I’m interested in making a website for myself at Gordon.  I want it to be thorough, but inviting to potential research students and high school students that may be interested in attending Gordon. What do you think… is it inviting to students?  I’ve tried to explain the science so that anyone can understand and also share a bit of my personal story. I’ll be adding some figures to highlight the science and a couple of pictures of students and/or research-related stuff… but, any thoughts for now?

Dr. Justin Topp joined Gordon College in 2011.  Dr. Topp has broad research experience in cell and molecular biology and biochemistry with specific foci in membrane trafficking, alternative splicing, and genotyping of pathogenic bacterial species.  His current research interest is to determine the function and regulation of Alsin, the protein mutated in juvenile ALS and other related neurodegenerative diseases.   Dr. Topp is also very interested in discussing and researching questions that lie at the interface of science and religion and writes a blog on the subject.  He adores his wife and two year old daughter and if he isn’t chasing after little Ashleigh he is likely watching college football with a laptop on his, er, lap.

Contact Info:
Justin Topp, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Gordon College
Department of Biology
KOSC 309
255 Grapevine Road
Wenham, MA 01984

Email: justin.topp@gordon.edu
Phone: 978-867-4385
Fax: 978-867-4585

Educational Background:
B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering, University of Iowa (2000)
Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry, University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas (2005)
Post-Doc in Molecular Biology, University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas (2005-2008)

Courses Taught:
BIO 150 Biology I: Cells and Genetics
BIO 151 Biology II: Animal Biology
BIO 260 Introduction to Research in Biology
BIO 314 Microbiology
BIO 321 Molecular Cell Biology
NSM 202 Scientific Enterprise

Vesicle and Membrane Trafficking:
While all membrane proteins are “born” at the same place (the rough endoplasmic reticulum, we’ll call it “the North Shore”), they don’t stay there.  Some proteins are destined for California, others may be attracted to the big city lights of New York, and others still may even want to go to Iowa (it’s okay, check my bio)!  After they are made in the North Shore (the rough endoplasmic reticulum) they are taken to the post office known as the Golgi apparatus where they are then sorted to their specific cellular locations via an elaborate trafficking pathway.  As an undergraduate student, I worked with Dr. Mark Stamnes at the University of Iowa on how transport vesicles (the moving vans) bud from this post office and we determined that calcium plays a role in this process.

Ahluwalia, J.P., Topp, J.D., Weirather, K., Zimmerman, M., and M. Stamnes. (2001) A role for calcium in stabilizing transport vesicle coats.  J. Biol. Chem. 276, 34148.

Because of my wonderful and fun experience as an undergraduate, I decided to pursue graduate school and joined the lab of Dr. Bruce Horazdovsky who was also working on cellular trafficking events.  Instead of looking at how proteins moved within the United States (i.e. the cell), we looked at how proteins are imported into the cell, like say how someone immigrates into the U.S. from a foreign country.  It turns out that the mechanisms of getting into the country are fairly similar to those involved in moving within the country.  I worked on a number of projects while getting my Ph.D. all of which were focused on the process of cellular entry known as endocytosis.  By far, my favorite projects involved a protein called Alsin.  The gene encoding this protein is mutated in a rare form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the common form of which is known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” because he suffered from it.  While we were able to determine some aspects of this protein’s function and how losing it may cause ALS, there is still much more to learn and I plan to continue these studies with undergraduate students at Gordon.

Chen, G., Topp, J.D., Severson, S.R., and B.F. Horazdovsky (2011).  Alsin mediates IGF-1 receptor signaling and cell survival. Hum. Mol. Genetics (in revision).
Topp, J.D., Carney, D.S., and B.F. Horazdovsky (2005).  Biochemical characterization of Alsin, a Rab5 and Rac1 guanine nucleotide exchange factor.  Methods Enzymol.  403, 261.
Devon, R.S., Schwab, C., Topp, J.D., Orban, P.C , Yang, Y., Pape, T.D., Helm, J.R., Davidson,T., Rogers, D.A., Gros-Luis, F., Rouleau, G., Horazdovsky. B.F., Leavitt, B.R., and M.R. Hayden (2005).  Cross-species characterization of the Als2 gene and analysis of its pattern of expression in development and adulthood. Neurobiol. Dis. 18, 243 (cover).
Topp, J.D., Gray N.W., Gerard, B., and B.F. Horazdovsky (2004). Alsin is a Rab5 and Rac1 exchange factor. J. Biol. Chem. 279, 24612.
Davies, B.A., Topp, J.D., Sfeir, A.J., Katzmann, D.J., Carney, D.S., Tall, G.G., Friedberg, A.S., Deng, L., Chen, Z., and B.F. Horazdovsky (2003). Vps9p CUE domain ubiquitin binding is required for efficient endocytic protein traffic. J. Biol. Chem. 278, 19826.

