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Academic Programs / Biology Graduate Program / Biology Graduate Student Awards & Accomplishments

Biology Graduate Student Awards & Accomplishments

Kudos to our graduate students for their many successes!

PhD Fall 2021

Kayla Titalii-Torres (Morris Lab)
Kinga Graniczkowska (Cassone Lab)

MS Fall 2021

Eric Martinez, MSB
Veronica Chisholm, MSB
Charles Cassone, MSB
Ghosown Hafiz, MSB
Elizabeth Leach, MSB

PhD Summer 2021

Varun Dwaraka (Voss Lab)

MS Summer 2021

Patrick Rivera, (Osborn Lab)

PhD Spring 2021

Shishir Biswas (Seifert Lab)
Sandeep Saxena (Seifert Lab)
Chelsea Weaver (Osborn Lab)
John Terbot III (Linnen Lab)

MS Spring 2021

Brad Osborne, MSB

Fall 2020

PhD Defenses

Clifford Harpole
(Cassone Lab)
Warlen Piedade (Famulski Lab)
Sruthi Purushothaman (Seifert Lab)

Summer 2020
PhD Defenses

Cagney Coomer (Morris Lab)
Kim Vertacnik (Linnen Lab)


Jeff Chalfant, MSA (Pendergast Lab)
Bradford Hull, MSA (Harrison Lab)
Catherine Stanley, MSA (Cooper Lab)

Spring 2020

PhD Defenses

Emily Bendall (Linnen Lab)
Luc Dunoyer (Seifert/Van Cleve Lab)
Tom Maigret (Weisrock Lab)


Kimberly Phelps, MSB

Qualifying Exam

Julia Howell (Santollo Lab)
Laura Krueger (Morris Lab)

Fall 2018

PhD Defenses

Megan Rhodes (Osborn Lab)
Brittany Slabach (Crowley Lab)


Nick Carrara, MSA (Famulski Lab)
James Giordano, MSB
Yuxuan Xie, MSB

Qualifying Exam
Varun Dwaraka (Voss Lab)
Kinga Graniczkowska (Cassone Lab)
Tim Salzman (Westneat Lab)
Sandeep Saxena (Seifert Lab)

Congrats to our Graduates and our new PhD Candidates!


Cagney Coomer (Morris Lab) received 2018 MOSAIIC Award (Multicultural Opportunities, Strategies, and Institutional Inclusiveness Conference hosted by BCTC) for her work with NERD Squad.


Biology Merit Fellowship

Jeffrey Chalfant (Pendergast Lab) spring 2019

Kayla Titialii  (Morris Lab) spring 2019

Sandeep Saxena (Seifert Lab) spring 2019

Morgan Graduate Fellowship

Kara Jones (Weisrock Lab) spring 2019

Sruthi Purushothaman (Seifert Lab) fall 2018

Laura Krueger (Morris Lab) was awarded a  two-year CCTS TL1 Predoctoral Training Fellowship.

Chelsea Weaver (Osborn Lab) received the 2019 Woman's Club Endowed Fellowship for $2,000. This fellowship is a one-time
payment and recognition provided by generous donations from the members of the University of Kentucky Woman's Club as well as the Research Challenge Trust Fund.

Chelsea also received the 2019 Association of Emeriti Faculty Endowed Fellowship, $2,500 from the University Of Kentucky
Association Of Emeriti Faculty in conjunction with the Graduate School. (This is a one-time payment in recognition of her
achievements as a UK doctoral student.) According to the UK AEF, this award indicates their confidence in her academic potential as a future faculty member at a college or university. 


Al Haj Baddar, N. W., Chithrala, A. and Voss, S. R. (2019), Amputation‐induced reactive oxygen species signaling is required for axolotl tail regeneration. Dev. Dyn., 248: 189-196. doi:10.1002/dvdy.5
Description: Salamanders are unparalleled in their ability to regenerate appendages. However, little is known about early signals that initiate regeneration in salamanders. Our paper show that ROS levels increase in response to injury and are required for cellular proliferation and tail and spinal cord regeneration. These findings suggest that ROS signaling provide instructive, if not initiating cues, for salamander tail regeneration.

