Georgia Southern University

Claiborne receives $650,000 grant from National Science Foundation

By studying a certain type of fish protein, a professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University is hoping to gain a better understanding of what causes a variety of significant health problems in human beings.

James B. Claiborne has been awarded a grant worth $652,391 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct the project, which includes research at a marine laboratory in Maine and collaboration with scientists at Johns Hopkins University.

The grant represents a new high for basic research funding by the NSF to a Georgia Southern research team. The University’s biology department has received $1.5 million in NSF funding over the last five years.

‘In this project, we are using molecular biology and comparative approaches to solve physiological problems,” Claiborne said. ‘Our specific interest concerns the function of a family of cell proteins that are called sodium-hydrogen exchangers, or NHE. They are responsible for the regulation of acid and salt levels in our kidneys, intestines and other essential organs.”

According to the biologist, defects in the regulation or expression of these proteins can lead to problems in the cardiovascular, renal and digestive systems. In addition, alterations of the proteins have been implicated in some deadly types of brain tumors.

‘We are examining the similarities and differences in the function of NHE
proteins between fishes and mammals to understand how they have been modified through evolutionary time,” Claiborne said. ‘As fish are our early vertebrate ancestors, the sequence and function of these molecules in fish can reveal much about the same homologous proteins found in all of us.”

Funded by the NSF Division of Integrative Organismal Biology, the four-year project is officially entitled ‘Functional characterization of NA+/H+ exchangers in marine and freshwater fishes.”

The grant will continue support of the Claiborne lab team’s research during the academic year at Georgia Southern. It will also fund the team’s summer research at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine.

In addition, the grant will support master’s degree and undergraduate students in the biology department at Georgia Southern who train under the mentorship of Claiborne and research associate Andrew Diamanduros.

Finally, the grant will fund a new collaboration with scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md.

‘Our work at Mount Desert Island, as well as our continuing collaborations with scientists in Norway and Japan, will allow our students to work with some of the most advanced laboratories and research teams in the world,” Claiborne said.

‘The new partnership with Johns Hopkins will allow us to form a bridge between our basic research approaches and biomedical scientists interested in human diseases which involve the sodium-hydrogen exchanger.”

According to Claiborne, the NSF Integrative Organismal Biology program agrees to fund less than 10 percent of the proposals submitted each year by colleges and universities from across the nation.

‘This puts us in good company,” he said. ‘While serving on NSF review panels in Washington, D.C., I’ve learned just how tight the budgets have become. Because of science-funding cutbacks, there are many excellent and important research projects that still do not receive support.”

With over 80 peer-reviewed publications, Claiborne is an internationally known authority on fish physiology and NHE proteins.

During his 24-year career at Georgia Southern, Claiborne has garnered $3 million in funding from the NSF to support research and student training at the University and at Mount Desert Island. Seventeen students, ranging from high school to the post-doctoral level, were supported by NSF funds to train in his laboratory between 2001 and 2005.

In 2003, Claiborne became the most recent recipient of Georgia Southern’s John Olin Eidson Presidential Award. The $5,000 prize recognizes general excellence over a sustained career of teaching, scholarship and service at the University.

For more information on Claiborne and his research, visit

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