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Department News

The biology department’s research is regularly featured in journals, publications, and news outlets. In addition, our faculty consistently garner awards and recognitions for their work. See our news archive for past stories.

Visit the University of Rochester Newscenter for more biology department news.


Bob Minckley explains the San Bernardino Valley is home to 500 bee species - a record

September 23, 2021

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, Bob Minckley, a professor of instruction in the Department of Biology, and Bill Radke, manager of the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, found that 497 species of bees live within just over six square miles of the San Bernardino Valley, a modest area for such a study—10 times smaller than Washington, DC. “The density of bees there is astronomical—far and away higher than anywhere else in the world that’s been carefully studied,” says Minckley.

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Jack Werren's approach predicts novel ‘protein partners’ that could contribute to COVID-19 symptoms

September 16, 2021

In a new paper published in the journal PeerJ, John (Jack) Werren, the Nathaniel and Helen Wisch Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, and recent undergraduates Austin Varela ’20 and Sammy Cheng ’21 studied proteins that closely evolve with Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the receptor used by the SARS-CoV2 virus to enter human cells.

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Elaine Sia to receive Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

September 13, 2021

Sia joined the University in 2000 and was named a professor in 2014. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1987 and her doctoral degree in microbiology from Columbia University in 1994, followed by postdoctoral fellowships at Columbia and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

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Sina Ghaemmaghami receives the Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professorship at the University of Rochester

June 21, 2021

The University’s Mercer Brugler Distinguished Professorships, established in 1979, are announced every three years and are held by the recipients until the next round of awards.

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John Bettinger awarded a University of Rochester Elon Huntington Hooker Dissertation Fellowship for 2021-2022

June 18, 2021

Department of Biology graduate student, John Bettinger has been awarded a University of Rochester Elon Huntington Hooker Dissertation Fellowship for 2021-2022. This fellowship was first endowed by the Hooker family in 1947 to support graduate students across disciplines in the sciences. It is one of the University’s most competitive dissertation fellowships for the sciences and is given to students who display exceptional ability and promise.

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Vera Gorbunova discusses the strange life of naked mole rats

May 25, 2021

There’s no single force that drives cellular aging; it’s a network of feedback loops. Enzymes read genes like a grocery list of different proteins to prepare, and those proteins might protect that enzyme, or that gene, or some body-wide process. Your body is programmed to tolerate these bumps and bruises. “While we are young, that repair actually works almost flawlessly,” says Vera Gorbunova, a biogerontologist who studies mole rats at the University of Rochester. When aging sets in, though, “now damage outpaces repair.” Gene-reading enzymes falter, misfolded proteins gum up the brain, sputtering mitochondria weaken muscles, and cancers bloom.

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Biology students, alumni awarded Fulbright grants for overseas study

May 25, 2021

Five University of Rochester students and alumni have won 2021–22 grants in the prestigious Fulbright US Student Grant program.

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Biology undergraduates receive Goldwater Scholarships for science achievement

May 18, 2021

“With three outstanding students chosen as Goldwater Scholars this year, the University of Rochester continues an excellent record of attracting talented students in various STEM fields,” says Cheeptip Benyajati, an associate professor in the Department of Biology who serves on the University’s interdisciplinary STEM faculty committee. “It shows Rochester’s commitment to research in STEM fields, and our success in mentoring and engaging young scientists to continue the pipeline.”

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Meyer Lab uses 3D printing to create a novel, environmentally friendly material made of algae

May 3, 2021

Living materials, which are made by housing biological cells within a nonliving matrix, have gained popularity in recent years as scientists recognize that often the most robust materials are those that mimic nature.

