Claire Awarded K99/R00. Congratulations to Claire De March, postdoc in Hiro Matsunami lab, on her K99/R00 application being recommended for funding by the NIH. Claire’s research focuses on the understanding of molecular mechanisms related to the perception of odors. Since her thesis, she has mastered the protein reconstruction tools by homology modeling and molecular dynamics simulations to identify a uniform activation mechanism, common to all mammalian odorant receptors. She is particularly interested in investigating the role of conserved amino acid patterns in odorant receptors and how that defines their identity within the GPCR family. Claire tests the mechanistic hypotheses emitted by her theoretical models using in vitro approaches that was learned in her post-doctorate laboratory at Duke University in the lab of Pr. Hiroaki Matsunami. She uses the synergistic aspect of the theoretical and experimental approaches to obtain a reliable study model that allows her to answer major mechanistic questions related to the perception of odors. Claire’s postdoctoral training allied with her previous expertise gives Claire an understanding of olfaction from an atomic level odorant molecules recognition to the perception of an odor and the emotion it triggers.

Sue Jinks-Robertson

Congratulations Sue Jinks-Robertson on being nominated as the Blue Devil of the Week. Sue was nominated by her colleagues for having an intriguing job and going above and beyond to make a difference at Duke. To read more, click here.



Espenchied and Gokhale recipients of the 2019 Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence (CARE). Congratulations to Ted Espenchied and Nandan Gokhale on receiving this award, this award acknowledges their hard work as a graduate student, including the scientific discoveries and publications they have contributed to, as well as the positive impact they have had on lab, departmental, and institutional culture.

Ted Espenschied completed his PhD in July 2019 under the mentorship of John Rawls, PhD, associate professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Ted’s dissertation, “Chemical and Microbial Regulation of Epithelial Homeostasis and Innate Immunity,” focused on investigating 1) how cells of the intestine sense and respond to foreign compounds (such as pharmaceuticals), and 2) how signals from the indigenous microbiota influence the development and function of neutrophils (cells of the innate immune system that protect animals from invading pathogens). A portion of this work was recently published in PNAS, where he described intestinal epithelial cell shedding as a novel protective response to pharmaceutical-induced injury.

Nandan’s thesis work focuses on understanding RNA regulatory controls of viral infection. Specifically, he studies how the RNA modification N6-methyladenosine (m6A) on viral and host RNAs regulates infection by viruses in the Flaviviridae family. Nandan found that m6A on the hepatitis C virus RNA genome negatively regulates viral particle production by facilitating a competition between the viral capsid protein and cellular m6A “reader” proteins for viral RNA packaging into virions (Gokhale et al., 2016). This work described a new regulatory mechanism of viral infection, and reveals that m6A acts on viral RNAs to regulate distinct stages of their life cycles. Nandan has also identified infection-induced changes in the cellular m6A-epitranscriptome which indicate that m6A exerts transcript-specific effects to influence the fate of cellular mRNAs and ultimately affect viral infection (Gokhale, McIntyre et al., 2019). Together, these exciting findings are illuminating how m6A dynamically regulates the host response to RNA virus infection and why it matters.

A reception in honor of award recipients will be held on October 23rd starting at 6:30pm at the Washington Duke Inn


Nicole Stantial

The Graduate School has just published a piece by MGM student, Nicole Stantial, and her teammates from the Emerging Leaders Institute on the project they executed to help graduate students and postdocs better understand U.S. health insurance. You can find the piece here:


Yadav receives Young Scientist Award.  Vikas Yadav, a Postdoc in Joe Heitman’s lab, receives Young Scientist awards from two science academies – National Academy of Science, India (NASI) and Indian National Science Academy (INSA). The awards (INSA Medal for Young Scientist and NASI-Young Scientist Platinum Jubilee) are being given for his research work during his PhD with Prof. Kaustuv Sanyal at JNCASR, Bengaluru, India in a collaboration with the Heitman lab. The awards are considered to be the highest recognition of promise, creativity and excellence in a young Scientist. He characterized centromeres in the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans and identified the role of RNAi machinery in the regulation of centromeres length and structure. This work along with his other contributions was published in PNAS, PLoS biology, mBio and mSphere. Please click here to read more on this accomplishment.


Hoye Awarded a F32 from NINDS. Mariah Hoye, a postdoc in Debby Silver’s lab, was recently awarded a F32 from NINDS for her work on a new intellectual disability gene, DDX3X, which codes for an RNA helicase. Previous work in the lab found that depletion of Ddx3x during embryonic brain development led to more neural progenitors and less neurons in mice. Dr. Hoye is now using a conditional knockout mouse to better understand the unique requirements for Ddx3x in neural progenitors and neurons during brain development. Specifically, Dr. Hoye is interested in understanding how DDX3X controls neural progenitor fate decisions, as loss of Ddx3x impairs neurogenesis. As an RNA helicase, DDX3X functions in multiple aspects of RNA processing, but has a prominent role in translation initiation of mRNAs with highly structured 5′ UTRs. Dr. Hoye is employing a genome-wide translational analysis, ribosome footprinting, to identify mRNAs in neural progenitors which require DDX3X for their translation. Identifying these DDX3X-dependent mRNAs may inform mRNAs whose translation is required for neural progenitor fate decisions

Giny FoudaEleanor Semmes Stephen Kirchner






Congratulations to Giny Fouda (secondary MGM Faculty) and Eleanor Semmes and Stephen Kirchner who are both MD/PhD students in MGM who were elected to the Duke University School of Medicine chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society for the fall 2019. Twice a year the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Honor Society elects a small number of new members.  The criteria include scholastic achievement, leadership capabilities, ethical standards, fairness in dealing with colleagues, demonstrated professionalism, achievement and/or potential for achievement in medicine, and a record of service to the school and community at large. Membership in AOA is a distinction that accompanies a physician throughout his or her career. In the fall the society elects a small number of faculty and alumni. The competition is especially stiff for faculty as only 3 are elected each year.


