Chuan Li has been awarded the 2014 Edwin H. Edwards Scholarship in Biology. The scholarship for graduate students studying biology is in memory of Edwards, who received his bachelors of science degree in biology from U-M in 1892.
According to Li, the term epistasis is widely used to describe a broad range of interactions within and between molecules. “Epistasis plays important roles in adaptation and speciation, the two mechanisms responsible for biodiversity,” Li said. “My project studies intramolecular epistasis among different sites of a Transfer RNA (tRNA) gene in yeast. Using a sensitive and high-throughput method, I will measure the relative fitness of thousands of strains, each carrying, at its native genomic location, a variant of the tRNA gene that has one to two point mutations compared with the wild-type. I then use the fitness data to estimate epistasis between point mutations. Because the tRNA function is largely affected by its secondary structure, which can be predicted with high accuracy, my study offers a rare opportunity to understand the biophysical basis of epistasis. Further, the fitness and epistasis data will be compared with the evolutionary data of the gene to understand how evolution is impacted by epistasis.” Li's advisor is Professor Jianzhi Zhang.
The recipient is selected based on the novelty and scholarship of the proposed research; the clarity, merit, and appropriate scope and feasibility of the research plan; progress in the program including prior research results; and a letter of recommendation. The award is for one semester during the 2014 – 2015 academic year, including stipend, tuition, and GradCare benefits. This fellowship is given via a generous bequest of Julia A. Edwards for use in the recruitment of new doctoral students studying biology and to support current students whose distinguished performance is considered worthy of special recognition.