Morey Pieces Together the Genetic Puzzle

Buffalo, NY – Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Morey, PhD, is always game for a good puzzle. Word puzzles, number puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles – they all excite her logical and sequential ingenuity. But it is the genetic puzzle that most intrigues Morey.

A cell and molecular biologist at Canisius, Morey is researching how environmental estrogens affect prostate cancer. Specifically, she examines how outside influences, namely environmental estrogens, alter genes. Environmental estrogens are synthetic substances found most commonly in plastics, pesticides and contraceptives. When absorbed into the body, they can change the way a gene behaves. Environmental estrogens are connected to everything from premenstrual syndrome to cancer and reproductive problems in animals – even generations after exposure.

“Unscrambling the role of epigenetics – or this process that alters gene activity without changing the DNA sequence – can help scientists develop better drugs and intervention for patients and perhaps future generations,” she explains.

A high school biology teacher introduced Morey to the first pieces of the genetic puzzle when she taught about DNA. But it was a freshman biology professor at the University of Southern Maine who recognized Morey’s inquisitive mind and enlisted her in his genetics research lab.

“It was a great experience that really gave me an edge when I went into graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.”

Morey helps give Canisius students that same edge in her lab.

“The undergraduate research experience is such a powerful thing,” she says. “It teaches students skills that they can’t learn in a classroom or a lab that meets once a week.”

Morey’s current coursework includes cancer biology, cell biology and molecular biology. But the most rewarding part of Morey’s work, she says, is the look on students’ faces, when they successfully piece together a scientific puzzle.

One of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation, Canisius is the premier private university in Western New York.