Coomer C.E., Morris A.C. Capn5 Expression in the Healthy and Regenerating Zebrafish Retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2018 Jul 2;59(8):3643-3654. doi: 10.1167/iovs.18-24278.
Lay Summary: Cagney Coomer characterized the expression of Calpain-5, a poorly understood calcium-activated cysteine protease, in the zebrafish retina during development and in response to injury-induced regeneration.

Jones, K. S., & Weisrock, D. W. (2018). “Genomic data reject the hypothesis of sympatric ecological speciation in a clade of Desmognathus salamanders.” Evolution, 72(11), 2378–2393.
Lay summary: Two salamanders found in southern Appalachia, Desmognathus quadramaculatus and D. marmoratus, were thought to represent different species because they have very different morphologies. However, we couldn’t find any signatures of genomic differentiation between them. Instead, they appear to represent two morphotypes of the same species. To complicate matters further, we found that D. quadramaculatus was split into two highly diverged cryptic species (one in the north and one in the south), both of which have the quadramaculatus and marmoratus phenotypes. Yep, it’s as crazy as it sounds!

B.L.Slabach, J.T.Hast, S.Murphy, K.Johannsen, W.E.Bowling, R.D.Crank, G.Jenkins, and  J.J.Cox. 2018. Survival and cause-specific mortality of elk (Cervus canadensis) in southeastern Kentucky. Wildlife Biology, 2018(1): wlb.00459.
Lay Summary: During 2011–2015, we conducted a study to investigate survival and cause-specific mortality of male and female elk (Cervus canadensis) and the effectiveness of limited hunter access areas to improving male elk survival in southeastern Kentucky. We captured and radio-monitored 237 (F91: M146) elk, of which 155 (65.4%) died by the conclusion of our study; harvest related deaths were the leading causes of mortality for both sexes (85.2%; 132/155). Our results demonstrated that females (< 2 years-of-age) and males (≥ 5 years-of-age) had significantly higher hazards of dying compared to other age classes. Support also existed for variation in female survival by herd. The establishment of areas that limited hunter access did not affect male elk survival, and instead, increased hunter density for female harvest by 647.5%. Our results demonstrate the importance of considering land ownership type, elk density, and sex-specific behavior to inform management decisions in mixed use landscapes.

B. L. Slabach and J. J. Krupa. 2018. Range expansion of the hispid cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) into reclaimed
surface coal mines in eastern Kentucky. Southeastern Naturalist, 17(4): N84-N89.
Lay Summary: Sigmodon hispidus (Hispid cotton rat) is the most wide-spread species of Sigmodon in North America. In recent year, this species has expanded its range northward and westward due to changes in climate and habitat, and evidence suggests northward expansion is also occurring in Kentucky. Extensive coal mining operations has transformed more than 2300 km2 of hardwood forests on the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky, into a relatively flat landscape dominated by grasses and forbs suitable for run-making rodents. We report the first record of the Hispid cotton rat from a reclaimed-mine site and predict this species will expand its range north and east through new habitat.

Spring 2018


A&S Outstanding TA Award Recipients 2018

Kat Sasser

Jim Shaffer

Biology’s Outstanding TAs for 2017-2018

Jeff Chalfant

*Luc Dunoyer

Allison McLaughlin

Tim Salzman

*Kat Sasser

*Jim Shaffer

* nominated for College Competition

Scherr Special Opportunity Award

Sruthi Purushothaman (Seifert Lab): The Scherr Opportunity Award gave Sruthi the opportunity to visit Dr. James Monaghan’s lab at the Northeastern University and learn the gene-editing protocol for axolotls. She says: My thesis work has reached a crucial point where I need to use gene-editing techniques to functionally test the mechanism of genes involved in axolotl limb development and regeneration. With the recent
publication of the axolotl genome, it is now possible to target genes and leverage CRISPR/Cas9 technology. I was taken through the elaborate protocol during my 5-day visit and we used standardized protocols from Tanaka lab (IMP, Austria) and Monaghan lab (Northeastern University).  I was able to get an evident phenotype with the CRISPR injections I performed during my visit and I am now ready to set up the CRISPR pipeline in our lab at UK. 

