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.
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.
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.
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.
May 25, 2021
Five University of Rochester students and alumni have won 2021–22 grants in the prestigious Fulbright US Student Grant program.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
February 21, 2019
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.”
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.