RNA Processing:
After graduate school I decided to study something completely different from what I had learned before.  To this end, I joined the lab of Dr. Kristen Lynch who works on alternative splicing which is a form of RNA processing.  Alternative splicing is a mechanism used by “higher” organisms that generates a much greater diversity in protein output from a smaller genetic input.  To produce a protein in a cell, a gene (DNA) is transcribed into RNA in a process that is conceptually similar to printing out a blueprint from a file on your computer’s hard drive.  This RNA is then taken to the ribosome whereby it is translated into a protein.  Continuing the analogy, the protein would be the house that is constructed to the specifications of the blueprint (the RNA).  However, before the blueprint is taken to the construction site, it is processed via a number of different mechanisms, one of which is alternative splicing.  During alternative splicing, the blueprint can be altered such that if 10 copies of the same blueprints were printed out, 3 of the resulting buildings may be missing one of the bedrooms, and 3 others could potentially have an extra bathroom.  While the house is still recognizable as the same house style in each case, the slight variations can make a big difference.  In some cases, loss of a bedroom can cause the house to no longer even function as a house!  Back to science, it is thought that a large percentage of cases of disease are in fact due to defects in this alternative splicing process.  The Lynch lab is interested in alternative splicing in response to activation of the immune system and we identified a novel protein that is involved in this process and novel genes that undergo alternative splicing during immune activation.

Topp, J.D., Jackson, J., Melton, A.A., and K.W. Lynch (2008).  A cell-based screen for splicing regulators identifies hnRNP LL as a distinct signal-induced repressor of CD45 variable exon 4.  RNA. 14, 2038.
Ip, J., Tong, A., Pan, Q., Topp, J.D., Blencowe, B.J., and K.W. Lynch (2007).  Global analysis of alternative splicing during T cell activation.  RNA. 13, 563.

Lyme Disease:
Prior to coming to Gordon, I taught at another institution in Chicago, IL (North Park University).  With two of my colleagues there I headed a small research lab composed of undergraduate students.  We worked on the most common tick-born disease in the U.S., Lyme disease.  This disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi when it is introduced into a human via a bite of the deer tick Ixodes scapularis.  What is very interesting is that while Borrelia burgdorferi is pathogenic (capable of causing disease) it has many cousins that appear unable to definitively cause Lyme disease even though they can be transmitted to humans.  The reasons for why this occurs aren’t currently understood.  But, because of this discrepancy it is important to know whether ticks in an area harbor the pathogenic Borrelia burgdorferi or one of its non-pathogenic cousins.  Our work focused on surveying ticks throughout the greater Chicago area and we found that indeed the pathogenic Borrelia burgdorferi was highly prevalent.

Schau, M.D., Ondrey, J., Meyers, M., Morrison, B., Cholewinski, M., Ardito, C., Nelson, T., Nelson, J.A., Jobe, D., Lovrich, S., and J.D. Topp (2011). Molecular fingerprinting analysis confirms the presence and widespread distribution of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto in the Chicagoland area. (in revision)

Science and Religion:
In addition to molecular and cell biology, I am also highly passionate about issues in science and religion.  I became a Christian while pursuing my scientific studies and became aware of a tension early on in my career.  If evolution is true, then what?  Isn’t there only one way to read Genesis?  Can’t I just compartmentalize and believe one thing on Sunday and Wednesday and another thing the rest of the week?  Or maybe I could think one way in one building and a different way in another?  It “worked” for a few years but then it became painfully obvious that it wouldn’t last.  I had to tackle the issue head-on.  So I began reading.  A lot.  I’m not sure that I understood all that I was reading but it got me thinking and that is a great, not good thing.  Since then, I have developed a love for the study of science and religion and mentoring college students in science and faith.  I have written a couple of items and maintain a blog in the area, but I write cautiously, hesitantly, and with humility.  You can see my publications below and I would love to speak with students on this matter.  All truth is God’s truth.  We can pursue with confidence.