Sue Jinks-Robertson celebration

Celebration for Jinks-Robertson. The Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology held a special celebration to honor Sue Jinks-Robertson, PhD, Professor and co-Vice Chair in the department, on being elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

please click here for more photos


Congratulations Jackie Lin. Please congratulate Jackie Lin on her acceptance to medical school at the University of California San Francisco. Jackie was an undergraduate researcher in the Heitman lab.



Passing of Dr. Wolfgang “Bill” Joklik. It is with great sadness to inform you that Dr. Wolfgang “Bill” Joklik, Virologists and James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, died in Durham, North Carolina on July 7, 2019. He chaired the department for 25 years.

In 1981 Dr. Joklik founded the American Society for Viriology, the first scientific society specifically for virologists, and served a two-year term as its founding president.

Trained as a biochemist, Dr. Joklik was one of the pioneers of Molecular Virology.  His work on the mechanisms underlying how viruses infect cells, multiply and cause disease laid the groundwork for the development of vaccines and antiviral agents.  He published more than 250 research papers and reviews, and for 25 years was Editor-in-Chief of and a major contributor to Zinsser Microbiology, one of the two leading texts for medical students. He was Editor-in-Chief of Virology, the primary journal in its field, for eighteen years.  He was a member/chairman of numerous Study Sections and Committees of the National Institutes of health and the American Cancer Society.

The Joklik Distinguished Lectureship, founded in MGM in 2010 is held annually to honor Dr. Joklik. The tenth annual Joklik lecturer this year will be Tom Shenk from Princeton.  His talk will be presented at the annual MGM Departmental Retreat, September 6-8, 2019 in Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Please join in extending your deepest condolences to Dr. Joklik’s entire family and community of friends.

A mass of Christian burial for Dr. Joklik will be offered on Friday, July 12, 2019 at 10:00am at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Durham, NC.

To read the entire obituary, please click here .

The flags on Duke University’s campus have been lowered to half staff in honor of Dr. Joklik.

Dr. Joklik’s Lifetime Achievement Award Video (produced in 2013)

Kutsch receives German Research Foundation (DFG) fellowship. Congratulations to Miriam Kutsch, postdoc in the Coers lab, on being awarded this fellowship. The 2-year DFG research fellowship is intended to support German early career scientists conducting innovative research at an international institution. Miriam’s research aims to understand an immune defense program directed at bacteria entering the host cell cytosol of human cells. In her research, she applies innovative biochemical and cell biological approaches to determine how the human defense protein GBP1 catches and conquers bacterial invaders.

Sullivan named Associate Dean for Research Training. Beth Sullivan, PhD, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology has been named Associate Dean for Research Training for the Duke School of Medicine. Dr. Sullivan, a human geneticist whose lab studies mechanisms of genome stability and centromere function, will oversee the Office of Biomedical Graduate Education and coordinate activities with the Office for Postdoctoral Affairs. She will provide leadership and broad strategic vision for all areas related to research training for biomedical Ph.D. students and postdoctoral appointees. Learn more at the Duke Med School blog: click here.

JNCASR has been featured in the top 10 list of Nature Index normalized ranking. Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) ( is a multidisciplinary research institute situated in Bangalore, India. It is relatively young yet well-known around the world. The mandate of JNCASR is to pursue and promote world-class research and training at the frontiers of Science and Engineering covering broad areas ranging from Materials to Genetics. It provides a vibrant academic ambience hosting more than 300 researchers and around 50 faculty members.  The Centre is funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and is a deemed university.  JNCASR has been featured in the top 10 among the academic instituions in a recently published Nature Ranking (normalized) 2018 (  Kaustuv Sanyal’s group ( at JNCASR collaborates extensively with Joe Heitman’s group in the Duke University Medical Center. This collaboration led to many discoveries and publications including a recent paper in PNAS that has been cosidered for JNCASR’s recent ranking.


Heitman and Heaton receive ASM Award at the 2019 ASM Microbe Meeting.  Joseph Heitman, M.D., Ph.D., James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and Nicholas Heaton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, received the 2019 ASM Microbe Award at the 2019 ASM Microbe conference in San Francisco, CA (June 20-25, 2019).   ASM Microbe tweeted the awards here.

Congratulations Daniel Snellings.  MGM graduate student Dan Snellings won first prize for best Oral Presentation in the Basic Sciences Category at the International Scientific Conference on Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia, held in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico last week.     This conference, held every two years, brings together physicians and scientists from around the world who are studying this hereditary vascular disease.  Dan’s presentation showcased his discovery that the vascular malformations in HHT contain bi-allelic (germline plus somatic) mutations in the causative genes.   His work overturns a long-standing but incorrect assumption that HHT is caused by haploinsufficiency of the gene product.


Martinez featured on Duke Health News for a recent study published in Cell. David Martinez, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology along with Dr. Sallie Permar conducted research focusing on improving maternal vaccines that also protect newborns.  To read more about the research, click here. To read the full manuscript, click here.

To read more, click here.

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