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Spotlight On...

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.

Archives:   2018 | 20172016 | 2015

Hannah Cook

October 2021

This month I started working in the Trop Bio Lab as a laboratory technician where I am assisting in a variety of projects pertaining to social wasps. These projects relate to topics ranging from investigating the effects of parasitic manipulation to analyzing population genomics and potential local adaptations. I look forward to getting more involved in the research happening in the Trop Bio Lab over this next year. 


Aaron Lewis

August 2021

I am the Assistant Facilities Manager. My role is basically to fill the needs and requests of the department, which range from making service calls, shipping and receiving packages, overseeing the stockroom, and taking care of any crises that arise in the labs or building.  


Josie Emmanuele

July 2021

I am mainly interested in the cellular portion of biology and began studying developmental biology with the Lambert Lab in Spring 2020. The overall goal of the research I was conducting was to clone the open reading frames (ORFs) for Cyp26 and RDH10 from the mollusc Ilyanassa and construct plasmid vectors for expression of these genes in mRNA. This study, like many studies in developmental biology, was to observe whether genes could be rescued by expressing mRNAs while in the presence of morpholino knockdowns. Loss of function, knockdown, and rescue experiments with the use of morpholino oligonucleotides, overall, are popular in studying the developmental process and molecular backbone in many different organisms.


Maria Isabel Castano

June 2021

I'm a Colombian biologist, broadly interested in the role of behavior as a driver of population differentiation. I joined the TropBioLab (Uy Lab) in Fall 2020 aiming to explore the field of behavioral ecology using experimental and genomic approaches. I'm particularly keen on how visual and acoustic signals involved in mate choice are shaped by ecological pressures that ultimately result in reproductive isolation of neotropical birds. I recently obtained a grant to do my first field work season in Colombia exploring a unique hybrid zone between two subspecies of a colorful Neotropical Tanager system.


Felix Beaudry

May 2021

I research sex: I address century-old questions about mating system evolution using modern genetic tools. I have spent a lot of time considering why some organisms have sex chromosomes. I ask this question in a variety of ways. Why can we reliably identify the specific chromosome-pair associated with sex under the microscope? Why is a distinct chromosome-pair correlated with each sex, while this is not the case for any other physical aspects of the body? Is there a benefit that can explain why evolution keeps around chromosomes associated with sex? My work tests the prevailing theory that sex all relates to getting rid of bad mutations and helping good mutations spread. 


Nancy Corson

April 2021

I am a laboratory technician in the lab of Drs. Andrei Seluanov and Vera Gorbunova.  My current role is to manage the Naked mole rat and Damaraland mole rat satellite facility.  I also oversee lab animal protocols, which details the many animal protocols currently being implemented in the lab. 


Lynn Sidor

March 2021

I am researching in the Meyer lab. My project is a bacterial optics project; specifically I am working to create bacterial microlenses and biolasers. To do this, I am engineering bacteria to coat themselves in polysilicate, also called bioglass. Inspiration for this comes from aquatic organisms – brittlestars are coated in microlens structures, which have been said to have nearly perfect optical properties, and sea sponges have internal skeletons made of silicate. Using the unique enzyme silicatein, from sea sponges, we are able to create bioglass-encapsulated bacterial cells. Additionally, I am working to manipulate the size and shapes of bacterial cells in order to produce a library of microlenses with different light focusing abilities.


Kathryn Neville

February 2021

I am currently working in the Bergstralh lab studying spindle orientation. When cells divide, there’s a group of proteins that guide the mitotic spindle into the correct position. I study those proteins. They are super interesting because the proteins seem to work slightly differently in a variety of tissues depending partly on how the tissue needs to be built and maintained. I use fruit flies as a model system. Specifically, I use their ovaries and embryos to study spindle orientation. 


Elsie Shogren

January 2021

I’m interested in how evolution, ecology, and behavior interact and how those interactions influence species’ evolutionary trajectories. In the Trop Bio Lab here at U of R I’m focusing on questions related to hybridization of bird species in the Solomon Islands, and trying to understand the drivers and consequences of gene flow between species.


