Graduate Student Directory

Marcela Kokes
MGM Graduate Student

272 JONES Building
Box 3580 DUMC
Durham, N.C. 27710

Phone: (919) 668-2450
Fax: (919) 681-9193

Marcela Kokes

Research Interest: Mechanisms of host cell manipulation by intracellular pathogens.

I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. I moved to Portland, Oregon where I pursued my B.A. in Biology at a small liberal arts school--Lewis & Clark College. I really enjoyed my time there and found a small school to be a wonderful environment for me to truly challenge and advance myself. Portland was a fantastic city to live in, with great food, good biking, and beautiful summers.

At the beginning of my second year there, I was recruited into the lab of Dr. Greg Hermann, one of the ten or so biology faculty. There, I studied lysosome-related organelle biogenesis with the model organism C. elegans. Greg is a very enthusiastic mentor and a great professor who had a huge impact on my development as a scientist--from him and LC, I began to learn how to analyze critically and evaluate the meaning and broader significance of data. I learned that I love to think about intricate processes that occur inside cells.

Coming into undergrad, I had originally wanted to study marine biology, so I searched for a summer NSF REU between my second and third year to gain experience doing other types of research. I did my REU at the College of Marine and Earth Studies at University of Delaware, getting preliminary data for a project looking at changes in microbial communities in arctic tundra soils in response to global climate change. My work focused on archeal (microbe not bacteria or eukaryotes) communities, and I traveled to a remote field station in Alaska to collect samples. With these data, I went to the annual American Society of Microbiology meeting the next summer, where I realized the broad reach and significance that microbes have. I eventually came to understand that I could ask distal evolutionary questions about how organisms adapt, behave, and evolve, and still think about and conceptualize cellular processes by studying how microbes closely interact with host eukaryotic cells.

Not having actually had any experience studying microbial pathogenesis, the umbrella Cell and Molecular Biology program here at Duke University held great appeal to me, and I found the program to have the highest academic integrity of all my interviews. Since I’ve come here, I’ve found that I really do love microbial pathogenesis, cell biology, and being a graduate student! I’ve joined the lab of Rahpael Valdivia, where we study how the ancient obligate intracellular pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis manipulates host cells through the actions of proteins it secretes into the host cell.

My current project is investigating how which host and bacterial factors coordinate to assemble and maintain a host cytoskeletal cage that surrounds and supports the bacteria-containing vacuole within infected cells. My work compels me, and as I’ve greatly developed my skills and mind as a scientist here at Duke. And Durham is a surprisingly great place to be--good food, culture, countryside (easily accessible mountains and ocean!). People are very friendly here and I’ve really come to like it. I’ve gone fishing, skiing, kayaking, rock climbing, fishing, berry picking, cycling on country roads (from my house!), seen plenty of really good plays, found all kinds of delicious food, good bars, baseball in the summer, state fair--among all the things I can’t remember. And that in the photo with me is one of my two sweet cats--Muesli and Calypso.

American Heart Association Fellowship recipient, 2011

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