Spotlight On...

2016 Archive

The Spotlight series was created in 2009 as a way of building camaraderie in our department and as a way of communicating our unique departmental culture to prospective students and visitors. Featuring current graduate students, postdoctoral associates, technical staff, and administrative staff it showcases the broad interests and talent of our many department members. In April of 2015, we launched our first online version.


Benjamin Fuller

December 2016

I am working with Dr. Fu to help elucidate more functions of tRNA methyl-transferase TRMT1 and its implications on several cellular processes.

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Amelia Harvey

November 2016

I am currently working on a microsatellite project looking at patterns of poly/monogyny in fungus-growing ants with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the evolution of social parasitism.

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Ching-Ho Chang

October 2016

I study the evolution of Segregation Distorter (SD) and Y-chromosomes in fruit flies. SD is a selfish genetic element. Male individuals with one SD and one wild type homologous chromosomes will mainly produce sperm with SD by killing other sperm. This process involves the interaction of a new duplicated gene, noncoding sequences and environment effects. I am trying to figure out how SD kills sperm and the interaction and dynamics of SD and other genes, e.g. suppressors in a population. Y-chromosomes are typically degenerated and contain many repetitive sequences and only few genes. However, they are also dark matter of genomes that contribute huge chunks of genome and affect many traits. I assembled several flies’ Y-chromosomes with a fancy sequenced technology from a company called PacBio. My hope is that I will reveal the mystery of Y-chromosomes in flies with these sequences.

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Sarah Baron

September 2016

Currently I hold two positions in the biology department. I work in the teaching labs, preparing for the undergraduate lab courses. I am also a laboratory technician in the Werren lab where I assist on various projects.

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Benjamin Parker

August 2016

Organisms change phenotypic traits in response to variable environments. This plasticity is universal among living things, and there has been a great deal of research on topics like the costs of plasticity, when environmental change induces plastic vs. genetic adaptation, the mechanisms of how plastic traits are produced, etc. We know comparatively little about variation in plasticity itself and how natural selection shapes plasticity. Why are individuals different in terms of how sensitive they are to environmental cues, and what kind of mechanisms are the targets of selection on plasticity? We’re studying this question using pea aphids, which produce genetically-identical winged or unwinged offspring based on how crowded they are on a host plant. We’re looking at variation in how different aphid genotypes respond to crowding both within a population (using a genome-wide association panel) and among reproductively-isolated populations that are in the process of adapting to different host plants. This work will teach us about the genomic architecture and mechanisms of plasticity in a model system, and potentially, how plasticity plays a role in the process of adaptation.

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Chuck Hutti

July 2016

I am currently studying prion diseases, which are severe and incurable neurodegenerative disorders. Some of the work I do involves anti-prion compounds that have shown success in combating the disease. While these compounds have great potential in the clinical setting, next to nothing is known about their mechanism of action within cells.  Several of these compounds have been identified as manipulators of autophagy, a major cellular degradation pathway. So, one of my projects uses these compounds to investigate the role of autophagy in prion diseases. It is my hope that this will lead to discovering new therapies for the disease.

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Yang Zhao

June 2016

I’m currently working on cancer resistance and aging mechanisms using subterranean rodents as animal models. Specifically, I’m looking at the molecular mechanism underlying cancer-resistance of a long-lived subterranean rodent, the blind mole rat. As a rodent, the blind mole rat has a maximum of lifespan of over 20 years, without any spontaneous cancer. The possible mechanisms that I’m trying to unravel involve special DNA methylation and transposon activities contributing to its cancer resistance. Meanwhile, I’m using another extremely long-lived rodent species, the naked mole rat, to demonstrate its special cellular senescence mechanism.

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Hannah Steinert

May 2016

Currently, my main project focuses on the developmental timing of sex-specific maturation of the nervous system in C. elegans. To summarize, animals must modify their behavior as they transition from juveniles to adults and males and females must do this differentially to maximize their fitness. This modification in behavior ultimately comes from changes in neural circuit function, however, we don’t know how these changes are regulated to happen during the juvenile-to-adult transition. I’m using the model organism C. elegans, a species of nematode, to investigate whether this is regulated by the heterochronic pathway, of which conserved components have been shown to regulate the timing of the onset of puberty in mammals.

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Christopher Prevost

April 2016

I have multiple projects currently going on, although overall I research mitochondrial genome stability.  The current projects cover mitochondrial DNA repair mechanisms and the effect mitochondrial dynamics have on the mitochondrial genome.

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Roxan Stephenson

March 2016

I am a second year graduate student in the Welte Lab. Previous studies in our lab showed that the novel Drosophila protein, Jabba, acts to anchor histones to lipid droplets.  I am currently working to further understand the structure and function of Jabba.

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Benjamin Gerstner

February 2016

I work as an undergraduate student research assistant in Professor Christian Rabeling’s lab. In the Rabeling lab we work with many species of leaf-cutting ants. I work on one of the projects in the lab where we utilize genetic markers of the workers in an ant colony to reconstruct the parentage of the colony; the goal being to quantify the mating habits of specific species and postulate some answers to questions concerning speciation. If you find this interesting or have questions, I encourage you to contact me, Professor Rabeling, or any of the other lab staff.

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Lori Wright

January 2016

I was hired as a molecular biologist.  I don’t generally have my own project, but handle cloning aspects for a variety of experiments.  Whatever the gene of interest is, I subclone it out of a Drosophila line into E. coli.  Sometimes I do site-directed mutagenesis, other times I just clone the wild-type version, and then insert it back into the fly.

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