Cody Saraceno (Smith lab): In May of 2018, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Scherr Special Opportunity Award to travel to the lab of Dr. Robb Krumlauf, located at the Stowers Institute for Medical
Research. While there, I learned how perform in situ hybridization (ISH) on lamprey embryos. ISH is a technique that allows one to visualize the spatial and temporal expression patterns of genes in fixed tissues as a means to study their regulation, function or interactions with other gene products. In particular, the gene I was
primarily interested in studying was the lamprey Vasa gene. Vasa is recognized as a universal marker in all
developing metazoan embryos for the primordial germ cells (PGCs), which eventually give rise to the mature gametes in the adult organism. Because of this opportunity provided to me by the Scherr Special Opportunity Award, I am now able to utilize this technique in Jeramiah Smith's lab at the University of Kentucky in the
service of studying germline development in sea lamprey, which will form a significant contribution to my
thesis work. 


Biology Merit Fellowship - The Biology Merit Fellowship is awarded to a PhD student in their 1st or 2nd year who has demonstrated exceptional promise. The fellowship provides a stipend commensurate with a TA salary for a pre-quals student and tuition. This year we awarded a fellowship to:

Jeffrey Chalfant (Pendergast Lab) spring 2019

Laura Krueger (Morris Lab) spring 2019

Sandeep Saxena (Seifert Lab) spring 2019

Morgan Graduate Fellowship - The Morgan Graduate Fellowship is awarded to a PhD student who has passed their qualifying exam, has demonstrated meritorious progress toward their degree, and has clear plans for enhancing their dissertation. The fellowship provides a stipend commensurate with a TA salary and tuition for either 1 or 2 terms. This year we awarded a fellowship to:

Kara Jones (Weisrock Lab) spring 2019

Sruthi Purushothaman (Seifert Lab) fall 2018

Lyman T. Johnson Diversity Fellowship - Awarded to Graduate Students who contribute to the University of
Kentucky’s student diversity.

Oluwabukola “Bookie” Omotola (Pendergast Lab) fall 2018

Kayla Titialii (Morris Lab) fall 2018


Charles Cassone (Cassone Lab) was awarded the Condor Instruments Excellence Award by the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms for his abstract “Temperature Entrainment of the Circadian Clock of the Enteric Bacterium
Enterobacter aerogenes"

Kaylynne Glover (Crowley Lab) was elected to the positions of Director of Legislative Affairs and the Social Justice Advocate of the Midwest Region of the National Association of Graduate Professional Students (NAGPS). She was also elected as the External Affairs Officer for the University of Kentucky Graduate Student Congress.

 Warlen Piedade (Famulski Lab) received Outstanding Poster Presentation Honors at the 2018 Annual Neuroscience Meeting, Louisville, Kentucky.

Kayla Titialii (Morris Lab) received 1st place honors for her poster “” she presented at the Barnstable Brown
Diabetes and Obesity Research Day
at the University of Kentucky. She also received a Travel Scholarship from the
Society for the Advancement of Chicano/Latinos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and a Professional Development Fund Scholarship from the Center for Graduate Diversity at the University of Kentucky.

Kristyn Van Der Meulen (Famulski Lab) received Outstanding Poster Presentation Honors at the 2018 Annual
Neuroscience Meeting
, Louisville, Kentucky.


Dwaraka VB, Smith JJ, Woodcock MR, Voss SR. (2018) “Comparative transcriptomics of limb regeneration:
Identification of conserved expression changes among three species of Ambystoma.”
Genomics. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2018.07.017

Salamanders may owe their amazing ability to regenerate limbs to highly conserved transcriptional programs. To
elucidate these programs, we used a comparative transcriptomic approach and identified 405 genes among three ambystomatid species that are commonly, differently expressed after limb amputation. This paper discusses the
implications of these conserved regeneration genes in the context of early limb regeneration features, and provides a high-confidence set of biomarkers for future studies of tissue regeneration.

Tim Salzman and Allison McLaughlin (Westneat lab) are authors on a paper published in Behavioral Ecology and
“Energetic trade-offs and feedbacks between behavior and metabolism influence correlations between pace-of-life attributes.” The project arose out of Phil Crowley’s 606 Conceptual Methods class. The full citation is:
Salzman, T., McLaughlin, A., Westneat, D. F., and P. H. Crowley. (2018) Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology,
72: 54.

fall 2018


Cagney Coomer (Morris Lab) received the Community Service Award at the 2017 Women of Color STEM Conference in Detroit, MI and received the 2018 MLK Leadership Award from the Kentucky MLK Commission.