C. DeWitt and J.D. Topp (2011). Review of Science, Creation, and the Bible by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III. Reports of the National Center for Science Education. (in preparation)
J.D. Topp (2011). With respect to nature. Covenant Companion (invited article). Feb 2011, 22.
J.D. Topp (2008). Review of A Scientific Search for Religious Truth by P. Mundt. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. 60, 200.
J.D. Topp (2008). Review of Evolution and Religious Myths: How Scientists Respond by P.F. Lurquin and L. Stone. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. 60, 202.

Science and Religion Invited Blog Posts:
J.D. Topp (2010). Guest blog post on Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. Jesus Creed Blog. http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/ (published Aug. 10)
J.D. Topp (2010). Evangelicalism, Adaptation, and the Personal. Science & the Sacred Blog, BioLogos foundation. http://biologos.org/blog/evangelicalism-adaptation-and-the-personal/ (published July 13)
J.D. Topp (2010). Review of Galileo Goes to Jail (and Other Myths About Science and Religion) ed. by Ronald L. Numbers. Jesus Creed Blog. http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/07/saturday-afternoon-book-review-20.html (published July 3)

Student Mentee Presentations:
Below is a list of presentations given by undergraduate students that have pursued research under my guidance.

Nelson, T., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Molecular characterization of OspA and OspC genes in determining pathogenicity of Borrelia burgdoferi isolates collected in the Chicagoland area. (2011) 2011 North Park University Student Research Symposium.
Ardito, C., Savage, C., Topp, J.D., and M. Schau. Surveillance for the Presence of Borrelia 
burgdorferi, Anaplasma phagocytophylum and Babesia microti in the Chicago Area. (2011) 2011 North Park University Student Research Symposium.
Savage, C., Ardito, C., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Surveillence for the Presence of Anaplasma 
phagocytophilum in the Chicagoland Area. (2011) 2011 Tri Beta District Convention, North Central Branch-1. (poster)
Cholewinski, M., Ondrey, J., Meyers, M., Morrison, R., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Genotyping and molecular fingerprinting analysis reveals the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto in the Chicagoland area. (2010) 70th Annual meeting of the North Central Branch of the American Society for Microbiology. (poster)
Morrison, R., Nelson, J., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Surveillance for the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi and Anaplasma phagocytophilum from Ixodes scapularis in the Chicago Region. (2010) 43rd Annual Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area Student Symposium.
Ondrey, J., Meyers, M., Morrison, R., Cholewinski,, M., Topp, J.D., and M. Schau. Characterization of Borrelia burgdorferi isolated from the Greater-Chicago wooded areas. (2010) 2010 Tri Beta District Convention, North Central Branch-1.
Meyers, M, Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Strain Evaluation of Borrelia burgdorferi in the Chicagoland area using restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) of the rrf-rrl­ intergenic spacer region. (2010) 43rd Annual Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area Student Symposium.
Cholewinski, M., Ondrey, J., Meyers, M., Morrison, R., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Genotyping and molecular fingerprinting analysis reveals the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto in the Chicagoland area. (2010) 70th Annual meeting of the North Central Branch of the American Society for Microbiology. (poster)
Morrison, R., Nelson, J., Schau, M., and J.D. Topp. Surveillance for the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi and Anaplasma phagocytophilum from Ixodes scapularisticks in the greater Chicago area. (2010) 2010 North Park University Student Research Symposium.

Below is a list of grants that I have received.

Tri Beta Research Award (2010 – 2011) (with Dr. Matthew Schau and students Carmelina Ardito and Christina Savage)
Tri Beta Research Award (2009 – 2010) (with Dr. Matthew Schau and students Jakob Ondrey, Becky Morrison, Matthew Meyers, and Monica Cholewinski)
Individual Development Program Grant: North Park University (2009 – 2010) (with Dr. Matthew Schau)
Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award: NIH (2007 – 2008)
National Science Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship (2001 – 2004)