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Troy Hubbard Awarded the 2016 McCarl Graduate Scholarship

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Troy HubbardTroy Hubbard, graduate student in the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) degree program at Penn State University, has been awarded the Richard L. and Norma L. McCarl Graduate Scholarship for the 2016 academic year. He works in the Perdew lab.

The scholarship provides recognition and financial assistance to an outstanding graduate student in the BMMB degree program. Troy was selected by the department's graduate affairs committee among four nominees. Troy was nominated by Dr. Gary Perdew.  Dr. Perdew noted that Troy exhibits an excellent work ethic and has matured into an insightful scientist that is capable of asking important biological questions. In addition, he carefully designs the appropriate experiments to meaningfully address the hypothesis of interest.

The Perdew Lab studies the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), which is a ligand-activated transcription factor that participates in an array of physiological functions, such as xenobiotic metabolism, immune regulation, epithelial barrier function, and intestinal homeostasis. Troy’s research focuses upon how evolutionary selection has adapted the human AHR to produce a biological sensor that is distinctive in its responsiveness to environmental toxins and endogenous signals. In his research, he has identified the bacterially-generated compound, indole, as a novel endogenous activator of the human AHR. The human AHR is known to possess increased sensitivity to endogenous AHR activators derived from tryptophan metabolism and decreased ability to bind toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) relative to rodent homologs. Such differences suggest selective adaptation of AHR structure has arisen during the course of mammalian evolution.

During the process of human speciation, fire use provided many healthful benefits such as light, warmth, and cooked foods of increased nutritional value. However, using fire came at the cost of heightened exposure to toxic PAHs. In his research, he identifies a mutation in the structure of human AHR that conferred selective desensitization of human AHR to PAHs, while not affecting responsiveness to endogenous molecules derived from tryptophan and indole metabolism. Neanderthal AHR was found to be 100-1000 times more sensitive to smoke derived toxins relative to humans. Intake of toxic PAHs is found to be associated with increased susceptibility to respiratory infections and decreased reproductive success. Such an effect may have provided ancient man a competitive advantage over contemporary Neanderthals.

Troy’s goal is to better characterize molecular signaling of the human AHR, with the hope of increasing the potential for therapeutic targeting and promote the use of improved animal models to better assess its implications within toxicology and disease pathology.

Congratulations Troy on a well-deserved award!