Susannah Rankin isn't trying to cure cancer, but nonetheless, her basic scientific work at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is important. Her research is the type that leads biologists and geneticists to work together to understand the root of disease and deformities. Rankin's lab recently received a $1.5 million grant to study the basic processes behind cell division from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the federally funded National Institutes of Health.
But there is an inherent challenge in working with federal dollars. Rankin said she wants to make sure taxpayers get the most out of their money. Scientists are inclined to conduct less risky experiments that will likely lead to a result that can be published, advancing knowledge in small steps. Risky ideas sometimes develop into scientific breakthroughs, but they can also mean lost time and money.
"It is hard for small labs to take big risks," Rankin said. "You have to get published to get funded, but you can't publish something that didn't work."
Fortunately, with a five-year grant, Rankin has more time to step back and look at the big picture, she said. That way if things don't work in the beginning, she has time to continue experiments that will likely produce those incremental results. She and a postdoctoral fellow, Saili Moghe, are studying how chromosome pairs stay attached before cell division, a process known as cohesion. When chromosome pairs don't stay …