Megan Rhoads (Osborn Lab) Competed and was selected as one of the onsite trainee poster competition winners for her poster titled "Prevalence of Spontaneous Hypertension in African Green Monkeys is Age-related" at the American Heart Association Council on Hypertension September 2017 meeting in San Francisco, CA.

Chelsea Weaver (Osborn Lab) was awarded a $700 Ribble mini-grant that allowed her to travel to St. Kitts for 10 days this summer and learn various techniques for working with the African Green Monkeys within the colony.


Brittany Slabach (Crowley Lab) Dean's Competitive Graduate Fellowship, College of Arts and Sciences, UK - Spring 2018.


Kayla Titialii (Morris Lab) attended the 2017 Women of Color STEM Conference as graduate student mentor.

Ren Guerriero (O’Hara Lab) Quantitative EEG and Neurofeedback Certificate Program Stens Corporation, July 25-28th, 2017. This four-day course included lecture and large amount of hands-on work with quantitative EEG (electroencephalography) and neurofeedback.  Topics covered included basic neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, instrumentation, electrode placement, and neurofeedback.


Spring 2017


Chelsea Weaver (Osborn Lab) received 2 year pre-doctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association based on my grant, "The African Green Monkey: A Novel Model of Spontaneous Hypertensive Pregnancy Disorders." This award will allow me to study renal function and circadian rhythmicity of blood pressure during hypertensive pregnancy disorders such as gestational hypertension, chronic hypertension, and hypertension with pathophysiological characteristics of pre-eclampsia in the African Green Monkey.

Biology Merit Fellowship - The Biology Merit Fellowship is awarded to a PhD student in their 1st or 2nd year who has demonstrated exceptional promise. The fellowship provides a stipend commensurate with a TA salary for a pre-quals student and tuition.

Varun Dwaraka (Voss Lab) fall 2017

Allyssa Kilanowski (Westneat Lab) fall 2017

Morgan Graduate Fellowship - The Morgan Graduate Fellowship is awarded to a PhD student who has passed their qualifying exam, has demonstrated meritorious progress toward their degree, and has clear plans for enhancing their dissertation. The fellowship provides a stipend commensurate with a TA salary and tuition for either 1 or 2 terms.

Emily Bendall (Linnen Lab) spring 2018

Rose Marks (McLetchie Lab) 2017-18 Academic Year

Biology Teaching Fellowship – The Biology Teaching Fellowship is designed to enhance the teaching experience of a post-qualifying student who is targeting a more teaching-oriented career. The Fellowship will involve full responsibility for one section of Biology 103 in spring 2018. Dr. Jennifer Osterhage, Biology DUS and Bill Burke, Associate Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) will mentor the recipient.

Luc Dunoyer (Seifert Lab) spring 2018

Lyman T. Johnson Diversity Fellowship– Awarded to Graduate Students who contribute to the University of Kentucky’s student diversity.

               Kayla Titialii (Morris Lab) fall 2017


Biology’s Outstanding TAs for 2016-2017

Brandon Franklin

Justin Kratovil*

Schyler Nunziata

Megan Rhoads

Jim Shaffer

Chanung Wang*

Chelsea Weaver*

A&S Outstanding TA Award Recipients

Justin Kratovil and Chanung Wang

Nick Carrara (Famulski Lab) was awarded: "The Sherwood and Janet Roberts Blue Memorial Scholarship" From the Foundation Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.

Cagney "CC" Coomer (Morris Lab) received a University of Kentucky Inclusive Excellence award and the Sullivan Medallion. The Inclusive Excellence Award "recognizes the accomplishments of individuals and teams that demonstrate a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion through exemplary leadership and campus and community involvement," and the Sullivan Award is "the highest award the university presents for humanitarian efforts." Both awards recognize Cagney's involvement with NERD Squad, an organization that she founded, which seeks to expose underrepresented students in elementary, middle, and high school to STEM fields and careers, while also offering tutoring and peer mentoring services.

Varun Dwaraka (Voss Lab) received the AAAS/Science Program for Excellence in Science Award - This program rewards deserving graduate students and postdocs working in the life sciences with a one-year sponsored membership in AAAS/Science, July 2017 - August 2018.