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Dan Bergstralh receives the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award

April 22, 2021

The award—the NSF’s most prestigious recognition for early-career faculty members—“embodies NSF’s commitment to encourage faculty and academic institutions to value and support the integration of research and education” and recognizes individuals “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

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Ching-Ho Chang the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Larry Sandler Award for best PhD dissertation in the Drosophila community

March 23, 2021

The Larry Sandler Memorial Lecture is given by an outstanding recent PhD graduate on the opening night of the Drosophila Research Conference.  Established in 1988 by the colleagues, friends, and students of Dr. Larry Sandler after his untimely death in 1987, the award honors Dr. Sandler for his many contributions to Drosophila genetics and his exceptional dedication to the training of Drosophila biologists. The winner receives complimentary registration for the 62nd Annual Drosophila Research Conference as well as a lifetime membership in GSA.

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Multidisciplinary collaboration will create a new light-sheet microscope on campus

February 22, 2021

A new multidisciplinary collaboration between the University of Rochester’s departments of biology, biomedical engineering, and optics and the Goergen Institute for Data Science will establish an innovative microscopy resource on campus, allowing for cutting-edge scientific research in biological imaging.

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Justin Fay explains three things you may not know about yeast

February 19, 2021

The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have fostered a trend of at-home baking, in which amateur breadmakers, like master bakers and brewers, are beginning to experiment with various strains of baker’s yeast and sourdough starters.

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Nancy Chen hopes to save the Florida scrub-jay from an inbreeding crisis

January 19, 2021

Human development has caused the bird's gene pool to shrink. An ambitious experiment to relocate scrub-jay families could bring reprieve, while also pointing the way to preserving other threatened species.

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Dr. Stan Hattman remembered as researcher, mentor, and colleague

January 14, 2021

University of Rochester biology professor emeritus Stanley Hattman is being remembered by colleagues and former students as a scientist who made foundational contributions to the field of molecular biology and as a teacher who shaped the course of students’ academic careers. Hattman died December 20 at the age of 82 from complications of COVID-19.

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iGEM team develops noninvasive endometriosis test

November 19, 2020

When Meghan Martin ’21, a biochemistry and American Sign Language double major, was a sophomore in high school, she began experiencing intense, chronic pain. An avid runner and soccer player, she was crippled by cramps, nausea, and back spasms that left her unable to participate in the sports she loved.

“I’ve always been really active, but I would go to practice, and then I would come home and have to lay down because my back would be spasming so badly,” Martin says. “I would start throwing up because I was so nauseous and in so much pain.”

Initially when she sought help, her doctor told her it was just period cramps and that she should take aspirin and get additional rest. Her mother, however, sensed there was something more going on. After some online research, she found that her daughter was exhibiting symptoms characteristic of endometriosis, a chronic disease in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterine cavity.

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Anne Meyer's research may lead to more effective antibiotics, less antibiotic resistance

October 1, 2020

Doctors often treat ear infections, strep throat, and urinary tract infections with antibiotics that kill the bacteria causing these infections. Sometimes, however, bacteria mount strong responses to stressors such as antibiotics, allowing these “stressed” bacteria to survive. This is especially the case when a person takes multiple antibiotics.

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Doug Portman's research shows biology blurs line between sexes, behaviors

August 17, 2020

A new study led by Douglas Portman, an associate professor of biomedical genetics, of biology, and of neuroscience, identifies a genetic switch in brain cells that can toggle between sex-specific states when necessary, findings that question the idea of sex as a fixed property.

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Dragony Fu and Jack Werren selected for ‘rapid research’ on COVID-19

July 17, 2020

Dragony Fu, an assistant professor of biology, and Jack Werren, the Nathaniel and Helen Wisch Professor of Biology, will apply their expertise in cellular and evolutionary biology to research proteins involved in infections from COVID-19. The funding is part of the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program to mobilize funding for high priority projects.

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Gorbunova and Seluanov Think Bats May Offer Clues to Treating COVID-19

July 13, 2020

“We’ve been interested in longevity and disease resistance in bats for a while, but we didn’t have the time to sit and think about it,” says Gorbunova, the Doris Johns Cherry Professor of Biology at Rochester. “Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realized there may be a very strong connection between bats’ resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realized that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight diseases.”

