Dr. Mason Posner

Dr. Mason Posner has students use molecular biology techniques to understand how eye lens proteins adapt to changes in environmental temperature.

We are currently investigating the evolution and biological role of lens proteins called crystallins. These proteins are responsible for making the lens transparent and refracting light so that focused images fall on the retina. Amazingly, one family of crystallins, the alpha crystallins, also protect other proteins from the harmful effects of aging that can lead to lens cataracts, one of the leading causes of blindness in humans. Alpha crystallins are also involved in the original development of the lens in vertebrate embryos, and they have been linked to many diseases of the nervous system, heart, skeletal muscle, and are now known to be involved in many cancers.

Most research into alpha crystallins is done with mammals. However, by studying how this protein has evolved in a number of fish species that live at different environmental temperatures, from the antarctic toothfish to the tropical zebrafish, we are discovering small evolutionary changes in the protein that alter its function. This helps us understand how alpha cystallins evolve, and gives us insights into how these proteins could be engineered to prevent disease.

In more recent projects my students and I are using the zebrafish as a model organism to study the role of alpha crystallins in the development of the lens. We also use zebrafish to study the toxic effects of pesticides.

PhD in Biology, University of Southern California
BA in Biology, University of Virginia

Courses Taught:
Bio 100 Human Biology; Bio 202 Organisms, Adaptation and Diversity; Bio 225/225 Anatomy and Physiology; Bio 328 Vertebrate Biology; Bio 412 Marine Biology; Bio 480 Special Topics (Evolution); Bio 495 Senior Seminar

Research Areas
Eye lens biochemistry and cataract
Evolution and function of the vertebrate eye lens
Eye lens development

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