Matthew Romero in the labMatthew Romero, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Molecular and Applied Science Laboratory (MASL), was selected as a recipient of the William Townsend Porter Predoctoral Fellowship from the American Physiological Society for the 2018-2019 academic year. The award covers his stipend for one year.

The purpose of the fellowship is to encourage diversity among students pursuing full-time studies toward a Ph.D. in the physiological sciences. The Porter Fellowship is open to underrepresented ethnic minority applicants who are citizens of the United States and members of APS.

Romero came to Auburn from Roswell, New Mexico. He will be a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) after he completes his dissertation and graduates in the summer of 2019. Romero’s research focuses on the retrotransposon LINE-1 in skeletal muscle and how exercise may regulate its expression.

LINE-1 is a transposable element in your DNA. LINE-1 is a specific type of transposable element which can “copy and paste” itself in your genome, ultimately resulting in an amplification of that gene. Repression of LINE-1 gene expression is maintained by DNA methylation, a process by which methyl groups are added to DNA, effectively changing the expression of a DNA segment. When a gene is methylated, expression of the gene is repressed (or turned off). A previous study done by Romero, et al. showed that LINE-1 expression was decreased after resistance exercise while DNA methylation at the LINE-1 gene was increased.

“We think there is something going on metabolically that is working to increase methylation at the LINE-1 gene, resulting in a decrease in LINE-1 expression,” Romero hypothesized. “We’re seeing an alteration in the expression of enzymes that control gene methylation in exercised rodents compared to rodents that do not exercise. This might help explain why we are seeing an increase in LINE-1 methylation and a decrease in LINE-1 gene expression.”

Romero, as well as fellow MASL doctoral candidates Petey Mumford and Paul Roberson, are currently investigating this process in younger and older rodents, as well as in human subjects, over the next year.

“Matt is highly deserving of this award,” said his mentor and MASL Director, Mike Roberts, Ph.D. “He is embarking upon a set of experiments which may revolutionize the manner in which we think exercise improves muscle health. I truly believe that this is a great investment by APS in a promising scientist that will make a long-term impact in the field.”

The Porter Fellowship application was similar to a grant application. Romero was required to submit a bio-sketch detailing his research history, his plan of study, how the fellowship would benefit him, and outline his career goals. Selection was based on research productivity and quality of research.

“The fellowship will help reduce my teaching load to enable me to focus on my research,” said Romero. “I am so grateful for this opportunity.”

Romero is planning to present his research at the annual APS conference in April 2019 in Orlando, Florida.