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 ( 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 ( 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.


Brooke D’ArcyBrooke D'Arcy , who is joining the Silver Lab, has been selected to receive a 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellowship. The selection was based on her demonstrated potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. 


Jackie Lin, an undergraduate student in the laboratory of Joseph Heitman, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded a 2018 Biology Faculty Award for outstanding intellectual achievements and excellence in research. Jackie will be listed as an awardee in the official graduation book published by the University and will be recognized at the Biology diploma ceremony with a plaque and gift. Congratulations Jackie on this impressive achievement.

Dr. Nick HeatonNick Heaton is the recipient of the the Hartwell Foundation‘s 2017 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award and designation as a Hartwell Investigator. In selecting awardees, the Foundation takes into account the compelling and transformative nature of the proposed innovation, the extent to which a strategic or translational approach might accelerate the clinical application of research results to benefit children of the United States, the extent of collaboration in the proposed research, the institutional commitment to provide encouragement and technical support to the investigator, and the extent to which funding the investigator will make a difference. See the complete list of recipients here.

Dulcemaria HernandezDulcemaria Hernandez, a graduate student in the Coers Lab, received the NSF graduate research fellowship for 3 years.The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.


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