Undergraduate Research Opportunities in Genetics

Belfort Lab

Lab Website

Our research explores the dynamics of elements that interrupt genes, introns and inteins. We study their basic properties of structure, function and regulation, and their applications in biotechnology and infectious disease.

Center for Functional Genomics

Lab Website

We are able to coordinate efforts among our different Facilities so that we can accommodate researchers in projects from start to finish. For example, the CFG is able to isolate genes, design and make DNA constructs through our Molecular Biology Facility, then coordinate with the Mouse Transgenic Facility to make Transgenic or Knock-out mice and then the mice generated can be analyzed at the DNA, RNA or Protein levels through our Molecular Biology, Microarray, Laser Capture Microdissection or Proteomics Facilities

De Jesus Lab

Lab Website

The focus of the De Jesus laboratory is to understand the early events of how antigens (micro and nanoparticle delivery vehicles) and microbes (fungi such as Candida albicans and Candida tropicalis) are sampled by the intestinal mucosa. We are particularly interested in the how immune system cells within intestinal Peyer’s patches (PPs) capture, process and yield a specific immune response to these antigens and microbes. We have recently identified a specific dendritic cell (DCs) subset called Langerin+ DCs within Peyer’s patches that can capture a variety of micro and nanoparticles, fungi, algae and peanut antigens. Our aim is to understand why these DCs can sample such a variety of antigens and microbes and how do these contribute to intestinal immunity.

Derbyshire Lab

Lab Website

Conjugation in mycobacteria. Mycobacterium tuberculosis accounts for more deaths worldwide than any other infectious agent. The development of new treatments for mycobacteria requires an understanding of the biology of these bacteria and the ability to manipulate their genomes to determine the genetic basis of pathogenesis and drug resistance. We are studying the process of DNA transfer by conjugation in the non-pathogenic species Mycobacterium smegmatis. In particular, we wish to identify the genes and DNA sequences required for DNA transfer and its regulation, as our current studies have shown that DNA transfer occurs by a novel mechanism. This research project will involve characterization of DNA transfer between strains of M. smegmatis and will involve a variety of molecular techniques including, transformation, electroporation, conjugation, cloning, DNA sequence analysis and transposon mutagenesis of mycobacteria and general bacterial genetics in E. coli.

Forni Lab

Lab Website

Correct development of the nose is necessary for detection of environmental odorants but is also crucial for maturation and function of the reproductive system. In fact, during embryonic development a population of neurons, called gonadotropin-releasing hormone-1 neurons (GnRH-1), migrate from the nose to the brain. Once in the brain, these neurons control the reproductive axis. Genetic defects that affect the formation of the nasal/olfactory structures, as well as migration, survival and/or function of GnRH-1 neurons lead to aberrant sexual development and sterility. Our understanding of who are the stem cells and what is the embryonic origin in the developing nose has only recently began, which leaves many blanks yet to be filled.

Herschkowitz Lab

Lab Website

The research in my laboratory involves integrative approaches, utilizing multidisciplinary techniques including methods in molecular biology, cell biology, mouse models, histology, microscopy, flow cytometry, genomics, bioinformatics and systems biology to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved in breast cancer progression and therapeutic resistance. Evidence from our laboratory and others has shown that there exist cells within tumors that have an intrinsic resistance to radiation and chemotherapeutics compared to the bulk of the tumor. These cells, often referred to as cancer stem cells (CSCs) or tumor initiating cells may also be responsible for metastatic dissemination and tumor dormancy and recurrence. Breast CSCs can have an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype and inducing EMT in human mammary epithelial cells can confer on them the properties of stem cells. In addition, we identified an aggressive molecular subtype of breast cancer that is enriched for CSCs. In recent years it has been appreciated that along with protein coding genes, much of our genome encodes tens of thousands of functional RNAs that do not make proteins. This includes small RNAs called microRNAs which have been very well studied as well as a large class of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) the functions of which still very much need to be explored. We hypothesize that lncRNAs play a critical role in an EMT gene expression program governed in part by RNA-mediated epigenetic regulation leading to resistance to conventional therapies in breast cancer. Our goal, using several model systems, is to first identify and then investigate the mechanisms of action of lncRNAs that regulate the EMT/CSC phenotype of claudin-low breast tumors using siRNA or antisense knockdown, CRISPR genome engineering, and lentiviral overexpression in cell culture and in animal models.

McDonough Laboratory

Lab Website

The focus of Dr. McDonough's laboratory is gene regulation in the context of bacterial pathogenesis, or the means by which bacteria cause disease. The team is primarily interested in two well-known pathogens: Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, and Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of bubonic and pneumonic plague. The lab uses a variety of techniques in their studies with both pathogens, ranging from molecular genetics and biochemistry to bioinformatics, proteomics and fluorescence microscopy.

