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Spotlight On...

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.

Archives: 2016 | 2015

Katherine Parish

September 2018

I work in the Samuelson Lab, where we study aging and longevity in C.elegans. I’m personally researching SUMOylation modification of transcription factors with respect to aging through the heat shock response pathway. I’m also looking at the accumulation of methylation marks at stress loci in conjunction with SUMO modification as a barrier switch function.


Kyle Swovick

August 2018

I work in the Ghaemmaghami Lab. We utilize mass spectrometry-based techniques to investigate protein homeostasis. In particular, I study the conservation of protein turnover to understand the relationship between protein turnover and aging.  


Tara Finegan

July 2018

Broadly, I am interested in how cells behave in the context of tissues and how cells act collectively to build and maintain tissue structures. In the Bergstralh Lab, we’ve found that cells in some tissues break a decades-old rule of cell biology: their shape doesn’t dictate the direction in which they divide. I have been working to understand how and why this rule is being broken.


Allyson Withey

June 2018

I am the Course Coordinator for the Undergraduate Program. My primary duties include providing instructors with Blackboard, classroom, and exam support. I also provide coordination and support for approximately 90 teaching assistants per semester, manage student enrollment, and function as the department liaison to the Registrar’s office. 


Samuel DeSantis

May 2018

Our lab investigates the molecular mechanisms behind aging and cancer in a variety of unique species like the adorable Naked Mole Rat. These little guys live an exceptionally long time for rodents and are extremely resistant to cancer.


Nicole Dawney

April 2018

Our lab looks at tissue morphogenesis and tissue development. I am using mouse intestinal organoids as a model system to look at how cell division influences tissue shape in this system. 


Matthew Johnson

March 2018

My current research in the Welte Lab focuses on understanding how lipids are involved in regulating nuclear histone accumulation during early embryogenesis. 


Jenna Lentini

February 2018

Currently, I am working to understand the role of putative human tRNA modification enzymes in vivo and how defects in proper modification status can cause human disorders.


Stephan Emmrich

January 2018

I am comparing naked mole rat blood and skin stem cells to those of wild type BL6 mice, rats, and a mouse model overexpressing Hyaluronic Acid Synthase 2 to find new mechanisms of sustained stem cell function at a higher age.


Stephanie Hao

December 2017

I work in the Larracuente lab.  We study selfish DNA, repetitive DNA, and genomic conflicts. Specifically, I work on Responder, a repetitive element in the context of a D.melanogaster drive system.


Emery Longan

November 2017

I am currently studying evolutionary constraint in the microbes present in vineyards. For thousands of years, humans have been using the fermentative capacity of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) to produce wine and other alcoholic beverages. Through time, many strains of S. cerevisiae have adapted to a vineyard lifestyle. However, in general S. paradoxus (the sister species of S. cerevisiae) does not display similar vineyard-specific adaptations. I use techniques including mutagenesis and experimental evolution to investigate this discrepancy.


Thao Kim Dao

October 2017

I am currently working on a project about the shell formation of the snail Ilyanassa obsoleta. We are trying to figure out the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control the coiling of Ilyanassa. In addition, since I am in the early phase of graduate school, I am also trying out a few experiments which could potentially lead to my thesis project.


Philip Bellomio

September 2017

Our primary project involves Nasonia, tiny parasitoid (insects that parasitize other insects) wasps which are found throughout the globe, and which I admittedly had no idea existed until joining the Werren Lab. (Check them out, they are pretty neat). Two of our Nasonia species differ significantly in their ability to learn and retain information (i.e. scent and color). We seek to elucidate the genetics underlying this difference in memory retention, in particular the possibility that the forgetfulness of one species may actually prove beneficial to survival and is selected for in the wild.


Cynthia Landry

August 2017

I am the coordinator for the graduate program. This includes recruiting new students every year, advising them for the duration of their program, and assisting each one throughout the dissertation process. From the moment they arrive at the U of R until earning their graduate degree, it amazes me how fast time flies!


Tyler Wilson

July 2017

In the Bergstralh lab, we study epithelial tissue morphology during development in Drosophila. Specifically, I study a process known as cell reintegration and its possible implications on cancer development.  


Tian Zhang

June 2017

I work in the Ghaemmaghami Lab. Our laboratory studies the mechanisms of protein folding and degradation within cells. My research uses isotopic labeling and mass spectrometry-based methodology to quantify proteome dynamics and elucidate the selectivity of different protein degradation pathways and how cells maintain proteome homeostasis under different conditions.


Hiram Lyon

May 2017

From the beginning I have been fascinated by science, an interest that was supported by my parents, particularly my mother.  One Christmas when I was about five, my parents gave me two books, one entitled “Geology” and the other “The World Around Us”.  They were far beyond my reading level, but I was captivated by artists' renderings of erupting volcanoes and pictures of Devonian trilobites, dinosaurs, early birds and mammals.  When an older cousin or an adult would offer to read me a story, I would often opt for a few pages of those two books.   The launch of Sputnik in 1958 by the Soviet Union really got me interested in astronomy and I spent a lot of time picking out constellations in the night sky and building model rockets.  A few years later, I was given a Gilbert chemistry set for my birthday.  I spent so much time in the kitchen doing experiments from the exercise manual that my parents decided to buy me a much larger set containing a beam balance, alcohol lamp and a few test tubes and about an ounce each of about 30 different chemicals.  It was a lot of fun until I took the enamel off my mother’s kitchen sink (at least I was the one who got the blame for it). Soon after, my mother bought me a compound microscope.  I had a few prepared slides that were kind of cool, but looking at pond water and soil samples was just amazing.  I think the gift of that microscope was the thing that really got me interested in biology.


Sebastian Rojas Villa

February 2017

I am part of the research group of Dr. Benoit Biteau in the medical center. We use fruit flies as a model to understand how adult stem cells maintain proper tissue homeostasis. In most adult tissues a complex network of genes maintains a fine-tuned balance between stem cell proliferation and differentiation in response to external stimuli. We are trying to understand how different genes affect these processes. Currently I am working on a highly conserved transcription factor, directly involved in stem differentiation and indirectly regulating stem cell division.


Hongying Sun

January 2017

I’m a computational biologist, and I work on building thermodynamic models of RNA secondary structure. RNA is central to life, because it can carry genetic information, act as a template for protein synthesis, and catalyze chemical reactions.  These many capabilities lead to the idea of an early “RNA world” where RNA perhaps represented the first primitive life. Moreover, it is also now known that in modern cells, RNA performs a variety of critical biological functions besides encoding proteins.