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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: 20172016 | 2015


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thomas Lyon

April 2019

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

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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Katherine Parish

September 2018

I work in the Samuelson Lab, where we study aging and longevity in C.elegans. I’m personally researching SUMOylation modification of transcription factors with respect to aging through the heat shock response pathway. I’m also looking at the accumulation of methylation marks at stress loci in conjunction with SUMO modification as a barrier switch function.

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Kyle Swovick

August 2018

I work in the Ghaemmaghami Lab. We utilize mass spectrometry-based techniques to investigate protein homeostasis. In particular, I study the conservation of protein turnover to understand the relationship between protein turnover and aging.  

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Tara Finegan

July 2018

Broadly, I am interested in how cells behave in the context of tissues and how cells act collectively to build and maintain tissue structures. In the Bergstralh Lab, we’ve found that cells in some tissues break a decades-old rule of cell biology: their shape doesn’t dictate the direction in which they divide. I have been working to understand how and why this rule is being broken.

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Allyson Withey

June 2018

I am the Course Coordinator for the Undergraduate Program. My primary duties include providing instructors with Blackboard, classroom, and exam support. I also provide coordination and support for approximately 90 teaching assistants per semester, manage student enrollment, and function as the department liaison to the Registrar’s office. 

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Samuel DeSantis

May 2018

Our lab investigates the molecular mechanisms behind aging and cancer in a variety of unique species like the adorable Naked Mole Rat. These little guys live an exceptionally long time for rodents and are extremely resistant to cancer.

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Nicole Dawney

April 2018

Our lab looks at tissue morphogenesis and tissue development. I am using mouse intestinal organoids as a model system to look at how cell division influences tissue shape in this system. 

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Matthew Johnson

March 2018

My current research in the Welte Lab focuses on understanding how lipids are involved in regulating nuclear histone accumulation during early embryogenesis. 

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Jenna Lentini

February 2018

Currently, I am working to understand the role of putative human tRNA modification enzymes in vivo and how defects in proper modification status can cause human disorders.

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Stephan Emmrich

January 2018

I am comparing naked mole rat blood and skin stem cells to those of wild type BL6 mice, rats, and a mouse model overexpressing Hyaluronic Acid Synthase 2 to find new mechanisms of sustained stem cell function at a higher age.

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