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Anusha Naganathan Wins Grant Supporting Outreach to Incarcerated Students

June 29, 2020

Anusha Naganathan, a Research Associate in Gloria Culver’s lab, has won an ASCB Public Engagement Grant to bring science education to students in a local prison.  The title of the grant is, “UR Science Stories: Bringing the Experience of Scientific Experimentation to Students at Groveland Correctional Facility”.  Eitan Freedenberg of the Rochester Education Justice Initiative (REJI) serves as co-Principal Investigator. REJI is a program at the University of Rochester that was founded in 2015 and provides academic programming at local correctional facilities, including Groveland Correctional Facility. The city of Rochester is directly impacted by the positive outcomes of REJI programs as 25% of REJI’s students will return to Monroe county at the end of their sentence.

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Emery Longan recipient of the 2020 Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student

June 10, 2020

A total of 13 Rochester graduate students have been recognized for their outstanding dedication as teachers and mentors who work closely with undergraduates. The honorees are the recipients of the 2020 Edward Peck Curtis Awards for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student.

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Rose Driscoll Offered National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

May 12, 2020

Eighteen current and former University of Rochester students have been offered National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, part of a federally sponsored program that provides up to three years of graduate study support for US students pursuing doctoral or research-based degrees in STEM, STEM education, and social science fields.

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Fu lab's research into RNA structure and function provides key information for developing coronavirus treatments

April 29, 2020

“Our strength as a university is our diversity of research expertise, combined with our highly collaborative nature,” says Dragony Fu, an assistant professor of biology on the River Campus and a member of the Center for RNA Biology. “We are surrounded by outstanding researchers who enhance our understanding of RNA biology, and a medical center that provides a translational aspect where the knowledge gained from RNA biology can be applied for therapeutics.”

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Ching-Ho Chang a recipent of the DeLill Nasser Award for Professional Development in Genetics

February 13, 2020

Ching-Ho Chang, a graduate student in the Larracuente lab, is a recipient of the DeLill Nasser Award for Professional Development in Genetics for Fall 2019! Given twice a year to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, DeLill Nasser Awards support attendance at meetings and laboratory courses. 

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Meyer Lab joins Helen Arney, the Waterbeach Brass Band and chemists from around the world in an updated version of Tom Lehrer's Elements Song, from Chemistry World

December 10, 2019

Members of the Meyer Lab present Calcium (1:29)

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Nancy Chen Seeks to Understand an Endangered Species, Bird by Bird

September 27, 2019

According to a recent analysis published in the journal Science, the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by nearly 3 billion—a shocking 29 percent of the total—since 1970. The study paints a bleak picture of avian loss among not only endangered species, but supposedly abundant birds like sparrows, and raises questions fundamental to evolutionary biology: What are the genes that influence survival and reproduction? What happens to the genetics of a population when it becomes threatened by extinction? Why do some individuals fare better than others? How do natural populations evolve over short time-scales?

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Jack Werren Says Genetics Models Move Beyond Drosophila and the Humble Lab Mouse

September 10, 2019

Geneticists tend to crowd around a few favorite organisms that have long histories in research and a wealth of practiced protocols for manipulating their genes. But those organisms aren’t always the best choice to answer a scientific question, leading some researchers to use other, less popular models. Organisms from elsewhere across the tree of life might offer unique genetic structures, physiology closer to that of humans, or faster generation times to accelerate investigations into gene regulation, evolution, and development.

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Anne Meyer says CRISPR Now Cuts and Splices Whole Chromosomes

September 3, 2019

Imagine a word processor that allowed you to change letters or words but balked when you tried to cut or rearrange whole paragraphs. Biologists have faced such constraints for decades. They could add or disable genes in a cell or even—with the genome-editing technology CRISPR—make precise changes within genes. Those capabilities have led to recombinant DNA technology, genetically modified organisms, and gene therapies. But a long-sought goal remained out of reach: manipulating much larger chunks of chromosomes in Escherichia coli, the workhorse bacterium. Now, researchers report they've adapted CRISPR and combined it with other tools to cut and splice large genome fragments with ease.

