Summer Internship Roundup

September 27th, 2023in Student News

Several MCBB students received internships this past summer; read below to learn more about their experiences!

Maryam Dashtiahangar is a third-year PhD student in the Siggers Lab. Her PhD project involves characterizing the mechanisms of non-coding SNPs in autoimmune diseases using CASCADE, a protein binding microarray (PBM)-based technology developed by the Siggers Lab.

After completing three lab rotations in the first year of her PhD, she applied for the SB2 Fellowship, a 2-year Training Program in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology founded by NIH. This program supports and funds students to undertake a summer internship between SB2 Year 1 and SB2 Year 2, providing valuable industry lab experience.

For Maryam's internship, she chose to work with Pfizer. Over 12 weeks this summer, she focused on characterizing and developing a regulatory B cell assay. She's had the privilege of working with exceptional mentors and meeting brilliant people who are doing remarkable work.

As Maryam wraps up her internship, she wants to express her gratitude to her Pfizer mentor, Dr. Joseph Brennan, and her PhD mentors, Dr. Trevor Siggers and Dr. Thomas Gilmore, for their support in making this internship possible.

Jillian Ness is a fourth year PhD student in the Wunderlich Lab. Dr. Wunderlich’s lab explores the design and evolvability of regulatory elements in the genome using Drosophila. Jillian's project investigates the role of redundancy in developmental gene programs; she employs computational and synthetic biology techniques to study and manipulate redundant regulatory elements.

Jillian had the opportunity to participate in the Synthetic Biology course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located in Long Island, New York. Historically, this research institution has been home to some well-known and elegant science, and it was a wonderful opportunity to be on the campus. Through this intensive and highly collaborative course, industry and academic leaders introduced us to cutting-edge synthetic biology methods, while guiding us in designing and conducting research projects over the course's duration. Under their mentorship, Jillian chose to focus on computational modeling and in vitro programming of “gene neural networks.” This involved modeling and designing multi-layer gene regulatory networks to respond to specific inputs with an appropriate output according to the circuit design.

This course was funded by a Kilachand travel scholarship. A big thanks to Dr. Thomas Gilmore for the support he provided. There are a multitude of excellent courses available at Cold Spring, as well as Marine Bio Labs, that she encourages MCBB students to investigate!

Mandy Pinheiro is a PhD Candidate in the Naya Lab. She studies the coordination of metabolism and differentiation through the Dlk1-Dio3 noncoding RNA cluster in skeletal muscle. As she plans her next steps after her PhD, she looks forward to pursuing a career in business development or venture capital/venture creation within the biotech and pharma ecosystem.

This summer Mandy worked as a Business Development and Licensing Innovation Intern at Mass General Brigham Innovation. She enjoyed getting exposed to a variety of technologies across different therapeutic areas and developing hands on experience at numerous stages in the commercialization process, from invention disclosure to licensing new technologies. Much of her work focused on invention triage and developing marketing materials for high value inventions. Mandy collaborated with colleagues across the organization to landscape the utility of Priority Review Vouchers (PRV) for groups working on PRV eligible diseases. This internship allowed her to play an active role in the commercialization of new technologies and to gain invaluable insights about business development strategies.

Great work, Maryam, Jillian, and Mandy!

So Young Bae Wins Poster Prize from the American Crystallographic Association

July 21st, 2023in Student News

So Young Bae, PhD student in the Tolan Lab, won the Journal of Chemical Crystallography poster prize at the recent international meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Baltimore Maryland this past July 2023. The American Crystallographic Association is the preeminent society supporting structural science at all levels and disciplines. The Journal of Chemical Crystallography Poster Prize recognizes the best student, graduate or undergraduate, poster presentation in the area of chemical crystallography.

So Young’s poster was entitled, “Mode of Substrate Binding for Ketohexokinase across Isozymes and Species Implies an Induced-fit Mechanism.”  Her award was acknowledged at the closing banquet. Her presentation showed that one of the most important isozymes, ketohexokinase-A (KHK-A), which is involved in moonlighting as a protein kinase and has roles in regulating expression of genes important in cancer cells, can undergo a conformational change. She showed this structural change by solving the first ever structure of mouse KHK-A by X-ray crystallography and revealing differences in structure from what was previously known. She also solved the structure of human KHK-A in complex with one of it’s natural substrates, fructose. This structure revealed yet another distinct structural difference from the either the unbound enzyme or the enzyme bound with both substrates. Her work will eventually determine if these structural changes are part of the switch from a sugar kinase to a protein kinase.

Congratulations, So Young!

