John Okechi One of Ten Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows

By Jen CorreiaApril 30th, 2020in Grad Student News

John Okechi of the Kaufman Lab was recently named one of ten Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows. During the ten-week fellowship, he will analyze the impacts of cage aquaculture in Lake Victoria on the environment and on food security in surrounding communities.

The Pardee Center Graduate Summer Fellows Program offers graduate students from across Boston University an opportunity for intensive interdisciplinary research and writing on topics aligned with the future-focused research interests of BU’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Read the full announcement about the Pardee Center 2020 Graduate Summer Fellows here.

Congratulations, John!

Biology Graduate Students and Alumni Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Zoey Werbin, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Zoey Werbin, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Caroline Fleming, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Caroline Fleming, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Marisol Dothard, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow
Marisol Dothard, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Chris Petty, National Science Foundation GRFP Honorable Mention
Chris Petty, National Science Foundation GRFP Honorable Mention

The awardees and honorable mentions for the 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) competition were recently posted and several Biology & MCBB students were recognized. MCBB Ph.D. student Marisol Dothard, Biology Ph.D. student Zoey Werbin in the Bhatnagar lab, and M.S. Biology student Caroline Fleming in the Rotjan lab were all awarded with a 3-year graduate research fellowship as well as incoming Ph.D. student Corinne Vietorisz joining the Bhatnagar lab in Fall 2020. Jonathan Gewirtzman, the Lab Manager & Senior Research Technician for the Templer lab was also awarded the NSF GRFP.

Several students also received honorable mention: MCBB Ph.D student Abigail Descoteaux in the Bradham lab, Biology Ph.D. student Melissa Inge (also an alum of the Biology Department, CMG, '19) and incoming Biology Ph.D. students Jacob Jaskiel joining the Rotjan lab and Maria Ingersoll.

The NSF GRFP was also awarded to undergraduate Biology and BMB alumni currently pursuing their graduate degrees. The awardees were Billie Goolsby (BMB, ’19) now at Stanford University, Amber Wendler (Biology, ‘18) now at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and Caylon Yates (BMB ‘15) now at Pennsylvania State University. There were several alumni that received honorable mentions as well, including Melissa Inge (CMG, ’19) noted above, Halina Malinowski (ECB, ‘16), Chris Petty (BA in BMB and MA in Biotechnology, ’19) now studying at Harvard University, and Rieka Yu (SBB, ’18) now studying at University of Missouri.

Congratulations to the awardees and honorable mentions on your hard work and this well-deserved honor.

Announcing the Dr. Marion R. Kramer Scholarship Winners

By Jen CorreiaApril 1st, 2020in Grad Student News

The Department of Biology is excited to announce the three recipients of this year's Dr. Marion R. Kramer Scholarship: Tina Barbasch of the Buston Lab, Shawna Henry of the Ho Lab, and Diane Lebo of the McCall Lab.

Tina's research uses the clown anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) as a study system to answer broad questions in the field of animal behavior. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the environmental and social factors that influence individual variation in parenting strategies. She combines theoretical and empirical methods to study how and why parents provide care when it is costly. First, she conducted a 12 month laboratory experiment characterizing plasticity and personality in parental care. Next, to determine the consequences of this plasticity Tina led a field expedition to Papua New Guinea and tested how variation in environmental quality influences plasticity in reproduction and parental care. Expanding on this work, she asked how social interactions influence plastic behavioral strategies. Tina developed a game theory model of how power and punishment influence negotiations between parents over parental care, done in collaboration with Dr. Suzanne Alonzo at the University of California Santa Cruz. She then conducted an experimental test of this model in the field and she is currently writing up the results, which found support for her model. Together, the results of her research extend our understanding of how and why parents provide costly parental care and create a framework for studying parental care in other systems.


Shawna studies how preventing the interaction between Mint1, a neuronal adaptor protein, and amyloid precursor protein (APP) can be a potential therapeutic target to decrease Aβ production associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Her work employs both a non-binding Mint1 mutant as well as a competitive APP mimetic peptide in vitro to prevent Mint1-APP association and decrease total Aβ production. Future studies will move this peptide in vivo to ascertain if the APP mimetic peptide strategy can decrease Aβ accumulation in an AD mouse model.



Diane's research seeks to identify the network of processes that regulate cell corpse clearance by non-professional phagocytes using the Drosophila ovary. Her first project utilized high-throughput techniques to identify the translatome of the entire epithelial follicle cell layer as well as a subset of follicle cells specifically engaged in clearing dying cells. By comparing these two groups of genes, Diane hopes to identify processes that are differentially regulated during clearance. Her second project was performed as a collaboration with 8 other members of the McCall lab. Together, they screened hundreds of kinase lines during two different death modalities in an effort to identify phagocytic pathways used during apoptotic and non-apoptotic death. Together, the translatome and kinome give them a big-picture view of cell corpse clearance by non-professional phagocytes.

This award provides support for high-achieving female students majoring in Biology. The award was established in 2001 in honor of Dr. Marion Kramer who earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Boston University in 1963 and went on to a long and satisfying career in biology and medicine.

The Department of Biology gives this award to graduate students in the spring, and to undergraduate students in the fall. Read about our fall 2019 undergraduate recipients here.

Congratulations, Tina, Shawna, and Diane!

Hannah Aichelman Receives Dana Wright Fellowship

By Jen CorreiaMarch 26th, 2020in Grad Student News

Hannah Aichelman of the Davies Lab is this year's recipient of the Dana Wright Fellowship. Hannah's research interests are broadly focused on understanding resilience and responses to rapid climate change of the coral animal and its symbiotic algae.

