2023 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.

Cailyn Leo

December 2023

I am currently in Dr. Dragony Fu’s lab researching the cellular and spatial roles of a specific tRNA modification enzyme in neurodevelopment. When the gene for the enzyme tRNA methyltransferase 1 (TRMT1), which catalyzes a certain modification on many tRNAs, is mutated in humans, they exhibit intellectual disability. This phenotype is also seen in a mouse model our lab generated where TRMT1 is knocked out in the entire body. Since we observe a cognitive defect in mice similar to human patients with variants to the TRMT1 gene, we want to explore what changes in the brain, specifically in the cortex and hippocampus, could be contributing to this neurodevelopmental disorder. Therefore, I am looking into changes in cell type numbers, proliferation rates and cell survival rates in wild-type and TRMT1 knockout mice. In addition to looking deeper into the brains of the full body TRMT1 knockout mouse model, I am also determining the spatial role of TRMT1 by conducting many of the same behavioral and immunohistochemistry assays on a conditional knockout mouse model where TRMT1 is knocked out mainly in the brain. My research will elucidate the cellular and spatial roles of TRMT1 in mouse neurodevelopment.  

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Daniel Seidman

November 2023

I am currently working with a massive set (>3000) of genotyped, pedigreed Florida Scrub-jay samples, and am developing tools to process and analyze them. These tools currently include a method of imputing missing or low confidence genotypes in low coverage samples by using sets of related high-coverage samples, and using overlapping reads between multiple relatives to call mutations. Basically, I am trying to make the genotypes we have more accurate, and then I am using the data we have to determine where mutation events occurred in the genomes and in which bird they occurred. These will be useful for conservation work on the birds in question, but I also hope the tools I am making here will have broader applications as well.

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Victoria Paige

October 2023

Science was always my favorite class growing up. I loved hands-on experiments (dissections being the exception) and marveled at chemical reactions. I especially enjoyed the behavioral science of animals, seeing ways that humans relate/compare to other mammals, and learning about evolution.

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Minhao Chen

September 2023

I am working in Dr. Michael Welte’s lab, and my project is to study the mechanisms of lipid droplet formation and regulation in fruit fly’s ovaries under stress.

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Emiliano Marti

August 2023

I’m interested in conflict between genes and organisms. First Mendel’s law states that for every gene, an individual’s two alternative alleles are transmitted to the progeny with equal probabilities— that’s fundamental for natural selection to work at the individual level. However, genomes host a plethora of diverse selfish genetic elements; genes that subvert different aspects of organismal reproduction to increment their own transmission. This results in so-called intragenomic conflicts, with profound consequences for the evolution of genome structure and regulation, sex chromosomes, reproductive strategies, and speciation. I am currently exploring aspects of these conflicts in different species of fruit flies.

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Karli Casler

July 2023

I recently joined Patrick Murphy’s lab and am very excited to be starting my research project. I will be using stem cells to study totipotency and how various epigenetic factors participate in and regulate early development and stem cell identity.

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Elizabeth Phelps

June 2023

As the biology Stockroom Clerk, I ensure that the stockroom is organized, clean, and stocked for the research labs in the building. Additionally, I help maintain the record of stockroom expenses for each lab to ensure research grants are charged properly.

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Elizabeth Brashich

May 2023

Growing up, I was naturally drawn to science, as I was always fascinated by how the world worked. It amazes me how life, seemingly simple on the surface, holds a vast amount of complexity. Throughout my education, I was fortunate to have several outstanding teachers and mentors who helped foster my strong appreciation for biology. They helped me understand the beauty and complexity of the world, and the impact that biology can have on our daily lives.

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Manasi Gangan

April 2023

I am a postdoctoral associate with Dr. Anne Meyer. Our lab uses synthetic biology tools to repurpose bacteria as the source of novel biomaterials with possible applications in industry. As a part of the team, I am genetically modifying Shewanella oneidensis, to make it a more generous electron donor that in combination with nanomaterials, would help release hydrogen gas from water. Since hydrogen is considered as an alternative source of energy, our efforts can be a step towards the development of a sustainable source of energy.

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Eric Hillpot

March 2023

I use several biochemical and biophysical techniques to understand structurally and enzymatically how Sirtuin6 extends lifespan in mammals. 

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James Miller

February 2023

Get involved with a lab ASAP.  By diving into the research being done here you will gain firsthand experiences that will be invaluable in figuring out what your next step will be after your time here.

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Federico Sánchez Vargas

January 2023

I am currently working in the Biro and Mitchell labs in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, where I am studying social cognition in marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus). My work there involves training an AI neural network to analyze videos of monkeys performing a joint-foraging task. The idea is to ask how much time monkeys look at the task versus observing each other, to attempt to understand how they are using social information to solve the problem at hand ­– a good model to probe at the evolution of our own cooperative abilities! I have also worked at the Uy lab in the Department of Biology for almost three years. My work with Dr. Floria Uy has me investigating the behavioral outcomes of parasitic manipulation of a wasp host. How has the parasite evolved to meet its reproductive and survival goals while hiding inside a host? How does it evade detection and change the wasps’ behavior to succeed? How does the parasite choose between many potential hosts? By using this system, we hope to peek through a window into complex evolutionary processes.

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