Megan Rhoads (Osborn Lab) received the American Physiological Society Teaching of Physiology Research Recognition Award and $500 for her abstract titled “Problem-based learning increases motivation and learning strategy use in both low- and high- achieving students in an upper-level undergraduate physiology course.”

Chelsea Weaver (Osborn Lab) received a $700 Ribble mini-grant to travel to St. Kitts this summer (June 28-Aug 6, 2017) for field research at the colony.


Allyssa Kilanowski (Westneat Lab) received a $500 Research Grant from the Kentucky Society of Natural History. Water strider dispersal, personality and population dynamics: Linking personality to metapopulation dynamics- Funds are to conduct preliminary experiments on water striders to 1) determine if they exhibit behavioral phenotypes, and 2) quantify dispersal distance daily and monthly. This research is to evaluate the potential of water striders for a dissertation research species.  Allyssa also received a $300 Travel Grant from the Ecological Society of America Student Chapter to attend the Ecological Society of America annual meeting and give an oral presentation.  The presentation, “Female-Biased Size Dimorphism in the Cliff Chipmunk: Ontogeny, Seasonality, and Fecundity”, focused on the development of sexual dimorphism of juvenile chipmunks and tested the fecundity hypothesis selection as an explanation for female-biased sexual dimorphism.


Megan Weaver and Nick Carrara (Famulski Lab) both received honorable mention in their applications for the NSF GRFP this spring.

Kaylynne Glover (Crowley Lab) was elected as the Graduate Student Congress President. Kaylynne is also serving on the Provost's Blue-Ribbon Panel for Graduate Education, Chair of the Subcommittee on Graduate Student Experience.

Spring 2016


Paul Hime (Weisrock Lab) was awarded the prestigious Blue Waters Graduate Research Fellowship from the NSF-funded National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). This award will fund his last year of doctoral work and will provide access to the ridiculously powerful Blue Waters Petascale Supercomputing Cluster. Paul says he will use this opportunity to develop new computational approaches to Bayesian phylogenetic inference. Only ten of these fellowships are awarded each year nation-wide.

Megan Rhoads (Osborn Lab) was awarded an American Heart Association Pre-doctoral Fellowship.  This two-year award will fund her proposal titled “Sympathetic Nerve Activity and T-Lymphocytes in Spontaneously Hypertensive Caribbean Vervets.” This project focuses on how sympathetic activation alters the adaptive immune system in a non-human primate model of spontaneous hypertension. Megan will focus on how T-lymphocyte cytokine secretion and inflammatory cascades are affected by sympathetic nerve activity and how the two systems together may contribute to the development and maintenance of spontaneous hypertension.


Shishir Biswas (Seifert Lab) and Brittany Slabach (Crowley Lab) were awarded the College of Arts and Sciences Certificate for Outstanding Teaching. The award recognizes excellence in undergraduate instruction by Teaching Assistants. In addition to this recognition they each received $500.

Shishir Biswas and Sruthi Purushothaman (Seifert Lab) both received travel awards from the Society for Developmental Biology to attend the 75th Annual Society for Developmental Biology Meeting this coming August in Boston and a satellite symposium on the Evolution of Regenerative Abilities. Shishir will present a poster about his transcriptomics work with spiny mice and Sruthi will present results from her work looking at the genetic basis for patterning during salamander limb regeneration.

Cagney Coomer (Morris Lab) recently received a travel award to attend the 2016 NEURAL (National Enhancement of Underrepresented Academic Leaders) Conference at the University of Alabama Birmingham June 22-24. At the conference, she won both an Outstanding Poster Award AND a $1000 travel award for her "science shark tank" presentation. She is using the new travel award to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Visual System Development in Vermont this coming August.

Megan Rhoads (Osborn Lab) was awarded the American Physiological Society Caroline tum Suden Award for her abstract titled “Alpha and Beta Adrenergic Receptor Expression is Increased in the Renal Medulla of Spontaneously Hypertensive African Green Monkeys.” Megan also received an American  Physiological Society Minority Travel Fellowship to attend Experimental Biology 2016 in San Diego, CA.

Jim Shaffer (Gleeson Lab) was awarded first place and a $250 check for his poster "Prescribed fire impacts on tree seedling growth in a Kentucky Bluegrass Savanna-Woodland remnant" at the KY/TN Joint Prescribed Fire Council Meeting in Ft. Campbell, KY.

