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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.

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


Meyer Lab Creates Artificial Mother-of-Pearl Using Bacteria

April 19, 2019

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


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


Nancy Chen Receives Sloan Fellowship

February 21, 2019

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


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.”


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.


Jennifer Brisson and Patrick Oakes Recipients of the National Science Foundation’s Most Prestigious Recognition for Junior Faculty Members: the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award

September 4, 2018

Eight University of Rochester researchers are among the latest recipients of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious recognition for junior faculty members: the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.


Department of Biology Retreat, August 21, 2018

August 21, 2018

On August 21, 2018 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.


Anne Meyer Targets Protein that Protects Bacteria’s DNA ‘Recipes’

August 17, 2018

Bacteria cause many serious illnesses, from food poisoning to pneumonia. The challenge for scientists is that disease-causing bacteria are extraordinarily resilient. For example, when bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli) undergo starvation, they massively reorganize their bacterial DNA, allowing them to survive stressful conditions.


Michael Welte Says Lipid Droplets Play Crucial Roles Beyond Fat Storage

August 14, 2018

Lipid droplets: they were long thought of merely as the formless blobs of fat out of which spare tires and muffin tops were made. But these days, they’re “a really hot area of research,” says Michael Welte, professor and chair of biology at the University of Rochester.


Thomas Eickbush Recieves Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professorship

August 3, 2018

Thomas Eickbush is a recipient of the Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professorship, which recognizes excellence in teaching and encourages the development of crossdisciplinary instructional programs. The professorship was established in 1979 to honor Mercer Brugler, former chair emeritus of the board of trustees, with support from Sybron Corp., Brugler, and others.


Vera Gorbunova Explains What Naked Mole Rats Tell Us about Cancer and Longevity

July 30, 2018

Vera Gorbunova, the Doris Johns Cherry Professor in the Department of Biology and codirector of the Rochester Aging Research Center, talks about her research on cancer prevention and longevity in longer-living rodents.


University Remembers Henry A. Ward and Highlights the Current Ward Project

July 11, 2018

Throughout his years, Ward developed the large collection that made the University of Rochester and Ward himself famous. Following his death, Ward’s collection bounced around many buildings at the University of Rochester, and the specimens were dispersed. Some specimens ended up in storage in Hutchison Hall, where they lay untouched until about five years ago. Since then, Senior Lecturer of Biology Robert Minckley has been researching the documents and specimens with the help of Melissa Mead (the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian) and others. This project is known as the Ward Project, a collaboration supported by the Departments of Biology and Earth and Environmental Studies and the River Campus Libraries (RCL) that aims to capture Ward’s enduring legacy and impact.


Bob Minckley Says Desert Bees Have a Secret

May 24, 2018

Around the world, there’s a higher proportion of specialist bees in arid environments than in humid ones. But scientists don’t know why. “One interpretation is that to survive in really hot, unpredictable parts of the desert you need to be able to be synchronized with that plant very well,” says Bob Minckley, a professor of biology.


Audrey Goldfarb ’19 a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate awards given in the sciences

May 7, 2018

Allen Chen ’19 and Audrey Goldfarb ’19 are the University’s 2018 recipients of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate awards given in the sciences.


Presgraves and Brand discover gene controlling genetic recombination rates

April 23, 2018

Genetics is a crapshoot. During sexual reproduction, genes from both the mother and the father mix and mingle to produce a genetic combination unique to each offspring. In most cases, the chromosomes line up properly and crossover. In some unlucky cases, however, “selfish DNA” enters the mix, causing abnormal crossovers with deletions or insertions in chromosomes, which can manifest as birth defects.


Jillian Ramos describes protein translation in 3 minutes or less

April 18, 2018

Jillian Ramos showed exactly how to capture an audience’s attention, and hold it, at the University of Rochester’s third annual Three Minute Thesis Competition finals.


Jillian Ramos Wins First Prize and People's Choice in Three Minute Thesis Competition

April 13, 2018

The Department of Biology is pleased to congratulate graduate student jillianJillian Ramos for winning first prize in the Three Minute Thesis competition on April 12, 2018.  She was also named the People's Choice winner.  Jillian will receive a $750 research travel award for first-prize and a $250 research travel award for the People's Choice.                                 


Specimen Collection Back in the Public Eye With New Website

March 26, 2018

Each year, more of the Department of Biology’s historical collection of specimens, models and casts are being exhibited in Hutchison Hall. 


Biology majors Krista Pipho '18 and Isaac Wong '19 compete for the Hult Prize in Singapore

March 9, 2018

Four student teams representing the College and the Simon Business School will compete this month in regional semifinals for the Hult Prize, the world’s largest social entrepreneurship contest.


Zhao, Gorbunova, and Seluanov find another piece to the puzzle in naked mole rats’ long, cancer-free life

February 7, 2018

With their large buck teeth and wrinkled, hairless bodies, naked mole rats won’t be winning any awards for cutest rodent. But their long life span—they can live up to 30 years, the longest of any rodent—and remarkable resistance to age-related diseases, offer scientists key clues to the mysteries of aging and cancer.