Kevin Clark Named a Beckman Young Investigator

The award will fund his lab’s research into detecting and understanding RNA modifications and their role in brain health

Kevin Clark, an assistant professor of chemistry at Tufts University, has been named a 2024 Beckman Young Investigator. The award, presented by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, offers $600,000 in funding over four years to promising early career faculty members conducting “high-risk, high-reward work” that will address a broad range of problems.  

One of just 10 researchers chosen from approximately 300 applicants, Clark will use the award to support his lab’s research in measuring the epitranscriptome and investigating its links to learning, behavior, and neurological disease. 

Just as the epigenome consists of chemical modifications that affect the gene expression of a cell’s DNA, the epitranscriptome is the collected modifications of a cell’s RNA transcripts. 

Although RNA is primarily made from the nucleotides adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and uracil (U), “an expanded RNA alphabet exists that includes many unusual modifications of these four building blocks,” Clark said. 

Enzymes install and remove these modifications, which affect the processing, translation properties, and stability of virtually all cellular RNAs. “However, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding how the epitranscriptome influences biological processes,” Clark said. 

While conventional methods of finding these modifications in a cell focus on the detection of a single modification at a time, Clark’s lab leverages the power of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to detect dozens of modifications in a single experiment, even modifications that occur in small numbers.  

Clark’s lab is looking at these modifications in special brain cells called neurons. 

“With this award, we will develop new technologies that enable investigation of RNA modifications in single neurons and unlock new knowledge about how RNA modifications encode critically important information for cell function,” Clark said.

New tools like these, he said, will ultimately help scientists understand “how RNA modifications affect learning, memory, and behavior.”

Charles Mace, an associate professor and mentor in the Department of Chemistry, called the award a well-deserved recognition of the young investigator’s potential as a leader and innovator. “His research program is unique and his approaches have the potential to open up new areas of analytical chemistry, molecular biology, and neuroscience,” Mace said.

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