Biology Student wins Life Sciences Thesis Award

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Arts and Sciences
Arts and Sciences

Biology Master's Thesis Selected as Top Life Sciences Thesis of 2014-2015


An Arts and Sciences Master’s student (Dillon Patterson) that completed his thesis in Biology this past summer (2015) has recently been honored. Mr. Patterson’s thesis has been selected as the top Life Sciences thesis completed during the past year at USA. Two Masters theses are selected annually (one from Life Sciences and one from Social Sciences, Business, and Education) to compete regionally for the best Master’s thesis in the southeast among Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS) institutions.


During his time at USA, Dillon performed spectacularly from an academic standpoint, having graduated with a 4.0 GPA with a B.S. in Biology in spring 2014, followed by completing his Master’s work (again with a 4.0 GPA) in the shortest time in the history of the program (Summer 2014 through Summer 2015). Mr. Patterson is currently enrolled as a Ph.D. student in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Program at Emory University in Atlanta.


Importantly, Dillon and his thesis advisor, Dr. Glen Borchert, are in the final stages of preparing a manuscript summarizing the findings of Mr. Patterson’s Master’s project undoubtedly culminating in a high profile publication.


Dillon’s Master’s thesis project originated from early informatic analyses performed predominately by Mr. Patterson while completing his undergraduate degree at South examining the relationship between two types of noncoding RNAs (snoRNAs and microRNAs) widely thought to represent two wholly distinct regulatory molecules. After uncovering significant evidence supporting an unprecedented relationship between these two RNAs, Mr. Patterson elected to explore the functional relevance of this relationship in depth in one of our model systems selected by Dillion based on his analyses of publically available sequencing data. Importantly, after performing his own next generation sequencing of the transcriptomes of two phenotypically distinct breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 (chemosensitive and noninvasive) and MDA-MB-231 (chemoresistant and  highly invasive), Dillon identified a snoRNA being processed like and functioning identically to a microRNA specifically in MDA-MB-231 cells. Excitingly, in the culmination of his thesis project, Dillon experimentally demonstrated that inhibiting this snoRNA fragment in MDA-MB-231 cells resulted in significant inhibition of cellular proliferation and invasion, and that increased expression of this molecule resulted in reciprocal effects.


The revelations resulting from this Master’s project are no less than remarkable. Firstly, this work provides definitive evidence that snoRNAs are frequently processed into miRNA-like molecules discounting the notion that snoRNAs and microRNAs represent two wholly distinct regulatory molecules. Secondly, this work represents the first ever characterization of a functional role for a snoRNA in cellular metabolism outside of the traditional role of snoRNAs in RNA editing. And finally, this work identifies a novel molecular contributor to (and potential new therapeutic target for) breast cancer pathology and suggests that snoRNAs may play similar roles in additional oncologies.

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