• 2018 MGM Faculty Search
    August 17, 2018

    Tenure-track Faculty Position (Assistant/Associate/Full Professor) Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Duke University School of Medicine Applications are invited for …

  • MGM 2018 Graduation Party
    May 4, 2018

    Congratulations to the 2018 MGM Graduates! Best wishes to all of you! (click link for pictures)  

  • MGM Newest Faculty Member:
    March 21, 2018

    Craig Lowe arriving in June 2018


Matt ScaglioneDr. Matt Scaglione arrives at Duke on January 1, 2019.  Matt Scaglione is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin and will arrive at Duke January 1, 2019 in the Center for Neurodegeneration and Neurotherapeutics and the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. From Al La Spada, the center director: “Matt’s postdoctoral work was done with Hank Paulson at the University of Michigan and focused on how proteins are selected for degradation by the chaperone-ubiquitin-proteasome system, with an emphasis on how this regulates the accumulation of pathological protein aggregates. Since starting his own lab in 2013, Matt has begun using the amoeba Dictyostelium discoidium as a model system to study an inherent mechanism of resistance to polyglutamine-driven protein aggregation. He has discovered a chaperone protein that uses an amyloid decoy domain to interact with polyQ-expanded proteins and target them for degradation by the proteosome. More recently, he has identified a chaperone protein that forms a biomolecular condensate via phase-phase separation can prevent protein aggregation in Dictyostelium. These are fascinating stories that have potential clinical implications for neurodegenerative diseases. Matt is using a variety of genetic and biochemical approaches and is extending his studies to mice and human cells.”

Jen-Tsan "Ashley" ChiJen-Tsan “Ashley” Chi, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and lab recently published new findings on unmasking blood doping in athletes. Read more about the findings in the Duke Today news release.   Read the published research here.



Dennis Ko and Sam Miller Professor Samuel Miller from University of Washington gave a talk entitled “Are Pathogenic Bacteria Just Looking for Food” for the Thursday Seminar Series on October 11. Dr. Miller served as the post-doctoral mentor for MGM faculty member Dennis Ko from 2006-2012. In appreciation for Dr. Miller encouraging mentees to take on high-risk, high-reward projects while providing the mentorship and support to succeed, Dennis presented him with a piece of the Apollo 11 command module foil, which served to protect astronauts during the moon mission.

Sam is Professor of Medicine, Microbiology, Immunology and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington. He has made groundbreaking discoveries including sensing of pH and antimicrobial peptides by PhoP/Q, immune evasion through modification of LPS, antibiotic induction of biofilms, structure-function of the TTSS and associated effectors, evolution of Pseudomoas in the CF lung, mechanisms and visualization of c-di-GMP signaling dynamics, role of the microbiome in CF and Crohn’s disease, and novel systems to study host-pathogen interactions. These systems included expression of Salmonella effectors in yeast developed by his postdoc Cammie Lesser who was here last week, and cellular GWAS with the Hi-HOST approach that Dennis developed while in his lab. Most recently Sam has turned his attention to characterization of genes of unknown function in Acinetobacter.

Sam has authored over 200 publications and has been recognized with numerous honors including the Squibb Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Society of Clinical Investigation, and the American Association of Physicians.

Joseph Heitman Nicholas Heaton HeadshotHeitman and Heaton received 2019 awards from ASM  Joseph Heitman, M.D., Ph.D., Chair and James B. Duke Professor and Nicholas Heaton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology have received 2019 awards from the American Society for Microbiology.  Dr. Heitman received the ASM 2019 Award for Basic Research which recognizes an outstanding scientist whose discoveries have been fundamental in advancing our understanding of the microbial world.  Dr. Heaton received the ASM 2019 Award for Early Career Basic Research which recognizes an early career investigator with distinguished basic research achievements in the microbial sciences.  Click here for the School of Medicine Blog post.  Click here for the ASM 2019 Award Winners Announcement.

Dr. John Rawls and collaborator Dr. Steven Farber from the Carnegie Institution were recently awarded a Pew Innovation Fund grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Their project uses zebrafish to investigate how dietary nutrients and microbes alter the body’s ability to sense glucose in the gut. The Pew Innovation Fund supports innovative interdisciplinary collaborations between former Pew Scholars and Fellows.  Click here for more information.


Dionna Gamble, a PhD candidate in the Jinks-Robertson lab, has been awarded a NIGMS Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Indiviual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support her research which centers around the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) via homologous recombination (HR) in the budding yeast. Specifically Dionna is investigating the effect of different DSB end structures, created by nuclease platforms, on the intermediates and outcomes of HR.

MGM Faculty Search: Applications are invited for a faculty position at the Assistant (tenure track), Associate or Full Professor level in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the Duke University School of Medicine. The Department provides a focus for a wide range of research activities that include microbiology and virology, host-microbe interactions, RNA biology, genetics/genomics of model systems, and chromosome structure/metabolism. We seek an individual who will establish an outstanding research program that complements the existing strengths of the Department and addresses a significant biological or disease-related question. Excellent facilities and a competitive start-up package will be provided by the Department.  Click here for more information.

