2020 Spotlight Archive

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.

Eric Cefaloni

December 2020

I work on breast cancer epigenetics under Dr. Paula Vertino at the Wilmot Cancer Center. I study how epigenetic mechanisms in breast cancer may contribute to the epithelial to mesenchymal transition of cells. Currently, I am exploring how the lysine methyltransferase SUV420H2 functions to epigenetically regulate the transcription rate-limiting step of promoter proximal pausing.

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Songeun Lee

November 2020

I am interested in a wide range of topics in genome evolution and specifically, in the evolution of the Tritia obsoleta genome. Tritia obsoleta, known as eastern mudsnail, is a species we can easily find around us – it is distributed along the Northwest Atlantic and Pacific coast of North America. There has not been very much work done about the evolution of this species. One of my goals is to unravel the evolutionary processes in underlying genetic changes in my study-organism using comparative genomics analysis as a tool. 

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Kejia Zhang

October 2020

My research is related to the modifications of transfer RNAs (tRNAs) and the enzyme called TRMT1 (tRNA methyltransferase 1). Transfer RNAs are subject to numerous post-transcriptional modifications. In mammalian cells, tRNA methyltransferase 1 (TRMT1) is a tRNA methyltransferases that catalyzes the formation of the dimethylguanosine (m2,2G) modification in more than half of tRNA species. Frameshift mutations in the TRMT1 gene have been shown to cause autosomal-recessive intellectual disability (ID) in the human population. My main project is to uncover the relationship between human mental disease and tRNA modifications.

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Cécile Courret

September 2020

My current project focuses on centromere evolution. Centromeres are essential structures for proper chromosome segregation and cell division. Centromere defects lead to genome instability and human diseases. To date, centromeres are defined epigenetically by the presence of the centromere histone H3 variant, CENP-A. However, we know little of the role of DNA sequences in centromere function because they are highly repetitive, making them difficult to study. Recently, the Larracuente lab and collaborators revealed that all centromeres in D. melanogaster correspond to islands of complex DNA enriched in retroelements and flanked by tandem repeats. Our goal is to study the evolution of centromere composition to gain insights into the role of DNA sequence in centromere biology. We study centromere organization in three sister species: D. simulans, D. sechellia, and D. mauritiana. We aim to study the dynamics of centromeric DNA within these closely related species and the functional impact of DNA turnover on chromosome segregation.

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Matthew Simon

August 2020

My current research focuses on the LINE1 retrotransposon and how its activity impacts aging. These genetic elements like to make copies of themselves and stick them into our genomes, causing DNA damage and sometimes causing mutations. Recently, we’ve found that our ability to silence these elements and prevent them from running amok decreases as we get older. My work has recently shown that LINE1s can actually drive aging-related pathologies and are active contributors to the aging process, as opposed to a side effect of the aging process. My research hopes to better understand why this deregulation occurs and how we might combat it in order to help extend healthy aging.

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Fiona Palardy

July 2020

I’m a Data Entry Clerk in the Business Office. I dabble in supply ordering and
reimbursements as well.

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John Bettinger

June 2020

My research is one developing the methodology for quantifying in vivo methionine oxidation levels on a proteome wide scale.

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Lauren Gregory

May 2020

I work with asexual, female pea aphids. These insects produce clonal daughters that are winged or wingless, depending on the environment that their mother experiences. If a wingless mother resides on a crowded plant, this induces a stress response, and she will produce a high proportion of winged daughters who can disperse to a more suitable host. I’m working on understanding the hormonal regulation of this morph determination.

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Tiffany Dias

April 2020

I’m currently using yeast to study how selective history can impact an organism’s ability to adapt to stress and changing environments. By using experimental evolution techniques, we can examine how the frequency and intensity of exposure to stress in a strain’s evolutionary history impact its performance in different environments, and explore whether an adaptation to one environment is costly under different conditions. We can also investigate the underlying genetic basis of these adaptations by sequencing and analyzing the strains’ genomes.

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Morgan Brady

March 2020

I’m currently working on a bioengineering project to further develop a FRET-based single-molecule protein sequencing assay. More specifically, we hijacked the bacterial ClpXP protease to “read” the order and distance of a polypeptide’s fluorescently-labeled cysteines and lysines as these labeled residues are passed through the fluorescently-labeled protease core. These read-outs can then be compared to proteomics databases for identification. One of the benefits of this method is that you could quickly and accurately detect proteins with dynamic range in complex samples, so you wouldn’t need a large amount of known sample for correct identification. Eventually, single-molecule protein sequencing could be used for basic research, medical diagnostics, synthetic biology, and more.

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Rose Driscoll

February 2020

I study wing plasticity in pea aphids. Females of this species can be either winged or wingless, depending on the environment their mother experienced – a mother aphid living on a plant that’s crowded with lots of aphids will produce winged daughters that can fly away to find a new host plant, while a mother living on a less crowded plant will produce mostly wingless daughters. We’ve noticed, however, that some aphid lineages have a strong response to crowding and produce many winged daughters, while other aphid lineages have a weak response to crowding and produce few winged daughters. I’m working on understanding the genetic basis of these differences. 

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Christian Cammarota

January 2020

I’m studying biological physics. Specifically, I am studying how new cells are added to an existing epithelial tissue. These tissues need to maintain integrity to function properly and newly born cells need to incorporate themselves into the tissue. I am studying how changing physical properties of epithelial tissues affect the incorporation of newly born cells.

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