By Ken Jubie ’04
Whether it is a Siena College student or a small, worm-like organism known as a nematode, Assistant Professor of Biology Adam Mason, Ph.D. enjoys watching living things develop. Mason recently earned a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant to study changes in a species of nematodes called Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans for short. Mason’s research will link aspects of cell biology, genetics and developmental biology to provide a detailed description of morphogenesis in C. elegans and inform the understanding of similar processes in vertebrates.
“It’s essentially the birth of shape,” said Mason. By focusing specifically on the tails of male C. elegans, which are used in mating, Mason is able to study morphogenesis at the cellular level, an area that is not well understood by developmental biologists.
“My research is driven by my desire to understand how the incredibly complex process of development is controlled at a cellular and molecular level,” Mason said. “My research will help us to identify genetic pathways that regulate the cell shape changes that occur during the development of all animals.”
Mason’s NSF grant is valued at $362,201. It will allow him to purchase supplies and cutting-edge equipment for his research lab. He’ll also be able to hire a fellow faculty member and three undergraduate students to work with him this summer. Mason’s project will give the students experience using current genetic and cell-biological techniques. It will also allow them to work with one of the pre-eminent invertebrate genetic model systems, C. elegans.
“I came to Siena because I care about teaching students. It is an absolute necessity that I incorporate as many students into my research as possible,” Mason said. “In order to teach science effectively, you can’t just be restricted to classroom teaching. It is very important that we provide students with a research experience that allows them to design experiments, critically analyze their results and place their data into the appropriate broader scientific context.”
Mason said students working in his lab will gain an appreciation for embryonic development, which he considers to be one of the most complex and beautiful processes in all of biology. In addition, Mason expects students to develop strong critical thinking skills and understand the value of conducting research, attributes that will prepare them for careers in the sciences or any other professions they decide to pursue.
When he’s not working in the lab or working with his wife to raise their four daughters, ages 11, eight, five and four, Mason is focused on helping his students, particularly those who are just starting out, master challenging concepts and continue to improve.
Mason is in his fifth year at Siena. He teaches developmental genetics along with scientific writing and introductory biology courses. “I say this all the time, but I’ve never met a student I haven’t liked. Every single student, I really, really enjoyed teaching,” Mason said. “On a personal level, on a professional level, it’s just been like a great experience with students.”
That’s just one reason why Siena College is a perfect fit for Mason who was inspired by his own undergraduate experience to teach at a small, liberal arts college. “I wanted someplace that valued teaching and cared about what kind of teacher you are, but that also supported research,” Mason said.
From his work in the lab discovering more about morphogenesis to his work in the classroom helping students uncover their potential, Adam Mason, Ph.D. is paving the way for scientific breakthroughs and developing skills in the people who will make them.