Matsunami invited to serve as a member of the Chemosensory Systems Study Section.  Hiro Matsunami, PhD accepted and invitation to serve as a member of the Chemosensory Systems Study Section at NIH effective immediately until June 30, 2022.  Members are selected based on their demonstrated achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities and honors.  Congratulations Hiro!

Fu and Pianalto awarded poster prize at the recent 2018 Cellular and Molecular Fungal Biology Gordon Research Conference. Ci Fu present the following poster entitled,  “Filamentation promotes foraging for mating partners of the opposite mating type in Cryptococcus deneoformans”. In this project, we tested whether the unisexual filamentation phenotype has any ecological benefits in promoting foraging for mating. Through competitive mating assays using strains of different filamentation phenotypes, we found that filamentation does not promote foraging for mating partners of the same mating type, but when cells of the opposite mating type were present, filamentation could promote foraging for mating partners of both the same and the opposite mating types.  Kaila Pianalto presented a poster entitled, “Multifunctional Nap1 Promotes Rim Alkaline pH Pathway Signaling in Cryptococcus neoformans through Protein Stability Maintenance.” The project I presented was describing the novel role for Nucleosome Assembly Protein 1 in the activation of the Rim pathway in Cryptococcus neoformans, a pathway that is required for sensing and responding to the host through changes in pH. I described how this protein likely is regulating the pathway through interactions with the pH sensor that are required for maintaining the protein levels of the sensor. I also described some new work that I am pursuing that is aiming to identify other mechanisms by which the pH sensor and the alkaline pH signaling pathway are regulated.

head shot of Joseph HeitmanFront of Rhoda Benham 2018 Medal Back of Rhoda Benham 2018 Medal Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD received the 2018 Rhoda Benham Award from the Medical Mycological Society of the Americas (MMSA) for continuous outstanding or meritorious contributions to medical mycology (https://www.mycologicalsociety.org/rhoda_benham_award). The award and medal were presented at the MMSA Annual Banquet held in conjunction with the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Microbe meeting in Atlanta, GA on Saturday June 9th, 2018. Rhoda Benham was a luminary and international expert in medical mycology who served on the faculty at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University. Her work focused on clinical microbiology and in particular emphasized analysis and characterization of pathogenic Candida and Cryptococcus species and dermatophytes. Dr. Heitman joins an illustrious group of previous recipients of the Rhoda Benham award, which has been awarded annually since 1967, including notable Cryptococcus researchers June Kwon-Chung, Arturo Casadevall, John Perfect, and many others (https://www.mycologicalsociety.org/rhoda_benham_awardees). Dr. Heitman’s research program focuses on both model and pathogenic fungi, including studies on 1) the mechanisms of action and the targets of natural products including the discovery of TOR and FKBP12 as the targets of rapamycin, 2) the evolution and impact of sexual reproduction and the key discovery of unisexual reproduction among eukaryotic microbial pathogens, 3) how pathogenic microbes sense and respond to the host and environmental signals, 4) the structure, function and evolution of fungal mating type loci and fungal genomes, and 5) the role of the phosphatase calcineurin as a globally conserved fungal virulence factor including efforts to develop novel antimicrobial agents that target fungal calcineurin. Dr. Heitman is an elected fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the American Academy of Microbiology, the Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), and the Association of American Physicians, and has previously received the ASBMB AMGEN Award (2002), the Squibb Award from the IDSA (2003), a MERIT Award from NIH-NIAID (2011-2012), and the Stanley Korsmeyer Award from the ASCI (2018). Dr. Heitman is James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University. Talk presented at the banquet on June 9, 2018.  Rhoda Benham award talk 2018 and Rhoda Benham Dinner Talk


Tatjana Abaffy, Ph.D, Assistant Research Professor in the laboratory of Hiro Matsunami, M.D., recently published an online research article in Frontiers in Oncology that was featured by multiple news outlets including Duke Today. The article entitled, “A Testosterone Metabolite 19-Hydroxyandrostenedione Induces Neuroendocrine Trans-Differentiation of Prostate Cancer Cells via an Ectopic Olfactory Receptor”, discuss new research that one olfactory receptor plays a critical role in the progression of prostate cancer. They found that activating an olfactory receptor called OR51E2 in prostate cancer cells caused the cancer to morph into the more aggressive, ‘castration-resistant’ form of the disease. To read more, click on the following links: Duke Today; UPI; Frontiers in Oncology.


Dr. Dennis Ko has been awarded the 2018 Irving S. Sigal Memorial Award. Dr. Ko has made significant contributions that bridge microbiology, infectious disease, and human genetics. His pioneering work combining cellular microbiology with human genome wide association studies have identified human genetic differences that impact host-pathogen interactions and human disease susceptibility. This award, sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology and Merck, recognizes and awards excellence in basic research in medical microbiology and infectious diseases. The award is presented in memory of Irving S. Sigal, who was instrumental in the early discovery of therapies to treat HIV/AIDS.  Click here for more information.


Kevin ZhuKevin Zhu, a PhD candidate in the Matsunami Lab, has been awarded a NIDCD Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship. This award will support his research to develop and implement a novel method to map the receptor-specific target sites of olfactory neurons traveling from the nasal epithelium to the olfactory bulb.



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