Her current work uses physiological and molecular tools to answer these questions in both tropical and temperate marine ecosystems. In the tropics, she is working with corals from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System to consider species and reef zone-specific responses through time for corals under temperature and ocean acidification stress. Further north in temperate waters, she is utilizing the facultatively symbiotic coral Oculina arbuscula to consider how the coral animal and its symbiont independently respond to temperature extremes both while in symbiosis and when the symbiont is outside of the coral. Better understanding stress responses of temperate corals, like O. arbuscula, will hopefully provide key insights into understanding how tropical coral symbioses will be affected by climate change.

This fellowship was established in memory of Dana Wright (CAS ’00), an alum of the BU Marine Program. After completing her studies, Wright went on to work in research in right whale acoustics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Isabella Muratore Receives Brenton R. Lutz Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 23rd, 2020in Grad Student News


Isabella Muratore of the Traniello and Mullen Labs is the recipient of this year's Brenton R. Lutz Award. Isabella's research focuses on the fungus-growing ant Atta cephalotes, which exhibits an extraordinary worker polymorphism of body size-related task specialists, or subcastes. Social role variation that underpins the agricultural habits of this species correlates with brain size and structure. To understand the relationship between brain differentiation and worker specialization, Isabella has identified genes differentially expressed among brains from A. cephalotes subcastes. She has also quantified task performance, correlating it with brain size and allometric variation among functionally specialized brain regions. Focusing on genes that she found were differentially expressed among A. cephalotes subcaste brains, she will look for signatures of positive selection and copy number variation and will compare them to orthologous sequences and regulatory regions of less socially complex relative species.

This award provides support for PhD candidates conducting research in neurobiology or neuroscience and have made significant contributions to their field. Brenton R. Lutz was the first person to receive an MD/PhD at Boston University, receiving his Ph. in 1916. He later became a Professor and Chairman of BU’s Department of Biology. Dr. Lutz also gave the first University Lecture at BU on December 11, 1950 “The Living Blood Vessels.”

Congratulations, Isabella!

Margaret O’Connor Receives Charles Terner Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 18th, 2020in Grad Student News


Margaret O'Connor, MCBB PhD candidate of the Man Lab, is this year's recipient of the Charles Terner Award. Margaret is investigating the X-linked protein NEXMIF, which is associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She uses a transgenic mouse model to study the role NEXMIF plays in brain development, specifically neuronal growth and dendritic spine development. There are a number of human patients with NEXMIF dependent ASD. Her research currently focuses on the unique situation of female heterozygotes which mosaically express NEXMIF yet still develop ASD.

This award provides support for a CM or MCBB PhD candidate who has made significant contributions to their field. Charles Terner was a Professor of Biology at Boston University for over 20 years before he retired in 1985. Dr. Terner specialized in biochemistry and focused his research on the metabolic properties of male reproductive cells. The award was established in his memory after he passed away in 1998.

Congratulations, Margaret!

Robin Francis Receives Thomas H. Kunz Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 17th, 2020in Grad Student News
Photo credit: James Garner; Also pictured: John Majoris


Robin Francis of the Buston Lab is this year's recipient of the Thomas H. Kunz Award. Robin has general interests in marine metapopulation ecology and conservation biology, and specific interests in plasticity of larval dispersal and its effects on population connectivity of reef fishes. The aim of her current research is to conduct an experimental investigation of plasticity of larval dispersal in response to parental environment in a marine fish. She will tackle this objective using a captive population of clownfish in a lab experiment as well as using a wild population in Papua New Guinea in a field experiment. Her goal is for results from these studies to deepen the understanding of the causes of variation in patterns of larval dispersal, which has important implications for conservation and fisheries management.

This award provides support for Ecology, Behavior & Evolution (EBE) PhD candidates who have completed the qualifying exam, with a preference for those conducting field research in the award year. The award was established in 2015 in recognition and appreciation of Professor Thomas H. Kunz’s mentorship. His current and former graduate students established this award to serve as a lasting legacy of Tom’s contributions at BU and beyond. Learn more about Dr. Kunz and how you can support this award.

Congratulations, Robin!

Leah Williams Gives Talk at EMBO | EMBL Symposium

By Jen CorreiaMarch 11th, 2020in Grad Student News


Leah Williams of the Gilmore Lab gave an invited talk at EMBO | EMBL Symposium: The Organism and its Environment, held at EMBL Heidelberg, Germany from March 1-4, 2020. The title of her talk was "Evolution of immune regulation: structure, activity, and biology of transcription factor NF-kappaB in early metazoans."

Leah's research explores the evolutionary origins and molecular mechanisms of immunity in basal marine organisms such as corals and sponges. Her research has been supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the National Science Foundation.

Julie Jung’s Paper Shortlisted for 2019 Journal of Experimental Biology Outstanding Paper Prize

By Jen CorreiaMarch 5th, 2020in Grad Student News

Julie Jung of the Warkentin Lab recently received recognition for "How do red-eyed treefrog embryos sense motion in predator attacks? Assessing the role of vestibular mechanoreception." The paper was shortlisted for the 2019 Journal of Experimental Biology Outstanding Paper Prize, and was described as a "fascinating finding, [with] carefully planned experiments and very well written up."

Read more about why the paper was chosen here. Congratulations, Julie!

Jenna Rindy Receives Deland Award

By Jen CorreiaMarch 4th, 2020in Grad Student News

Jenna Rindy of the Templer Lab was recently awarded a $10,000 Deland Award from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The award supports investigations by graduate and advanced undergraduate students working on the comparative biology of woody plants, including developmental biology, physiology, genetics, reproductive biology, or ecology. Jenna is interested in researching the effects of anthropogenic pollutants on urban forestry and human populations in urban areas. In particular, she plans to investigate how PM2.5 deposition causes damage to urban tree leaves, and how living nearer to urban forest systems affects human health.

Congratulations, Jenna!