Davis' system of choice is a complex gene called HMGI-y. HMGI-y is a proto-oncogene; when damaged or altered in specific ways, it can create cancerous growth. In Davis' research, he studies the protein produced when the HMGI-y gene is active. In the cell, this protein is chemically modified after its creation: phosphorylation, methylation and glycosylation all influence the shape and function of the protein in ways not directly coded by the gene, and Davis studies how those modifications create and shape thousands of products from a single gene. Experiments like his reveal new layers of nuance in biology.