Marian University Professor Awarded $1.1 Million National Science Foundation Career Grant

by News Release | Oct 05, 2021

Only grant awarded to a small, private Indiana university furthers genome research using an unusual group of salamanders

Marian University Assistant Professor of Biology, Rob Denton, Ph.D., has been awarded a $1.1 million, five-year National Science Foundation career grant—one of only 21 such grants awarded in Indiana across all scientific fields and the only one outside of Indiana University, Purdue University, or the University of Notre Dame.

The grant provides five years of funding to a pre-tenured professor who presents a high potential for excellence in combining both research and teaching. Dr. Denton’s grant will fund his research into the evolution of genomes and how they interact with one another, using  salamanders.

But these aren’t just any salamanders. Dr. Denton is the lead researcher studying an unusual species of all-female mole salamanders that reproduces by “stealing” the reproductive material of males from completely different species, combining those genomes with their own. The resulting offspring have many copies of their chromosomes, from the female mole salamander as well as the completely different and distant other species of male salamander. 

“This grant is exciting because it supports the integration of research and teaching, which is primarily how I define myself as a professor. There is really exciting research happening at Marian University,” said Dr. Denton. “I’m excited to return to my home state of Indiana to further investigate why and how these salamanders are ‘breaking all the rules’ when it comes to what we understand about reproduction. This research will make new contributions to our scientific field, train many students for all types of biology careers, and establish innovative teaching initiatives.”

Dr. Denton is conducting his research in partnership with other Midwest-based scientists and over the next five years will hire multiple Marian undergraduate research assistants to assist with the research and collection of specimens.

“Dr. Denton’s recruitment and his prestigious funding from the National Science Foundation are landmark events in the growth of research and scholarship at our institution,” said Jonathan Lowery, Ph.D., assistant provost for research & scholarship. “Our faculty are well poised to raise Marian University as a national leader in the coupling of innovative education practices with real-world, advanced research—all the while upholding the Marian promise of support and intentional mentorship for students.”

An Indiana native, Dr. Denton received his undergraduate degree from Ball State University, his master’s from Eastern Kentucky University, and his doctorate from The Ohio State University. He began his research with the mole salamanders while earning his doctorate and continued as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Connecticut. He was formerly an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Morris before moving to Marian University to continue to focus on genomics, molecular ecology, and amphibian biology.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 and funds research and education in science and engineering through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements. 

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