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Sina Ghaemmaghami named new director of undergraduate research

August 29, 2019

Sina Ghaemmaghami, an associate professor of biology, has been appointed the director of undergraduate research. He succeeds Steve Manly, who stepped down at the end of June, after 11 years in the position, to become the new chair of Physics and Astronomy.

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Department of Biology Retreat, August 23, 2019

August 23, 2019

On August 23, 2019 the Department of Biology held our annual Department Retreat at the Glen Iris Inn at Letchworth State Park in Castile, NY.  Renowned as the "Grand Canyon of the East," Letchworth State Park is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs--as high as 600 feet in some places--surrounded by lush forests.

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Anne Meyer Describes How to Produce Graphene on a Large Scale

July 11, 2019

In order to create new and more efficient computers, medical devices, and other advanced technologies, researchers are turning to nanomaterials: materials manipulated on the scale of atoms or molecules that exhibit unique properties.

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Jennifer Brisson Uncovers Genes that Help Determine if Pea Aphids Get Their Wings

June 17, 2019

Many of an organism’s traits are influenced by cues from the organism’s environment. These features are known as phenotypically plastic traits and are important in allowing an organism to cope with unpredictable environments.

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Study led by graduate student Jie Luo finds molecular “switch” to prolong survival of prostate cancer

June 14, 2019

Wilmot Cancer Institute scientists believe they have figured out why a commonly used drug to treat late-stage prostate cancer often stops working after four or five months and appears to have a dual function that later turns the cancer into a relentless aggressor.

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Gloria Culver reappointed Dean of School of Arts & Sciences

May 30, 2019

Gloria Culver has been appointed to a new five-year term as dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “Dean Culver’s dedication to the success of our students, faculty, and staff, and her tireless commitment to the School of Arts and  Sciences are reflections of the way she lives the University’s vision and values,” says Donald Hall, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences & Engineering. “Her efforts to promote the humanities, celebrate scholarship, and ensure equity for underrepresented groups across the arts and sciences and STEM fields have contributed significantly to the continued growth and success of AS&E. I value her as a key member of the AS&E leadership team and I look forward to continuing our work together.” The Board of Trustees approved Culver’s deanship renewal at its May meeting.

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Amanda Larracuente Sequences the Genome’s Elusive Centromere

May 15, 2019

Researchers from the University of Rochester, along with their colleagues at the University of Connecticut, have now discovered the centromeres of the model genetic organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), sequencing the most repetitive parts of genome and unlocking one of the “last frontiers of genome assembly,” says Amanda Larracuente, an assistant professor of biology at Rochester and co-lead author on the study. The research, published in the journal PloS Biology, sheds light on a fundamental aspect of biology, and shows that selfish genetic elements may play a larger role in centromere function than researchers previously thought.

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Omid Saleh Ziabari Offered National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

May 10, 2019

Five University of Rochester graduate students and one undergraduate have been offered National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, part of a federally sponsored program that provides up to three years of graduate study support for US students pursuing doctoral or research-based degrees in STEM, STEM education, and social science fields.

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Brenna Rybak Receives Meliora Award for Outstanding Service

April 24, 2019

Colleagues say she’s an innovative and creative problem solver and her level of service to faculty, staff, and students in the department consistently exceeds expectations. Rybak is considered a thoughtful advisor to many members of the department and has helped counsel them through a variety of issues and questions.

“Brenna is a star, a terrific asset to the department and the University, and is a joy to work with,” wrote Michael Welte, chair of the Department of Biology, who nominated her for the award. “She communicates effectively in person and in writing, is an active listener, and a problem solver. She interacts well with all members of the department, has profound people skills, and is excellent at both managing conflict and encouraging people to do their best.”