Brittany Slabach (Crowley Lab) received a scholarship to attend the 2016 Summer Institute in Statistics and Modeling Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington. The summer institute is an annual event and one of three summer institutes presented by the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington. The $1,800 scholarship provides attendance to three modules, and includes travel cost. Brittany’s goal is to gain a strong foundation in epidemiological models, and to use data parameters from her field data to develop two disease transmission models that will better help manage disease outbreak in wild populations.


Jacqueline Dillard (Westneat Lab) was awarded an $18,980 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the NSF to investigate dispersal and paternity patterns in the horned passalus, Odontotaenius disjunctus. These funds will go towards investigating whether the general correlation between genetic monogamy and cooperative family formation in animal societies is a consequence of environmental selective pressures that simultaneously favor reduced dispersal and extra-pair mating. Specifically, Jacqueline will assess how resource density, decaying logs in this case, influences mating and dispersal behavior in the horned passalus to determine if increased distance between breeding resources reduces movement of both young adults and potential extra-pair mates.

Paul Hime (Weisrock Lab) was awarded $18,967 for an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG), entitled "DISSERTATION RESEARCH: Assessing gene- and site-specific support for deep amphibian relationships across nuclear loci that interact with mitochondria and ribosomes". This research explores why different regions of the genome may strongly support different evolutionary hypotheses for relationships among the three amphibian orders.

Scott Hotaling (Weisrock Lab) was awarded a UW-NPS Research Grant ($5000) with co-PIs L Tronstad, JJ Giersch, L Zeglin, and D Finn. "A unique 'icy seep' habitat in the high Teton Range: potential refuge for biological assemblages imperiled by climate change".

Kara Jones (Weisrock Lab) received the Society of Systematic Biologists Graduate Student Research Award from the Society of Systematic Biologists. This $1500 grant is to help support further research to unravel the evolutionary history of a diverse salamander clade.

Rose Marks (McLetchie Lab) received the Anderson-Crum Field Research in Bryology Award, a $500 grant to support field work in bryology from the American Bryological and Lichenological Society.

Schyler Nunziata (Weisrock lab) was awarded an $18,946 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation entitled, “Estimating the genetic and demographic response of an amphibian metapopulation to global climate change.” This research uses genomic approaches to study the conservation, evolution, and ecology of wetland populations. Using salamanders as a study system, the goals are to understand how genetic diversity changes across sub-populations as a result in changes in gene flow, and how these are mediated overall by changes in climate. To achieve these goals, Schyler will generate and analyze genome-wide patterns of genetic variation and develop new models that will be used to project how populations respond to environmental change.


fall 2015

3/18/2015- Travel Award

Melissa Keinath has been awarded a travel grant to attend and present her research at the American Genetic Association Presidential Symposium on “Chromosome Evolution: Molecular Mechanisms and Evolutionary Consequences”. The meeting will be held on Bainbridge Island, Washington on August 17-19, 2015. Melissa will present “Characterization of a Large Vertebrate Genome Using Shotgun and Laser Capture Chromosome Sequencing", a poster describing her work to sequence and assemble the axolotl genome using targeted chromosome isolation in the Smith lab, in collaboration with the Voss lab.


3/1/15- Publication
Graduate students Wen Wen, Lakshmi Pillai-Kastoori, and Stephen Wilson, along with advisor Ann Morris have just published their paper “Sox4 regulates choroid fissure closure by limiting Hedgehog signaling during ocular morphogenesis” in the journal Developmental Biology. By manipulating gene activity, the authors demonstrate that the SoxC class transcription factor Sox4 is necessary for proper eye development, specifically regulating the closure of the choroid fissure. Failure to do so causes coloboma, a class of eye disorders observed commonly in human pediatric patients. They further demonstrated that the ocular morphogenesis defects are due to elevated signaling in the Hedgehog pathway and that the ligand Indian Hedgehog b is dramatically overexpressed when Sox4 activity is reduced. The activities of Sox4 are shown to be partly overlapping with those of Sox11, which they have previously reported.


