News

Clare Smith HeadshotSmith selected to be a Whitehead Scholar for the next five years. Clare Smith, Assistant Professor in MGM, has been selected to be a Whitehead Scholar for the next five years. The Whitehead family established a fund at Duke to support new assistant professors and their research. The Smith Lab will pursue the mechanisms b which genetic variation in the host alters the immune pressures experienced by pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. By understanding how these interactions drive specific arms of immunity, new host-pathogen paired vaccines and therapeutics can be rationally designed.

Lawrence David, Assistant Professor in MGM, was presented with an unusual project by his advisor when he was a student: to study his own feces for a full year. By accepting this challenge, Lawrence went on a journey of scientific and personal discovery, see below:

Lickwar receives School of Medicine Research Staff Appreciation Award. Dr. Colin Lickwar, a Research Scientist in the laboratory of Dr. John Rawls, has received the School of Medicine Research Staff Appreciation Award. Sponsored by the Dean and Research Vice Deans, this award recognizes recognize staff members who provide exemplary support in the conduct of research. Applying his expertise in genome science and bioinformatics, Colin conducts primary research into the transcriptional mechanisms underlying host-microbe symbiosis and other aspects of intestinal physiology. His recent paper in PLoS Biology revealed a transcriptional regulatory network in intestinal epithelial cells that has been conserved over the last 420 million years of vertebrate evolution. He also contributes significantly to lab management, to mentoring of trainees, and to supporting many other research projects and collaborations in the Rawls lab.

 

Gokhale nominee for Weintraub award. Congratulations to Nandan Gokhakle on being selected as MGM’s nominee for the Weintraub award, this award recognizes outstanding achievement during graduate studies in the biological sciences.

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.

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: https://gradschool.duke.edu/professional-development/blog/understanding-duke-health-insurance-emerging-leaders-institute-project

 

 

(Click here for more news articles)