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.


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. 


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.


C├ęcile 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.


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.


Fiona Palardy

July 2020

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


John Bettinger

June 2020

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


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


Moriana Garcia

December 2019

I am the librarian for biology and have been in this position since I arrived at the University of Rochester in November of 2015. I support the information needs of the department, teach students strategies and tools to search more efficiently, and maintain the River Campus Library collection in biology and related sciences. I also support biomedical engineering and brain & cognitive sciences, so I like to say I am the “BBB librarian”. 


Marcus Kilwein

November 2019

I am researching how Drosophila embryos utilize their fat reserves.  Our lab and others have demonstrated that lipid droplets (fat storage organelles) are highly motile, but little is known about the functions of this motility. I am investigating how this lipid droplet motility affects fat utilization throughout embryonic development.


Xiaolu Wei

October 2019

I work in the Larracuente lab and am interested in the male meiotic drive system in fruit flies called Segregation Distorter (SD). In this system, the driver SD can manipulate meiosis to favor the transmission of itself at the cost of the other allele. The consequence is a lower fertility of the fly and almost all its offspring will have the driver. I am working to understand the molecular mechanism of this selfish behavior.


Jonathan Gigas

September 2019

I work in the Gorbunova/Seluanov lab where we study mechanisms of aging. I work on a protein called Sirtuin6 and its role in human aging by studying a variant found in people who’ve lived over 100 years.


Lindsey Perrin

August 2019

I’m a laboratory technician in the Chen Lab and I’ll be joining the department as a PhD student this fall.  The Chen lab studies population genomics using pedigree data from the Florida Scrub Jay, an endangered species of bird endemic to Florida.  Using this unique combination of pedigree and genomic data, we can ask questions about evolutionary biology and conservation genomics that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.


Jillian Ramos

July 2019

I work in Dr. Dragony Fu’s lab where I look at a population of people that have intellectual disability due to a mutation in a protein that is known to modify tRNA. I am trying to determine why a single mutation in a protein leads to this disorder.


Vamsi Kovelakuntla

June 2019

I work in the Meyer lab. We use synthetic biology techniques to engineer bacteria to produce composite materials. We are also developing new methods to combine with 3D bioprinting to produce patterned biologically active materials.


Rachel Hammelman

May 2019

I work in the Brisson lab and we are studying evolutionary genetics and genomics in the pea aphid. Currently one of the big questions we are working on is the evolution of wings and their developmental mechanisms.


Thomas Lyon

April 2019

I’m the lab technician for the Teaching Labs. Basically, we prep and manage all of the undergraduate biology labs.


Beatriz Navarro Dominguez

March 2019

I work in both the Presgraves and Larracuente labs and am interested in the evolution of selfish DNA, which is a general term to describe several kinds of genetic elements that spread within the populations without contributing to the fitness of the organisms carrying them.  I am currently working on population genomics and transposable element load of the Segregation Distorter (SD) system of Drosophila melanogaster, a gene complex that achieves high transmission rates to offspring causing alterations during meiosis in its favor and in detriment of other genes. I am also interested in the roles of satellite DNA and transposable elements in hybrid incompatibilities between related species of Drosophila.


Nicholas Macoretta

February 2019

I work in the Gorbunova lab, so my general interests lie in aging.  Now, there are many different aspects to this generalized process, so I have to narrow my focus when asking questions about aging organisms.  So I focus on the epigenetic components of aging organisms.  I am particularly interested in histones, the proteins that form the primary organizational unit of DNA organization (the nucleosome).  These proteins have several isoforms, variants, and post-translational modifications that seem to change during aging processes.  These affect DNA organization and chromatin overall.  If I had to summarize what I study in one sentence, though, I would say that I am interested in how a long-lived rodent species, the naked mole rat, maintains its epigenetic memory during aging processes compared to short-lived species, such as the mouse.  


Cordelia Forkpah

January 2019

I am currently working in the Werren Lab as a lab technician so apart from working to keep the lab going, I am working on finding the genetic differences in learning and aggregation behavior in Nasonia, a kind of wasp.