1/22/2015- Travel Award
Melissa Keinath has been selected by the meeting organizers to receive a fellowship ($750) to attend and present a poster at the upcoming Genome10K workshop in Santa Cruz, CA, March 1-4 2015. This relatively exclusive conference will explore critical topics essential for assembling a genomic zoo of some 10,000 vertebrate species to help understand how complex animal life evolved through changes in DNA and use this knowledge to become better stewards of the planet ( Melissa will present “Characterization of a Large Vertebrate Genome Using Shotgun and Laser Capture Chromosome Sequencing" which describes her recent efforts in the Smith lab to sequence and assemble the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) genome.


12/15/14- Fellowship
Robin Bagley, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Catherine Linnen, is the recipient of a two year USDA NIFA fellowship for her project “Testing the host-shift speciation hypothesis in the red-headed pine sawfly (Neodiprion lecontei) using genomic, ecological and reproductive data”.  It is thought that shifts and subsequent adaptation to new hosts are main drivers in the speciation of plant-feeding insects. A primary goal of Robin’s dissertation is to determine if host plant adaptation contributes to speciation in pine sawflies. She will exploit a local outbreak of the redheaded pine sawfly at the UK Arboretum’s Trail of Pines where there are three morphologically and chemically distinct pine host species. The grant, totaling $73,805, will support examination of sawfly populations from these hosts for evidence of genetic, ecological and reproductive isolation to determine if host shifts do contribute to speciation.


12/10/14- Thesis Defense
Congratulations to Lingfeng Tang for defense of his Ph.D. dissertation, “The JAK/STAT pathway is reutilized in Drosophila spermatogenesis.” Lingfeng’s work in the Harrison lab set out to examine the role of Unpaired 3, one of a family of fly cytokines, in regulating maintenance of male fertility. Consistent with a previously known role for the JAK/STAT pathway, he found that Upd3 contributes to maintenance of stem cells in the testis.  He also uncovered a novel and unexpected role for the JAK/STAT pathway in regulating late differentiation of spermatids. Lingfeng has accepted a postdoctoral position at Cornell University and will begin in early 2015.


9/22/14- Publication
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA today published “Beclin-1 deficiency in the murine ovary results in the reduction of progesterone production to promote preterm labor”, a paper authored by Tom Gawriluk, who recently defended his dissertation, on which this work was based. The paper is co-authored with Tom’s thesis mentor, Dr. Ed Rucker, and collaborators from the University of Illinois and the University of Kansas Medical Center. Using mice with a conditional knockout of Beclin1, a regulator of the autophagy pathway, specifically removed in the granulosa cells of the ovary, they find a defect in production of progesterone. This failure to maintain progesterone leads to premature labor. This conditional knockout mouse represents a new model that can be used for studies of preterm labor.


7/10/14- Publication
Lakshmi Pillai-Kastoori is the lead author of a paper published today in PLoS Genetics entitled “Sox11 is required to maintain proper levels of Hedgehog signaling during vertebrate ocular morphogenesis.” The article is co-authored by fellow graduate students Wen Wen and Stephen Wilson and advisor Ann Morris, as well as collaborators at the University of Alberta. The authors demonstrate that the transcription factor Sox11 is essential for proper formation of the eye. In zebrafish deficient for Sox11, they see abnormal lens development, reduction in rod photoreceptors, and failure of choroid fissure closure, known as coloboma. Similar defects are associated with aberrant signaling of the Hedgehog pathway and, indeed, Hedgehog signaling is greatly elevated in Sox 11 deficient animals, suggesting that this may be the primary cause of the observed defects. Lastly, the authors identify two novel sequence variants of Sox11 among patients with coloboma or other eye development defects, suggesting that changes in Sox11 activity may contribute to pediatric eye disorders.


6/24/14- Thesis Defense
Jason Collett successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, “Renal Humoral, Genetic and Genomic Mechanisms Underlying Spontaneous Hypertension”. Jason’s work in the lab of Jeff Osborn has focused on identifying genes responsible for spontaneous high blood pressure in a rat model system. By repeatedly backcrossing hypertensive with normotensive animals and selecting for those with high blood pressure, he was able to isolate genetic factors responsible. Jason has uncovered gene expression changes in both the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes in the kidneys of hypertensive animals that are likely to underlie this condition. Jason will be moving to the Indiana University School of Medicine to begin postdoctoral work later this summer.


