Student Fellowships

Funding of Graduates Students


Everett Altherr. Analysis of the hedonic component of motivated feeding and its neural underpinnings in rats. Advisor: Wayne Pratt, Psychology

Summary: The obesity epidemic is one of the most prevalent and costly problems facing the United States today. One of its many causal origins is the role that the palatability of foods plays on the motivation to eat to excess. This project seeks to isolate and evaluate the hedonic component of food motivation utilizing pharmacological and behavioral techniques in a rat model. We aim to establish a new behavioral analysis procedure in our laboratory and use it to test a theorized interaction between acetylcholine and opioid systems in the Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc) shell, and to test if stimulation/blockade of serotonin receptors of the NAcc impacts hedonic evaluation of sucrose solutions.

Katherine Black. Expanding the roles of tRNA thiolation in bacteria: Potential involvement of 2-thiouridine tRNA in signaling bacterial sulfur metabolism. Advisor: Patricia Dos Santos, Chemistry

Summary: Post-transcriptional modifications of tRNA are found in all three domains of life and arecritical for the structure and function of these adaptor molecules in decoding the genetic information during protein synthesis. 2-thiouridine (s2U) modification at the wobble position of tRNAGlu, Gln, Lys is required for accurate and efficient protein synthesis and its absence impacts cellular viability. In addition to its role in translation, a breakthrough study in yeast revealed that the s2U modification is used as a sensor to gauge nutrient availability and regulate translational capacity and amino acid homeostasis accordingly. Our working hypothesis is that in bacteria, sulfur nutrient availability dictates the levels of s2U and its deficiency affects expression of certain genes, providing a link between sulfur metabolism and central metabolic processes. Therefore, we propose to investigate s2U’s role in metabolic homeostasis and translation regulation as a sensor of sulfur availability in B. subtilis.

Rebecca Perry. Functional Mapping of the Adipokinetic Hormone Receptor and its Downstream Targets in Drosophila melanogaster Advisor: Erik Johnson, Biology

Summary: Adipokinetic hormone (AKH) is the insect functional equivalent of glucagon, a hormone vital in the mobilization of stored energy under low energy conditions. Under conditions of metabolic stress, AKH secretion results in an increase in locomotor activity, which is thought to assist in foraging behavior. The first aim of this study is to map AKH receptor expression using genetics and physiological methods. The goal is to determine which tissue or tissues are responsible for AKH- dependent phenotypes and to appreciate the scope of AKHR expression. Upon AKHR activation by AKH, the receptor activates both cAMP and calcium pathways. It is unclear the extent to which either of these second messenger systems are responsible for energy mobilization or for hyperactive phenotypes. The second aim of my studies is to use RNAi elements to specifically target elements of the cAMP and calcium signaling pathways and assess behavioral and physiological phenotypes. The goal of this aim is to discern the relevant downstream signals from the AKHR that are ultimately responsible for AKH actions.

James Tucker. Defective 5’-3’ exonuclease Dhp1/Xrn2 impairs epigenetic silencing in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Advisor: Ke Zhang, Biology

Summary: Epigenetic gene silencing prevents the expression of certain genomic regions. It is crucial to regulate when, where and how an organism uses the information stored in its DNA sequence and are essential to many cellular processes, from regulation of gene expression to cell-fate determination. We have discovered a new epigenetic silencing pathway mediated by 5’-3’ exonuclease Dhp1/Xrn2 in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Partial loss of function of Dhp1 causes defective gene silencing both at pericentromeric regions and the silent mating type locus. We found that Dhp1 is involved in the sequential steps of establishing silencing and is coordinated with other RNA processing machineries, including RNA interference (RNAi) and the exosome. Our analysis suggests that Dhp1 performs an unknown function beyond its established role in transcription termination in the silencing of repetitive regions in the S. pombe genome. Our results provide information of altered gene expression when several RNA processing pathways are impaired.


R. Warren Boger. Chromosomal regulation by a conserved DEAD/H box helicase. Advisor: Ke Zhang, Biology

Jason Braco. Functional Dissection of Dopaminergic Control of Stress Response through Adipokinetic Hormone Signaling in Drosophila. Advisor: Eric Johnson, Biology

Helen Cuffe. The Impact of Free Cholesterol Accumulation on Insulin and Inflammatory Signaling in Adipocytes. Advisor: John Parks, Pathology and Biochemistry, WFUSM

Steven Johnson. Fast Enumerative Algorithm for Modification-Targeted Sequence Analysis”. Advisor: William Turkett, Computer Science

Jeremiah Keyes. Modulation of Erk Activity by Reversible Cysteine Modification.  Advisors:  Leslie Poole, Biochemistry, WFUSM

Paul Listrani. Reactive oxygen-mediated endothelial cell dysfunction in diabetic cardiovascular disease. Advisor: Leslie Poole, Biochemistry, WFUSM

Ronald Nelson. Androgen-Independent Prostate Cancer with Novel Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase Inhibitors Activated by Prostate Specific Antigen.  Advisor: Mark Welker, Chemistry



Adam Davidson. Structure-communicated interaction between cellular hnRNPs and viral RNA during VSV infection. Advisor: Rebecca Alexander, Chemistry

Monica Jenks. Flavonoid modulation of insulin signaling in fat and muscle cells. Advisor: Gloria Muday, Biology

Chen Liu. The Effects of the Blood Storage Lesion on Nitric Oxide Signaling.  Advisor: Dany Kim-Shapiro, Physics

Mike Rizzo. Dimerization of G-protein coupled neuropeptide receptors.  Advisor: Eric Johnson, Biology

Cody Stevens. GPU-Optimized Network Analysis Toolset for Intramolecular Signaling Network Analysis. Advisor: Sam Cho, Computer Science

Justin Watkins. Modulation of reactive oxygen species signaling in guard cells.  Advisor: Gloria Muday, Biology


Funding of WFRF awards:

Summer of 2014

Erin Currey “Investigations on Promoter Directionality” Advisor: Ke Zhang, Biology

Angela Harper “Core Validation of Peroxiredoxin Superfamily” Advisor: Jacque Fetrow, Computer Science/Physics

Aishwarya Nagar “Genetic Dissection of Nociceptive Behavior in Drosophila” Advisor: Erik Johnson, Biology

Paul Okoyeh “Functional Mapping of Genes Associated with Diabetes” Advisor: Peter Antinozzi, WFUSM Biochemistry

Cecilia Rambarat “All-Atom MD simulation of RNAse-P with added TMAO” Advisor: Sam Cho, Computer Science/Physics


Summer of 2013

Nick Koutlas “Flavonoid effects on protein oxidation and activity” Gloria Muday, Biology

Junseo Lee “The Effects of Different Rearing Conditions on the Levels of Ecdysteroids in Adult Honeybees” Susan Fahrbach, Biology

Aishwarya Nagar “Ethylene Dependent Flavonoid Production in Tomato Plants” Gloria Muday, Biology

Theresa Patton “Binding interactions of CRIP1a protein” Allyn Howlett, Physiology and Pharmacology, WFUSM

Gabrielle Shea “Erk (1-3) proteins” Jacque Fetrow, Computer Science/Physics

Eric Voyles “The properties of mixed electrospun fibers for tissue engineering applications” Martin Guthold, Physics