Rhushikesh Phadke Receives Biology Department Brenton R. Lutz Award

June 26th, 2023in Student News

Rhushikesh Phadke of the Cruz-Martín Lab is the recipient of this year’s Brenton R. Lutz Award given out by the Department of Biology. Rhushikesh's research explores the impact of the immune complement (C) pathway on synaptic plasticity in neurological disorders like schizophrenia (SCZ) and Alzheimer's disease. By increasing levels of complement component 4 (C4), a risk gene for SCZ, Rhushikesh and the Cruz-Martín Lab observed a disruption in the connectivity of developing cortical neurons. Contrary to previous beliefs, C4 acts through a non-canonical mechanism independent of complement receptor 3 (CR3). They discovered an interaction between C4 and Sorting Nexin 27 (SNX27), an endosomal protein, which, when introduced together, restored normal neuronal activity. Their microscopy analysis revealed altered distribution of AMPA receptor subunit GluR1 and colocalization of C4 and SNX27 in dendritic spines. These findings highlight how C4 impairs SNX27 function, leading to endosomal dysregulation, GluR1 degradation, and decreased connectivity. This novel model provides insights into neuron-autonomous mechanisms of complement-dependent synaptic weakening and its relation to microglia-mediated synaptic engulfment.

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 PhD 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, Rhushikesh!

Michael Zulch Receives Corteva Showcase Award

June 2nd, 2023in Student News


Michael Zulch, a 4th-year MCBB PhD candidate in the Larkin Lab, has received a travel award from Corteva Agriscience. Specializing in the quantitative relationship between plants and bacteria, Michael explores the impact of light and genetic engineering on quantitative relationship between plants and bacteria.

This award from Corteva Agriscience, one of the world's largest agriculture-focused companies, demonstrates recognition for Michael's potential contributions to the field of industrial agriculture. Corteva Agriscience strives to support up-and-coming scientists, offering a platform to share their scientific achievements at significant venues like the 2023 conference of the American Society of Plant Biologists. This platform provides Michael an opportunity to disseminate his research findings to a broad audience of scientists and industry professionals, furthering their impact.

In addition to his studies, Michael is a fellow of the Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology Program and the Biological Design Center at BU. His research, inspired by his industry internship at Joyn Bio (Acquired by Ginkgo Bioworks), aligns with his ambition to conduct meaningful science with a direct impact on industry and agriculture.

Congratulations, Michael!

Cameron Dixon Receives I. Alden Macchi Award

May 24th, 2022in Student News

Cameron Dixon, PhD candidate of the McCall Lab, was selected as the winner of the Biology Department 2022 I. Alden Macchi Award for excellence in the field of regulatory biology. Read more about Cameron's research below!

Hormones orchestrate vital physiological pathways, such as metabolism, development, and reproduction. Beyond their influence on organismal homeostasis, hormones maintain integrity of stem cell niches and tissue integrity through molecular mechanisms. The presence of hormones is not restrictive to mammals and is evolutionarily conserved across species down to microorganisms. This conservation through evolution shows the importance in understanding how hormones interact with physiology and the negative implications of what happens to homeostasis post-hormonal disruption.  To this end, the McCall Lab will be using Drosophila melanogaster to better understand how dysregulation of hormonal homeostasis impacts physiology. Drosophila possess hormonal regulation that shares many similarities with mammalian hormonal homeostasis. For example, the mammalian peptide hormone, insulin, is present in Drosophila. In Drosophila, it is known as Drosophila Insulin-like Peptide (DILP). Other major hormones that are intimately connected to DILP are ecdysone and juvenile hormone (JH); which function similarly to that of mammalian sex steroids and growth hormones, respectively. All three of these major hormones are not only involved in their own canonical pathways but also influence each other. To fully understand how these hormones effect physiology once homeostasis is dysregulated, the lab will be examining the effects of hormonal perturbations on physiology. Perturbations will be completed using two different methods: genetic and physiological perturbations. Genetic perturbations will use the Gal4-UAS system while physiological perturbations will be caused via traumatic injury (TI). TI has been shown to effect organismal homeostasis and often can lead to the progression of several pathologies, including neurodegeneration, diabetes, and reproductive consequences. These pathologies are often associated with dysregulation of respective hormones making TI attractive to understand how global damage can lead to an upset in hormonal homeostasis. Preliminary results have shown consequences to physiology through malformation of wings and increased wing venation, decreased survival, temperature sensitivity, and apoptotic phenotypes in reproductive tissues. Further investigation into these consequences are currently being completed to understand the effects of perturbing major hormones (DILP, ecdysone, JH) and their effects on physiological homeostasis and hormonal crosstalk.

