News and Events

Friday-Saturday – September 18-19, 2015

Kellogg Biological Station
Hickory Corners, MI (Gull Lake)
Two hours from Ann Arbor

Scientific talks by faculty, postdocs and students and State-of-the-Department address
Dr. Sally Camper, Departmental Chair

Guest Speaker:
Lee Niswander, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Department of Pediatrics, Section Head Developmental Biology, Children's Hospital Colorado

Social Bonfire on Friday night!

Poster session, good food, beer and wine, and time to socialize with colleagues.


Why does schizophrenia happen, and how can we improve treatment for it? These basic questions persist despite years of research on one of the most puzzling, and debilitating, mental illnesses.

Now, a University of Michigan Medical School team and their colleagues will take a new approach to addressing these questions by searching for genetic clues in postmortem brain tissues of people with and without schizophrenia.

Instead of hunting for genetic problems that these individuals inherited from their parents, they’ll be zeroing in on defects that arose during the individual’s life – which a growing number of scientists think may be crucial to understanding many disorders, including schizophrenia.

Their work will be fueled by a $3.86 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with researchers at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Together they’ll tackle the issue of “mosaicism” in schizophrenia — the idea that changes in the DNA of a person’s individual brain cells, or in the DNA of their neural stem cells that give rise to brain cells, may contribute to schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia risk is higher in people who have a close relative with the disease, and scientists have identified a small number of gene mutations associated with the risk of schizophrenia. However, the genetic underpinnings of disease risk remain mysterious in a majority of schizophrenic patients.

The idea that mutations and other small changes may make our brains a mosaic of cells, which do not all share the same genetic blueprint, is still an emerging one. But it seems to fit with current knowledge about schizophrenia – including findings from studying people with schizophrenia who happen to have an identical twin. About half the time, the other twin in the pair does not have the condition — despite having inherited identical DNA from their parents.

At U-M, the focus of the new project will be on bulk sequencing of DNA from many cells, in post-mortem brain samples derived both from people with and without schizophrenia, to search for evidence of somatic mosaicism. Colleagues at the other institutions will focus on different aspects of studying mosaicism in schizophrenia.

The team will study tissue from four brain regions implicated in schizophrenia, as well as dural fibroblasts, to look at the genetic "mosaic" that may influence risk of the disease.
John V. Moran, Ph.D., who holds the Gilbert S. Omenn Collegiate Professorship in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Human Genetics and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, leads the U-M research team. He’ll work with Jeffrey M. Kidd, Ph.D. and Ryan E. Mills, Ph.D., Assistant Professors of Human Genetics and Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, and Kenneth Y. Kwan, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Human Genetics and Research Assistant Professor at the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

The U-M researchers will work with a team at Lieber headed by Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D., and the Salk team headed by Fred H. Gage, Ph.D.

The grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, will build on work from the Gage and Moran laboratories on the “jumping gene” concept. They have shown that genetic changes in the brain—caused by a mechanism called LINE-1 retrotransposition — are more common, and more active, in humans than had been thought.

The experiments conducted by the Michigan team will use brain tissue from the collection held by the Lieber Institute, including brains donated by people who had schizophrenia during their lives and brains donated by those who did not have the condition.

“With this funding, we will test the hypothesis that differences in the genetic composition of neurons within an individual contribute to the development of schizophrenia,” Moran says. “We hope this knowledge will yield a better molecular definition of schizophrenia, aid diagnosis, and offer the potential to identify new drug targets for treating this devastating illness.”

Grant number: MH106892


Dr. Gilbert S. Omenn, Harold T. Shapiro Distinguished University Professor of Medicine. He also is professor of computational medicine and bioinformatics, professor of internal medicine, professor of human generics, Medical School; and professor of public health, School of Public Health.

The annual retreat for the Genetics Training Program will be held on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, from 9 am to noon in the Kahn Auditorium, BSRB (Biomedical Science and Research Building) 109 Zina Pitcher Place. At 10 am, Dr. Landweber will present the keynote lecture titled "RNA-Mediated Genome Rearrangement in the Ciliate Oxytricha"

Laura Landweber is a Professor of Biology in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. Before joining the faculty at Princeton, she was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. She has authored over 130 publications in molecular and evolutionary biology and edited 3 books, in areas ranging from genetics and evolution to biological computation. She has served on various panels, working groups, and advisory committees for the NSF, NIH, NHGRI, and NASA and co-chaired the NHGRI Comparative Genome Evolution Working Group from 2003-2007. She is currently Co-Editor-in-Chief of Biology Direct (, a journal experimenting with open, signed peer review. She is on the editorial board of Genome Biology and Evolution and Eukaryotic Cell and served as Councilor for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution from 2007-2009. Recent awards include a Guggenheim fellowship (2012) and a Blavatnik award for young scientists (2008), and she was elected a Fellow of AAAS for probing the diversity of genetic systems in microbial eukaryotes, including scrambled genes, RNA editing, variant genetic codes, and comparative genomics. Her work investigates the origin of novel genetic systems. Recent discoveries include the ability of small and long non-coding RNA molecules to transmit heritable information across generations, bypassing the information encoded in DNA.