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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 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.


Sina Ghaemmaghami Honored with Goergen Award for Teaching Excellence

October 17, 2017

Established in 1997, the award recognizes distinctive teaching accomplishments of faculty in Arts, Science, and Engineering. This year’s ceremony was held at Feldman Ballroom in Douglass Commons.


Department of Biology Fall Retreat, October 9, 2017

October 9, 2017

On October 9, 2017 the Department of Biology held our annual Fall Retreat at the gorgeous Bristol Harbour Resort in Canandaigua, NY.  Lush foliage, hiking trails, and wineries enchanted our faculty, students, and staff.  Keynote speakers were Dr. J.P. Masley, University of Oklamhoma,"The causes and consequences of rapid morphological evolution" and Dr. Cesar E. Perez-Gonzalez, NIH, “There and Back Again: A Career Journey at the NIH”.  The day concluded with a poster session and prizes.


John Jaenike's Field Guide to Fruit Flies Documents These Surprisingly Close Human Relatives

October 5, 2017

“Fruit flies can reveal a lot about genetics, disease progression, addiction, crop parasites, you name it,” says John Jaenike, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester. Jaenike, along with Thomas Werner, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University, recently coauthored an open-access field guide, Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast. The book documents the physical and behavioral characteristics of fruit fly species in the titular regions and is the first comprehensive guide to fruit flies published in nearly a century.


Amanda Larracuente Mapping 'World’s Second-Most Interesting Genome'

September 21, 2017

Larracuente, who is also the Stephen Biggar ’92 and Elisabeth Asaro ’92 Fellow in Data Science, is a specialist in evolutionary genetics and genomics and has been involved in a project studying Photinus pyralis—or, the Big Dipper firefly. “In order to take pictures of the chromosomes,” she says, “we need wild fireflies.”


Dragony Fu Identifies Protein in Post-Chemo Cell Death Puzzle

September 13, 2017

Because anticancer drugs are designed to kill growing cells, they also affect normal, fast-growing cells—blood cells forming in the bone marrow, for example, and digestive, reproductive, and hair follicle cells. Chemotherapy may also affect cells in vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system.


Remembering Dr. William Muchmore

July 21, 2017

At the height of his career, only a half dozen other researchers in North America shared William Muchmore’s interest in pseudoscorpions – small arachnids with pear-shaped bodies and pincers similar to scorpions, but without the tails. After all, they were not known to have any economic or medical importance. They were also small and “tedious to study,” said the former University of Rochester biology professor, who died in May at the age of 96.


Jack Werren Talks Moonlighting Genes

July 11, 2017

“I’ve been working on parasitoid wasps for a very long time,” remarked Jack Werren, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester. His fascination with these animals centers on their specialized venoms, which allow the wasps to be masterful physiological puppeteers.


Werren Lab Uncovers New Gene Process in Wasp Venom

June 21, 2017

Amid the incredible diversity of living things on our planet, there is a common theme. Organisms need to acquire new genes, or change the functions of existing genes, in order to adapt and survive.


John Jaenike spotlighted by The Scientist for work on e-book

June 19, 2017

On a clear, cool day in mid-September back in 2012,  John Jaenike and Thomas Werner maneuvered their way through the forested Tech Trails in Houghton, Michigan, to the mushroom and tomato fruit fly traps Werner had planted a few days prior. Jaenike, an evolutionary ecologist from the University of Rochester, poised his net over a trap that had enticed several Drosophila specimens—each no more than two to four millimeters long. He bent down to begin collecting. “Oh, cool, Drosophila neotestacea!” Werner recalls Jaenike exclaiming as he spotted the very species he planned to discuss during his seminar at Michigan Tech the next day.


High schoolers come face-to-face with fruit flies

May 25, 2017

Fifteen ninth graders from Rochester’s East High School experienced science at its most exciting – when something startling happened during a fruit fly experiment in a lab at the University of Rochester’s Department of Biology.


Thomas Eickbush receives Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

May 21, 2017



Jack Werren, the Nathaniel and Helen Wisch Professor of Biology, comments on new research on the genetics of the nematode.

May 15, 2017

A strain of wild Hawaiian worms has helped unmask long-studied genes as just plain selfish. The scammers beat the usual odds of inheritance and spread extra fast by making mother worms poison some of their offspring.


John Jaenike publishes free e-book "Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast"

May 11, 2017

Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast provides an introduction to the flies of the family Drosophilidae of the Midwest and Northeast of the United States, as well as nearby regions in Canada. The book strives to facilitate identification of most of the drosophilid species in this region and provides remarks on interesting aspects of their biology and suggestions for future research on them. The book is intended for researchers, teachers, and students wishing to discover the diversity of these flies.


Fruit Flies Offer Gut Check on Bacteria

April 26, 2017

The common fruit fly is widely used in laboratory experiments because it can provide insights into the biological processes of other, more complex organisms, including humans. However, what is seen in fruit flies in the lab may bear little resemblance to what is seen in fruit flies in the wild—especially when it comes to the bacteria found in their intestinal tracts, University researchers find.


Rochester scientists made two important contributions to DNA damage research

March 3, 2017

In a recent study, Rochester scientists made two important contributions to DNA damage research. First, though scientists could previously point to an association between DNA damage and aging, the Rochester group has demonstrated a causal relationship between reduced DNA damage and extended lifespan. Second, the researchers have identified a cellular factor—an enzyme called topoisomerase 2, or Top2, implicated in DNA damage—that can be targeted to reduce that damage. The findings are published in the journal Aging.