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

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.