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Researchers Say ‘Longevity gene’ Responsible for More Efficient DNA Repair

April 22, 2019

In a new paper published in the journal Cell, the researchers—including Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov, professors of biology; Dirk Bohmann, professor of biomedical genetics; and their team of students and postdoctoral researchers—found that the gene sirtuin 6 (SIRT6) is responsible for more efficient DNA repair in species with longer lifespans. The research illuminates new targets for anti-aging interventions and could help prevent age-related diseases.

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Meyer Lab Creates Artificial Mother-of-Pearl Using Bacteria

April 19, 2019

The strongest synthetic materials are often those that intentionally mimic nature.

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Amanda Larracuente Recipient of National Science Foundation’s Prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award

April 11, 2019

Amanda Larracuente, an assistant professor of biology, will investigate the function and evolution of centromeres in fruit flies. Centromeres, which vary in size and complexity across organisms, are regions of the chromosome that are essential in ensuring chromosomes separate properly during cell division. Variations in centromeres can have an impact on genome evolution, speciation, and human disease. Larracuente will study the variation of centromeres within and between species to gain insights into their DNA sequences. She will also examine how a class of selfish genetic elements called retrotransposons shape aspects of centromeres. (Read more here.)

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Justin Fay Unravels the Origin Story of Beer Yeast

April 8, 2019

Justin Fay has brewed wine and beer from dozens of different types of yeast. But not necessarily for drinking pleasure. It’s all in the name of scientific research.

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Gorbunova and Seluanov Labs Say ‘Selfish’ Genetics Amplify Inflammation, Age-related Diseases

March 15, 2019

Aging affects every living organism, but the molecular processes that contribute to aging remain a subject of debate. While many things contribute to the aging process, one common theme in animal aging is inflammation—and this may be amplified by a class of selfish genetic elements.

The human genome is littered with selfish genetic elements—repetitive elements that do not seem to benefit their hosts, but instead seek only to propagate themselves by inserting new copies into their host genomes. A class of selfish genetic elements called LINE1 retrotransposons are the most prevalent retrotransposon selfish genetic elements found in humans; approximately 20 percent of both human and mice genomes are composed of LINE1s.

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Fay Lab Discovers Beer Yeast Is a True International Collaboration

March 12, 2019

A new study led by Justin Fay, an associate professor of biology, indicates that brewer’s yeast is a combination of European grape wine and Asian rice wine strains.

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Fay Lab Finds Modern Beer Yeast is a Mixture of Strains Used to Make Grape Wines and Asian Rice Wines

March 8, 2019

A team of researchers led by Justin Fay, an associate professor of biology, have investigated the ancestry of strains of "brewer's yeast", finding that they are derived from a mixture of varieties used to make European grape wines and Asian rice wines.

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Nancy Chen Receives Sloan Fellowship

February 21, 2019

Nancy Chen is among this year’s recipients of prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships.

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Amanda Larracuente Says the Male Y Chromosome is Not a Genetic Wasteland

February 7, 2019

Y chromosomes are sex chromosomes in males that are transmitted from father to son; they can be important for male fertility and sex determination in many species. Even though fruit fly and mammalian Y chromosomes have different evolutionary origins, they have parallel genome structures, says Larracuente, who co-authored the paper with her PhD student Ching-Ho Chang. “Drosophila melanogaster is a premier model organism for genetics and genomics, and has perhaps the best genome assembly of any animal. Despite these resources, we know very little about the organization of the Drosophila Y chromosome because most of it is missing from the genome assembly.”

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Daven Presgraves Explains What Makes A Species Different

January 7, 2019

Most evolutionary biologists distinguish one species from another based on reproductivity: members of different species either won’t or can’t mate with one another, or, if they do, the resulting offspring are often sterile, unviable, or suffer some other sort of reduced fitness.

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