UAB researcher wins grant to study gene networks and longevity

John Hartman works with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the Department of Medicine.

John Hartman, M.D., associate professor in the UAB School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics and member of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), has won a grant from the National Institute on Aging to investigate the molecular mechanisms of aging.

john_hartman_sGrant-supported projects will explore the value of a “systems biology” approach to genetic studies in yeast, a single-cell organism. Yeast is a proven genetic model for the study of basic cellular and molecular processes that it has in common with human cells, especially with respect to how cells convert food into energy and how long they live. Instead of looking at the contribution to aging of any single gene, the studies will examine how they work together in networks to control lifespan at the cellular level. 

Toward those ends, Hartman and colleagues will apply a new kind of high-speed testing technology to look at how the cellular machinery that breaks down food into cellular energy regulates aging. His unique method will enable researchers to screen hundreds of thousands of segments of genetic code that may influence aging, and do so as the environment surrounding the yeast changes. Using Hartman’s method, for example, investigators could identify genes that shorten or extend lifespan as glucose levels rise — the hallmark of diabetes. 

Co-investigators on the grant include NORC members Daniel Smith, Ph.D., and Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., as well Mt. Sinai’s Eric Schadt, a systems biology pioneer.