Moslehi Laboratory

Lab Website

Dr. Moslehi is a genetic epidemiologist with expertise in designing family-based and population-based genetic epidemiologic investigations and in statistical analysis of genetic and epidemiologic data. The overall objectives of most of Dr. Moslehi's studies are to identify genetic factors involved in the etiology of human disorders and to quantify the effects of genetic and environmental factors on disease risk. Various malignant and pre-malignant conditions have been the focus of most of her research activities; however, Dr. Moslehi's research projects have also involved other complex disorders besides cancer. Dr. Moslehi has been studying cancer risks associated with DNA repair gene mutations for a number of years. In the past few years, she has also initiated several studies into the role of DNA repair and transcription genes in human reproduction and fetal development.

Osuna Laboratory

Lab Website

Areas of interest: DNA binding and bending proteins, role of DksA in cellular response to nutritional stress, role of Fis in E. coli, genes subject to Fis regulation, and mechanisms of Fis regulation

Pager Lab

Lab Website

The Pager lab is interested in the interaction and mechanisms by which RNA viruses subvert the cellular RNA metabolism pathways. We are particularly intrigued by how flaviviruses such as hepatitis C virus and Dengue virus commandeer the host’s mRNA storage and decay machinery to successfully establish an infection.

Parasitology Laboratory

Lab Website

The parasite Trypanosoma brucei is a blood-borne pathogen that causes both human and zoonotic disease. T. brucei and related trypanosomatids are early eukaryotes and successful pathogens. Currently no preventative therapies are available and treatment is difficult, despite our knowledge of several unique biological processes with the potential to be exploited as drug targets. One such unusual process is RNA editing. RNA editing is found in many organisms including plants, yeast, humans and other mammals, although the mechanisms of editing are distinct. Within the trypanosomatids RNA editing is achieved by the insertion of non-encoded uridines or the deletion of encoded uridines. In the most extreme cases over 50% of the mature mRNA is the result of post-transcriptional editing. Editing takes place exclusively in the mitochondria, where it is required in order to generate mature mRNAs competent for translation into the correct proteins, and is carried out by a large ribonucleoprotein complex. Our work focuses on the biochemistry of editing by this multiprotein complex. We have identified a protein, RNA-Editing Associated Protein-1 (REAP-1), which specifically recognizes RNAs requiring editing. Evidence suggests that REAP-1 acts as a recruitment factor to deliver RNAs to the editing complex. REAP-1 is one of only two proteins that have been identified as components not of the core catalytic complex but of a larger (35-40S) complex believed to function in vivo. Through a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches, current work in the lab involves understanding how REAP-1 specifically recognizes and binds to its RNA targets, identifying other proteins with which REAP-1 interacts and determining how REAP-1 influences editing complex assembly and regulation of RNA editing.

Pata Laboratory

Lab Website

DNA replication is a fundamentally important process in all cells. Mistakes during replication cause mutations as well as large scale genome rearrangements, which can ultimately cause antibiotic resistance in bacteria as well as aging, cancer and resistance to chemotherapy in humans. Over the past decade, the number of known polymerases responsible for genome duplication has expanded dramatically, yet our understanding of how all these enzymes contribute to genome stability is far from complete.

Rangan Lab

Lab Website

The goal of the Rangan Laboratory is to understand how a stem cell fate is initiated, maintained and terminated. Stem cells have the capacity to both self-renew and differentiate. Improper differentiation or self-renewal of stem cells can result in a loss of homeostasis, which has been implicated in human afflictions such as cancer and degenerative diseases.

Reliene Laboratory

Lab Website

The focus of the lab is on translational cancer research on gene-environment and gene-nutrient interactions. We investigate whether mutations in DNA repair genes enhance susceptible to cancer associated with environmental causes and whether the risk of cancer can be reduced with intake of dietary antioxidants. For example, we are currently exploring the concept that antioxidant-rich pomegranate extract protects against breast cancer. Other projects include studies on genotoxic and cancer risks of engineered nanoparticles used in consumer products. We use genomic technologies in combination with cell and molecular biology and whole animal approaches to dissect the complexity of cancer.

Sammons Lab

Lab Website

Our lab studies how transcription factors decode and transmit information stored on DNA. We are particularly interested in how one such transcription factor, p53, reads DNA information in the context of chromatin/DNA structure. p53 is the most commonly mutated gene in cancer, and loss of p53 activity is the strongest predictor of cancer development in mammalian systems, including humans. We use genetic, molecular, and genomic technologies to explore the relationship between how DNA information is stored and how that information is read and acted upon by the p53 transcription factor.

Stewart Lab

Lab Website

My research program combines bioinformatic and molecular evolutionary methods to study the evolution of mammalian genes and genomes, with an emphasis on the primates. Our current projects include: (1) identifying genetic changes unique to the human and chimpanzee lineages; (2) understanding the genetic basis of SIV/HIV resistance in certain African primate species; and (3) studying the evolution of the lysozyme multigene family in the mammals, especially as related to fertilization. At present, our research is primarily computational.

Wang Laboratory

Lab Website

I study experimental evolution by using microorganisms, particularly bacteriophage, as a model system. Currently my research focuses on two areas: (1) the genetic basis for the evolution of life history traits, with phage lambda as a model system, and (2) the identification of bacterial enzymes targeted by ssRNA phage lysis proteins.

Welch Research Group

Lab Website

Research interests: organic chemistry, anti-mycobacterial agents, genetically engineered materials, and transition metal complex chemistry