This award was established by the late I. Alden Macchi, Professor and former Interim Chairman in the Department of Biology. Dr. Macchi received his PhD in Endocrinology from BU in 1954. Professor Macchi’s research contributed, among other things, many important observations regarding the mechanisms of steroid hormone biosynthesis in the adrenal glands.

Congratulations, Cameron!

Daniel Segrè and Melisa Osborne Featured in The Brink

June 30th, 2021in Faculty News

Dr. Daniel Segrè and Dr. Melisa Osborne were recently featured in The Brink for their article "Non-additive microbial community responses to environmental complexity," which was published in nature communications this spring. An excerpt of The Brink article is below:

There’s a lot of interest right now in how different microbiomes—like the one made up of all the bacteria in our guts—could be harnessed to boost human health and cure disease. But Daniel Segrè has set his sights on a much more ambitious vision for how the microbiome could be manipulated for good: “To help sustain our planet, not just our own health.”

Segrè, director of the Boston University Microbiome Initiative, says he and other scientists in his field of synthetic and systems biology are studying microbiomes—microscopic communities of bacteria, fungi, or a combination of those that exert influence over each other and the surrounding environment. They want to know how microbiomes might be directed to carry out important tasks like absorbing more atmospheric carbon, protecting coral reefs from ocean acidification, improving the fertility and yield of agricultural lands, and supporting the growth of forests and other plants despite changing environmental conditions.

Read the full article here.

Dr. Sarah Davies Featured in The Brink

June 17th, 2021in Faculty News

Dr. Sarah Davies was recently featured in The Brink's article, "Sexism and Racism in Science: How the Coronavirus Pandemic Exposed Everything." The Brink interviewed Dr. Davies about her new PLOS Biology paper, "Promoting inclusive metrics of success and impact to dismantle a discriminatory reward system in science." The paper is the product of a collaboration between Dr. Davies and 23 others, including BU's Dr. Wally Fulweiler, Dr. Colleen Bove, and Dr. Hanny Rivera. An excerpt of The Brink article is below:

In science, career progress—or lack thereof—is typically determined by certain criteria, such as how often a researcher’s studies are cited by other scientists, and by the number of papers they publish in prestigious, high-impact scientific journals (which often comes with an expensive price tag paid by a paper’s authors). Those metrics, however, are biased against already marginalized groups in science—namely, those who don’t identify as white males—and ensure that sexism and racism continue to plague the field, according to 24 researchers who have penned a new PLOS Biology piece on the topic.

Sarah Davies, the piece’s co-lead author and a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of biology, says the time crunch and workload created by the coronavirus pandemic was a tipping point for many marginalized researchers. “I’ve never been busier, so it was an interesting choice to take on a ‘perspectives’ piece outside my field of [marine biology] research,” she says. “But the coronavirus pandemic created the perfect storm of being ‘over it.’” For Davies, that meant the daunting task of navigating a changing work and research environment while juggling childcare amidst the pandemic.

Read the full article here.

Amanda Pinheiro Recipient of 2021 Kilachand Fellowship

June 10th, 2021in Student News

Biological Design Center Logo

Amanda Pinheiro of the Naya Lab is a recipient of a 2021 Kilachand Fellowship. This fellowship is funded by the Biological Design Center's Multicellular Design Program (MDP), which combines research in Synthetic Biology, Microbial Engineering, Tissue Engineering, Data Science, and Biophysics to understand the design principles of multicellular systems. Amanda will be working on a project entitled “Elucidating Complex Cell-Cell Interactions in the Regenerative Skeletal Muscle Microenvironment.”

Congratulations, Amanda!

Margaret O’Connor Receives Brenton R. Lutz Award

June 7th, 2021in Student News

Margaret O'Connor of the Man Lab, is the recipient of this year’s Biology Department Brenton R. Lutz 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 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 PhD 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, Margaret!

Michael Zulch Interning at Joyn Bio

June 3rd, 2021in Student News

Michael Zulch of the Larkin Lab was selected for a summer internship with Joyn Bio as part of the Training Program in Synthetic Biology & Biotechnology (SB2). Joyn Bio is a joint venture between Ginkgo Bioworks and Leaps by Bayer, founded to solve the urgent agriculture challenges threatening our global food supply and environmental health using the combination of synthetic biology and beneficial microbes.

Joyn Bio aims to provide growers with new and sustainable solutions to feed and nourish the world. Michael will be working on their primary project: engineering crop-colonizing microbes that can fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use to grow. If successful, these bacteria will help alleviate our dependence on synthetic fertilizers and their environmental impacts.

Congratulations, Michael!