Skip to main content
Sign In

The CU School of Medicine is top-ranked in primary care, pediatrics and family and rural medicine. We offer degrees in doctor of medicine, physical therapy, physician assistant, medical science in anesthesiology, genetic counseling, modern human anatomy.

Molecular Biology Program

Sandy Martin, Professor

Ph.D. (1982), University of California at Berkeley





Contact Info:

Molecular Biology
University of Colorado

Sandy Martin, Ph.D.  Research One South
(RC1-South), Room 12116 Phone: 303-724-3467


Two biological questions are presently under investigation in my laboratory. We are interested in the mechanism of L1 retrotransposition and its control in genetic and evolutionary time, as well as in the molecular events that determine the phenotype of a hibernating mammal. Answers to both questions will impact our understanding of genome evolution and the relationship between genotype and phenotype.

LINE-1, or L1, elements populate the genomes of all mammals and is the most significant dynamic force acting upon the human genome. Typically, L1 sequences comprise between 10 and 30% of a genome and are interspersed throughout all chromosomes. This highly repetitive L1 DNA family is comprised of a small number of active transposable elements and a large number of their truncated, defective progeny. Movement into new sites in nuclear DNA occurs via reverse transcription of an RNA intermediate, by a unique mechanism known as target primed reverse transcription, or tprt. Our long-range goal is to understand the retrotransposition process in detail, including the biochemical intermediates involved, as well as its control in genetic and evolutionary time.

LINE-1 retrotransposition begins with transcription of a full-length, sense-strand L1 RNA and requires two L1-encoded polypeptides. These proteins also catalyze the reverse transcription and integration of SINEs (short interspersed repeated sequences) and processed pseudogenes, thereby amplifying the effects of LINE-1 in mammalian genome dynamics. Our long-range goal is to understand the retrotransposition process in detail, including the biochemical intermediates involved as well as its control in genetic and evolutionary time. Specifically, ongoing experiments are designed to enhance understanding of the structure and function of the two essential L1-encoded proteins, ORF1p and ORF2p, and the details of their interaction with each other as well as with both RNA and DNA. We are also working to define the cis- and trans-acting components of translational control that operate upon the two L1-encoded proteins in the naturally-occurring dicistronic L1 mRNA, and how the L1 RNA transitions from its role as a translation template to that of a reverse transcriptase template.

LINEs in mammals belong to a much larger family of mobile elements that are widely distributed among eucaryotes and known as the non-LTR retrotransposons. These elements have been replicating in eucaryotic genomes since the origin of eucaryotes, in some cases remaining modest in copy number, other cases amplifying to very high copy numbers (e.g., humans), and some cases becoming extinct. These dynamics reinforce the idea of the genome as an ecosystem and offer unique opportunities for gaining insight into the competition for survival among rival forces within the genome.

We also study hibernation in mammals because two aspects of the hibernating phenotype offer extraordinary potential to make an enormous impact on medicine: first, hibernators orchestrate a profound protection against ischemia-reperfusion injury during their hibernation season; second, these animals reversibly drop their metabolism to 5% of basal metabolic rate. We hope that defining the mechanisms used in this natural model will reveal novel pathways and drug targets to mimic these responses in patients.

Mammals in deep hibernation exhibit profound reductions in their basal metabolic, heart and respiratory rates, along with core body temperature; the identical constellation of physiological parameters is inevitably lethal to a non-hibernating species. At present, very little is known about the mechanisms that permit hibernators to achieve, maintain and survive these overwhelming (to humans) physiological changes at the molecular level. Hibernating species are widely interspersed among monotremes, marsupials and placentals. This widespread phylogenetic distribution of hibernators suggests that hibernation is an ancestral trait that has been lost numerous times in mammalian evolution, and implies that all mammals share the genes that specify and permit the hibernating phenotype. Thus, our long term goal for this project is to understand how the mammalian genotype is expressed as a hibernating phenotype in some, but not all mammals. This project has two components: the first seeks to identify differentially expressed genes at the mRNA and protein level. The second component tests predictions that derive from the hypothesis that hibernators must rewarm periodically in order to replenish gene products that are catabolized, but not synthesized, at the low body temperatures of torpor.

We have implemented various approaches over the years to identify genes that are differentially expressed at the steady-state mRNA level. These have provided some interesting candidates for further work, but it is clear that present efforts have merely scratched the surface of what remains to be discovered. We are presently exploiting new proteomics screening methods to quantify and identify proteins that are differentially present or modified during the season of hibernation because these are likely responsible for the protection seen in the winter animals. Other experiments address the molecular mechanisms that control the reversible suppression of various biochemical processes during the torpor-arousal cycles of hibernation. The application of both protection and reversible hypometabolism in humans has tremendous potential to improve outcomes for victims of cardiac arrest, stroke and traumatic shock.​​​​​​​


Martin, S.L. (1991) LINEs. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development, 1, 505-508.

Martin, S.L. and Wichman, H.A. (1993) Molecular approaches to mammalian retrotransposon isolation. Meth. Enz. 224, 309-322.

van Breukelen, F. and Martin, S.L. (2002) Molecular adaptations in mammalian hibernators: unique adaptations or generalized responses? J. App. Physiol. 92, 2640-2647.

Carey, H.V., Andrews, M.T. and Martin, S.L. (2003) Mammalian hibernation: cellular and molecular responses to depressed metabolism and low temperature, Physiological Reviews, 83, 1153-1181.

Martin, S.L. and Garfinkel, D.J. (2003) Survival strategies for transposons and genomes, Genome Biology 4,313.

Martin, S.L. (2008) Mammalian hibernation: a naturally reversible model for insulin resistance in man? Diab Vasc Dis Res 5, 76-81. PMID: 18537093

Martin, S.L. (2009) Developmental biology: Jumping-gene roulette. Nature 460, 1087-1088.

Martin, S.L., Srere, H.K., Belke, D., Wang, L.C.H. and Carey, H.V. (1993) Differential gene expression in the liver during hibernation in ground squirrels, in Life in the Cold III: Ecological, Physiological and Molecular Mechanisms. Carey, C., Florant, G.L., Wunder, B.A. and Horwitz, B., eds. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 443-453.

Martin, S.L. Maniero, G.D. and Carey, C. (1996) Patterns of gene expression in the liver during hibernation in ground squirrels, in Adaptations to the Cold, Geiser, F., Hulbert, A.J. and Nicol, S.C. eds., University of New England Press, Armidale, NSW, 327-332.

Carey, H.V. and Martin, S.L. (1996) Hibernation and the stress response, in Adaptations to the Cold, Geiser, F., Hulbert, A.J. and Nicol, S.C. eds., University of New England Press, Armidale, NSW, 319-326.

Martin, S.L., Epperson, E. and van Breukelen, F. (2000) Quantitative and qualitative changes in gene expression during hibernation in golden-mantled ground squirrels, in Life in the Cold, Heldmaier, G. and Klingenspor, M. eds., Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 315-324.

Martin, S.L., Dahl, T. and Epperson, L.E. (2004) Slow loss of protein integrity during torpor: a cause for arousal? in Life in the Cold: Evolution, Mechanisms, Adaptation, and Application, Barnes B.M. and Carey H.V. eds., Institute for Arctic Biology Press, Fairbanks, AK, 199-208.

Martin, S.L. and Epperson, L.E. (2008) A two-switch model for mammalian hibernation, in Hypometabolism in animals: torpor, hibernation and cryobiology. Lovegrove, B.G. and McKechnie, A.E. (eds.) University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 177-186.