5/16/14- Grant
The American Museum of Natural History has awarded a $900 Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Grant to Jacqueline Dillard to support her research investigating how species change their social behavior in response to resource sustainability in ecological time. She will compare native and invasive ambrosia beetle species to examine whether those that inhabit smaller, less sustainable resources are more dispersal prone than species that inhabit resources of variable sustainability. This project will shed light upon both species-level differences in adaptive plasticity as well as the ecological triggers that shape the decisions to disperse or cooperate.


5/2/14- Thesis Defense
Qian Chen has earned her Ph.D., defending her thesis entitled “The interactions between JAK/STAT signaling ligands in Drosophila“. Qian began this work in the Harrison lab six years ago. She developed tools and assays to investigate the physical interactions of the fruit fly Janus kinase pathway cytokines, the Unpaired family, and the influence of these interactions on signaling activity.


4/22/14- Thesis Defense
Tom Gawriluk successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Targeted Knockout of Beclin-1 Reveals an Essential Function in Ovary and Testis". The project, conducted in the lab of Ed Rucker, uncovered unexpected roles of this autophagy promoting protein in gametogenesis. Tom will pursue postdoctoral research right here in the Biology Department in the lab of Ashley Seifert.


4/18/14- Thesis Defense
Josh Titlow has completed his Ph.D. work with the defense of his thesis entitled “DOPAMINERGIC AND ACTIVITY-DEPENDENT MODULATION OF MECHANOSENSORY RESPONSES IN DROSOPHILA MELANOGASTER LARVAE”. Josh’s work in the Cooper lab used an array of genetic, pharmacological, and electrophysiological approaches to investigate nervous system plasticity regulated by the neuromodulator dopamine. Josh will continue using the fruit fly as a model as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in the other UK.


4/15/14- Grant
Justin Kratovil has been awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation in support of his Ph.D. thesis project “Phylogeographic analysis of introgressive gene flow among nuclear loci functionally linked to the mitochondrion”. The research, conducted with his advisor, Dave Weisrock, will use high throughput sequencing methods to evaluate evolutionary patterns of divergence in nuclear and mitochondrial genomes using dusky salamanders.  The NSF is providing $19,485 to support Justin’s research over the next two years.


4/10/14- Thesis Defense
Jann Fry has earned her Ph.D. by successfully defending her thesis, "A plant trait-based approach to determine the feasibility of using native C3 and C4 to restore a functional grassland community in a remnant Bluegrass Savanna-Woodland in Kentucky, USA".  Working with Dr. Scott Gleeson, Jann investigated the ability of various bunchgrass species to restore the functionality of a temperate Midwestern oak savanna.

4/9/14- Publication
Graduate students Josh Titlow and Zana Majeed, working with undergraduates Jordan Rice, Emily Holsopple, and Stephanie Biecker in Robin Cooper’s lab, have received word that their paper “Anatomical and genotype-specific mechanosensory responses in Drosophila melanogaster larvae” has been accepted for publication in Neuroscience Research.


4/3/14- Award
Jim Shaffer, Ph.D. student in the lab of Scott Gleeson, was awarded First Prize in the Graduate Student Oral Presentation competition at the American Society of Plant Biologists-Southern Section's annual conference held in Lexington over the weekend. The title of his talk was "Mammalian herbivory on fourteen experimentally planted native hardwood tree seedlings of the Kentucky Bluegrass savanna-woodland community".

3/21/14- Grant
Jacqueline Dillard , graduate student in Dave Westneat’s lab, has been awarded $1820 for a Short Term Research Fellowship from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to travel to Panama for three months this summer to pursue a project investigating the role of ecology in the evolution of cooperation in bess beetles. By comparing the complexity of family organization among several different species of bess beetles that inhabit different ecological niches, Jacqueline expects to better understand how ecology shapes social behavior. Specifically, she will test the hypothesis that long-lasting, more sustainable resources promote the evolution of more cooperative family groups than short-lived, ephemeral resources.


3/13/14- Thesis Defense
Amber Hale completed the defense of her thesis entitled "ANALYSIS OF THE ROLE OF TWO AUTOPHAGY PATHWAY RELATED GENES, BECN1 AND TSC1, IN MURINE MAMMARY GLAND DEVELOPMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION". Amber’s research, conducted under the mentorship of Ed Rucker, investigated the function of autophagy in the cyclical development and remodeling of the mammary gland with pregnancy, lactation, and weaning. Amber has recently accepted a tenure-track faculty position at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA.