Carolyn Coyne Raphael ValdiviaCoyne and Valdivia named Distinguished Professors

Two MGM faculty have been awarded distinguished professorships by Duke University. Appointment to a distinguished professorship is the highest honor the university can bestow upon a member of the faculty, recognizing faculty who are well-established members of the Duke academic community and who have also achieved distinction as creative scholars in their field or in their ability to transcend disciplines.

Carolyn Coyne, PhD, has been named George Barth Geller Distinguished Professor of Immunology.

Raphael Valdivia, PhD, has been named Nanaline H. Duke Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

To learn more about the 2022 honorees, click here.

John RawlsRawls research featured in Duke Today

The microbes that help break down food actually tell the gut how to do its job better, according to a new study in mice from John Rawls, PhD, and his lab. It appears that the microbes are able to influence which of the gut’s genes are being called into action, and in turn, that interaction might lead to a remodeling of the epithelial cells lining the gut so that they match the diet. To learn more, click here.

Raphael ValdiviaValdivia to serve as interim chair of Immunology

Effective August 1, 2022, Raphael Valdivia, PhD, Nanaline H. Duke Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and former Vice Dean for Basic Science for School of Medicine, will take on the role of interim chair of the Department of Immunology. In this role, Dr. Valdivia will form and chair a task force that will be charged with helping set a course for the future to ensure Duke’s preeminence in immunology and its intersection with other scientific areas of study.

Lee DolatLee Dolat wins JCS Prize

Lee Dolat (Valdivia lab) is the winner of the 2021 JCS Prize for his paper entitled “An endometrial organoid model of interactions between Chlamydia and epithelial and immune cells” (Dolat and Valdivia, 2021).

The prize of £1000 is awarded annually to the first author of the paper that is judged by the Editors to be the best eligible paper published in the Journal of Cell Science that year. To be considered for the prize, the first author must be a student or a postdoc of no more than five years standing. To learn more, click here.

Kris MathewsMathews promoted to Chief Administrative Officer

Kris Mathews has been promoted by the School of Medicine from Senior Business Manager to Administrative Director, with a new working title: Chief Administrative Officer in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. This is a richly deserved promotion in recognition of Kris’ myriad contributions to the success of both MGM and the School of Medicine.

Kris arrived with nearly 20 years of previous research administration and financial management experience when she joined MGM and Duke in March of 2015. In her positions at Duke, she has served as Grants and Contracts Administrator and Financial Analyst II before assuming the Senior Business Manager position in January 2020. As Chief Administrative Officer of MGM, Kris will continue to provide overall administrative leadership for our highly productive department, including coordination of support for MGM faculty and labs, managing departmental finances and budgets, grant administration, space and facilities planning, and policy interpretation. Kris oversees 13 MGM administrative team members, and together they support our MGM community and mission of outstanding research, training, and education. We are deeply indebted to Kris for her administrative leadership, acumen, and sage advice and vision, and to her team of their dedication and service that contribute to the success of the department at every level. Please join us in congratulating Kris on this richly deserved promotion and in thanking her for her dedication to excellence and success of the department.

Nick Heaton Dong YanHeaton and Yan promoted to Associate Professor with tenure

Please join in congratulating Nick Heaton and Dong Yan, whose promotions to Associate Professor with tenure were recently approved by the Duke Board of Trustees. The promotions are richly deserved, and MGM is very fortunate to have Nick and Dong as colleagues. Yan joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology in 2014, and Heaton joined in 2015.

The Yan lab‘s research focuses on understanding mechanisms underlying neuronal development, regeneration, and degeneration. They use a free-living tiny roundworm, called Caenorhabditis elegans, as a model. The defined cell lineage, completely mapped connectome and rapid life cycle of this organism greatly facilitate investigating nervous system at the subcellular resolution. Using cutting edge laser axotomy, live imaging, and genetic and genome editing approaches, they address questions related to neurons and glia in development and aging.

The Heaton lab is primarily interested in the study of respiratory RNA viruses. They have published work on viruses of the families: orthomyxoviridae, paramyxoviridae, and coronaviridae. In particular, the lab’s current work is focused on the orthomyxovirus influenza A, as well as the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, as these are the viruses that have caused, and remain capable of causing, global pandemics.

Aruna Menon Jessica PortilloAruna Menon and Jessica Portillo receive honorable mentions from NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Aruna Menon (Tobin Lab) and Jessica Portillo were among only five students in the School of Medicine to receive honorable mentions for 2022 from the NSF GRFP. Launched in 1952, the NSF GRFP is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind. It funds outstanding graduate students pursuing PhD or research master’s degrees in NSF-supported Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) disciplines. To read more about Duke SOM students and the NSF GRFP, click here.

Ping Hsueh given Taiwan outstanding women in science award
Yen-Ping (“Ping”) Hsueh, PhD, has received a Taiwan outstanding women in science award (young scientist category). She writes that winning the award was a humbling experience and she will continue to try her best to inspire the next generation of young students in her native Taiwan. Ping conducted her graduate work on the genetics and evolution of the sexual cycle and the mating-type locus of the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Heitman. She currently heads her own research group at IMB at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica.

Inas Aboobakar completing glaucoma research fellowship at Mass Eye and Ear
Inas Aboobakar, MD, recently sent the following update: “I was fortunate to work in Joe Heitman’s lab from 2008-2011 while I was an undergraduate student at Duke University. This was my first time working in a lab and I could not have asked for a better mentored research experience with Joe and Lukasz Kozubowski, who is now on faculty at Clemson. Together we published two manuscripts and I also had the opportunity to present the findings of my project at the American Society of Microbiology annual meeting. I stayed at Duke for medical school and pursued ophthalmology research at the Duke Eye Center, which was supported in part through the Duke MGM department’s Student Research Fellowship. I subsequently completed ophthalmology residency at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute and a glaucoma fellowship at Harvard/Mass Eye and Ear. Currently I am completing a glaucoma research fellowship at Mass Eye and Ear and plan to apply for an NIH K08 Clinician-Scientist Development Award.

I am incredibly grateful to the Duke MGM Department and Joe for supporting the research endeavors of undergraduates and medical students, which instilled in me a passion for a clinician-scientist career path and provided an excellent foundation for every subsequent research opportunity I have pursued.”

Vikas YadavVikas Yadav receives DeLill Nasser Award from GSA
Vikas Yadav, PhD (Heitman Lab) has received a DeLill Nasser Award for Professional Development in Genetics for Fall 2021 from the Genetics Society of America. Given twice a year to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, DeLill Nasser Awards support attendance at meetings and laboratory courses. To read more about the Fall 2021 DeLill Nasser awardees, click here.

Elliott Sorelle, PhD Matthew Thompson, PhDElliott SoRelle and Matthew Thompson receive ACS Postdoctoral Fellowships

Elliott SoRelle, PhD (Luftig Lab) and Matthew Thompson, PhD (Horner Lab) have been awarded American Cancer Society (ACS) Postdoctoral Fellowships.

“I am honored and grateful to have received a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Cancer Society,” says Dr. SoRelle, whose project title is Resolving the origins of restricted fate in Epstein-Barr Virus-induced B lymphocyte proliferation. “This fellowship provides essential support for my research with Dr. Micah Luftig (MGM) and Dr. Cliburn Chan (Dept. of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics) to dissect and model the critical early stages of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection at single-cell resolution. I am especially excited that this award will help us gain deeper understanding of the host-pathogen dynamics that govern the diverse fates that EBV-infected B cells may experience — a spectrum of outcomes ranging from growth arrest mediated by host antiviral responses to virus-driven oncogenic potential. This work will shed light on key gene regulatory events that underlie the establishment of lifelong infection by a virus associated with over 200,000 human cancers diagnosed each year.”

His sponsor Dr. Micah Luftig reflects, “Elliott is an outstanding postdoc in the lab who has dedicated himself to learning and applying computational tools to interesting questions at the virus/ host interface. After being supported by the long standing Viral Oncology Training Grant, his recent single cell studies have been recognized by the American Cancer Society with a postdoctoral fellowship. I look forward to seeing what Elliott discovers in these exciting studies supported by the ACS.”

Dr. Thompson’s project is entitled Defining the mechanism by which a novel m6A-binding protein shields cells from immunostimulatory RNA. Interferon has shown promise as an adjuvant in cancer therapy and as a cancer prognostic. However, patients have different response rates to interferon therapies. As such, understanding how cells respond to interferon, as well as the mechanisms that regulate interferon induction, are important to guide the use and development of interferon-based cancer therapeutics. Dr. Thompson has identified a novel interferon-induced RNA binding protein that prevents aberrant interferon induction. His work on this fellowship will determine the cellular RNAs bound by this protein, the mechanism by which they are detected, and how this protein prevents aberrant interferon induction by dysregulated cellular RNA. Dr. Thompson received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and his BS from Kent State University.

“The fellowship is extremely helpful for me progressing as a trainee,” says Dr. Thompson. “In addition to the research, Stacy and I came up with a great training plan in the proposal that includes conferences and workshops as well as meeting with a postdoctoral advisory committee to give me advice about moving forward in my career.”

His sponsor Dr. Stacy Horner comments, “Matthew brings a wealth of RNA-protein interaction knowledge to the lab and to MGM, having done his PhD on the regulation of splicing during viral infection. This expertise has helped him to make the exciting discovery that a specific interferon-induced RNA binding protein, described by others as binding to viral RNA, also plays an important role in sensing specific mis-regulated host RNA to limit improper induction of IFN. His approach to this project has been creative and innovative, and he is always thinking about how to tackle his next experimental questions. I enjoy brainstorming with Matthew, and I’m looking forward to working with him more on this project during his fellowship!”

Yong-Sun Bahn appointed Underwood Distinguished Professor by Yonsei University
Dr. Yong-Sun Bahn, who is alumni of the Joe Heitman lab at Duke, has been recently appointed as Underwood Distinguished Professor by Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious institutions in Korea, newly appoints eight Underwood Distinguished Professors, including Dr. Bahn, at various research fields based on their scientific and academic achievements. Dr. Bahn will be awarded with monetary incentives and partial exemption of teaching assignment for next three years. Dr. Bahn obtained his PhD degree from Paula Sundstrom’s lab at Ohio State University and was trained as a post-doctoral fellow in the Heitman lab from 2003 to 2006. Dr. Bahn has contributed to functionally characterizing complex signaling pathways governing growth, differentiation, stress responses, and virulence of human fungal pathogens, including Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans, through molecular and genetics approaches over several decades and understanding fungal pathogenesis mechanisms. He also made a significant contribution to the microbiology society by serving as editor for a number of journals, including mBio, Eukaryotic Cell, mSphere, PLoS ONE, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, and Journal of Microbiology, and as reviewer for many key papers published in the field of fungal genetics and biology. Dr. Bahn is a leader in Asian and Korean microbiology and mycology societies. He has served on the organizing committees of many international meetings hosted by the Microbiology Society of Korea (MSK), the Korean Society for Microbiology and Biotechnology (KMB), the Asian Mycological Congress (AMC), and the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS) and thereby contributed to active academic interactions between Asian/Korean microbiologists and other foreign investigators. Due to his scientific contributions, Dr. Bahn received the Medytox Academic Achievement Award from the MSK, the Woojae Academic Award and Scientific Achievement Award from the KMB, the Excellent Research Achievement Award from Yonsei University, and many others. Currently, Dr. Bahn is a tenured professor at Dept. of Biotechnology, Yonsei University and a fellow of American Academy of Microbiology (AAM).

Tom PetesDr. Tom Petes receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Genetics Society of America
Tom Petes, PhD, will be presented with the GSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2022 Yeast Genetics Meeting in Los Angeles. This award is given to a researcher who has made a lifetime of contributions to the field of yeast genetics and outstanding community service. Tom’s work on genome replication and stability maintenance in yeast has made an important and sustained impact. He was previously named the 2013 recipient of the GSA’s Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime achievement in the field of genetics.

Jeff Bourgeois Dan SnellingsJeff Bourgeois and Dan Snellings receive Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence (CARE)

MGM graduate students Jeff Bourgeois, Jr. (Ko Lab) and Dan Snellings (Marchuk Lab) have been selected as recipients of the 2021-2022 Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence (CARE).

“I’m extremely shocked, grateful, and honored to have received the CARE award,” says Jeff. “I didn’t know that I had been nominated, never mind that I would be competitive for it. I’m incredibly thankful for Dennis Ko, as he’s been a never-ending source of encouragement and inspiration over the past six years, and has molded me into the researcher I am today. I’m also indebted to the UPGG program and MGM department for the incredible support and helpful conversations I’ve benefited from during my time at Duke.”

His mentor Dennis Ko reflects, “Jeff has had an impact on so many projects during his time in my lab. From his relentless drive in pushing forward his own projects on Salmonella virulence to helping on so many other projects by doing experiments and training many students on various techniques to his great constructive feedback in lab meetings and on manuscripts and grants. My lab just wouldn’t be what it has become without him, and I look forward to seeing what scientific challenges he tackles in the years ahead.”

Dan Snellings responds, “I am honored to be chosen for the Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence. I have been very fortunate throughout my training to have the support of my advisor Douglas Marchuk and the MGM community which has been an amazing source of mentorship and scientific collaboration.”

“Dan is an outstanding graduate student who has made important contributions to our understanding of vascular malformations,” notes his mentor Doug Marchuk. “He is a team player who is well respected by all of the lab members of our various program project grants. He also exemplifies great lab citizenship. He lends a hand with computational tasks for everyone in our lab and many other graduate students in our department. He is truly deserving of this award.”

Elizabeth Hughes, PhDElizabeth Hughes receives Damon Runyon Fellowship Award
Elizabeth Hughes, PhD, with sponsor Raphael Validivia, PhD, has been named a Robert Black Fellow by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation for her project titled “Mechanisms of microbial modulation of cancer immunotherapy”. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, a type of cancer treatment that helps immune cells identify and kill tumor cells, have been a major breakthrough in the treatment of many cancer types. Unfortunately, not all patients respond to this immunotherapy. Dr Hughes is studying how gut microbes improve response to immune checkpoint inhibitors. The bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila lives in the gastrointestinal tract and has been shown to improve response to immune checkpoint inhibitors via poorly understood mechanisms. Dr Hughes aims to discover how A. muciniphila improves response to cancer immunotherapies and to design microbe-based therapeutic strategies that will further enhance cancer immunotherapy responses. Dr Hughes received her PhD from UT Southwestern Medical Center and her BS from Baylor University. To read more about the Foundation’s newest cohort of Damon Runyon Fellows, click here.

Check out the latest edition of Duke Today
Raphael Valdivia, PhD professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke, explores how tiny microbes found in the body—too small to see without a microscope—can be wielded to fight disease and to influence better health outcomes for all. To learn more, click here.


Varsha SinghVarsha Singh awarded Wellcome Trust Senior Fellowship
Varsha Singh, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics at the Indian Institute of Science and alumnus of the Alejandro Aballay lab in MGM, was awarded a Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance Senior Fellowship for the study titled, “Microbe-derived olfactory signals as regulators of lipid metabolism, innate immunity and longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans. To read more about this fellowship, click here. More about new Wellcome Fellows at IISc can be found here.

Check out the article, “How a rare Brain Mutation Spread Across America.” Learn more about the tissues that ended up in the lab of Douglas Marchuk, PhD.  To read the online article, click here.



Briana DavisBriana Davis awarded for her role in establishing the new SCRIPT program

MGM graduate student Briana Davis has received two awards for her leadership in developing and implementing a new professional development program called Science Career Investigation and Professionalism Training (SCRIPT) between Duke and North Carolina Central University (NCCU), where Briana earned her bachelor’s in biology. The SCRIPT program, which was held in summer 2021, aimed to provide more mentorship and exposure to scientific careers for undergraduates at NCCU. It provided four major training workshops led by NCCU and Duke faculty, panels featuring guests from different STEM career paths, and a networking session with the panelists. For those efforts, Briana received the Samuel DuBois Cook Society’s Graduate Student Award and the Duke Microbiome Center’s Diversity Matters Award.

Tan awarded an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship

Chin Yee Tan, a graduate student in Neil Surana’s lab, has been awarded an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship. This award will support Chin Yee’s Ph.D. research as he studies how Clostridium immunis, a commensal bacterial species, suppresses fat gain via altering systemic immunometabolism.

So Young Kim, PhD, has been named director of the Microbiome Core Facility. We are pleased to announce that So Young Kim, PhD, has been named director of the Microbiome Core Facility, effective January 8, 2022.

Dr. Kim is a research professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and has been on the School of Medicine faculty since 2010. She also serves as the facility director of the Functional Genomics core facility, which she will continue to lead. Dr. Kim’s expertise in providing start-to-finish project support to Duke researchers will ensure a seamless leadership transition to the Microbiome Core Facility, including consultations and planning services


Check out the latest edition of DukeMed Alumni News  In the Winter 2021 edition of the DukeMed Alumni News, two MGM faculty members, Carolyn Coyne, PhD and Nick Heaton, PhD are featured.  To read the latest online edition, click here.

Carolyn Coyne is featured in the cover story which highlights Duke Science and Technology. Read here

Nick Heaton’s research is featured in an article on host-directed therapeutics to target COVID-19. Read here

Bonglack awarded 2021 Robert and Barbara Bell Basic Science Cancer Research Award). Emma Bonglack, Pharmacology graduate student in Micah Luftig’s lab, has won the 2021 Robert and Barbara Bell Basic Science Cancer Research Award. This award, in the amount of $5,000, is given to the Duke Cancer Institute trainee with the most innovative basic science research, selected from trainees who submitted abstracts for this year’s DCI retreat.

Yasaman SetayeshpourDr. Jen-Tsan Ashley Chi has been awarded a Collaborative Research Development Grant from Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA). Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States, and the fifth leading cause of death from among American women. OCRA is the largest global charity that funds ovarian cancer research, and its mission is to advance the efforts to fight against this terrible disease through medical research focused on finding better methods of diagnosis, more effective treatments, and eventually a cure. The Collaborative Research Development Grant is the largest grant at OCRA (900,000 USD) that provides funds for large ovarian cancer research projects, involving several investigators. Dr. Chi’s grant is to support the cooperation with Drs. Murphy and Berchuck in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University. Previous work from the Chi lab, in cooperation with Murphy lab, shows most ovarian cancer cells are highly sensitive to ferroptosis; this observation makes it possible to develop new treatments to target metastasizing ovarian cancer cells and recurrent ovarian cancer. Recently, Yasaman Setayeshpour, a second-year MGM PhD student in the Chi lab, has found that many environmental factors can affect the ferroptosis sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells with significant implications for finding the best treatments for metastatic ovarian cancer. The grant will support the efforts of a multidisciplinary team to investigate the mechanisms of her findings and guide how to best treat ovarian cancer and help patients afflicted with this terrible disease.

Aly BarnesOBGE and School of Medicine (SoM) are providing resources to cultivate excellent mentoring practices at all stages. Graduate students, Chin Yee Tan and Alyson Barnes are both peer mentors with OBGE’s inaugural peer mentor network. Through fortnightly gateway groups with 10-11 first-year students in SoM PhD programs, they explore pertinent skills and issues that most early grad students face. These include identifying and maintaining healthy and productive mentor-mentee relationships, navigating difficult discussions, and time and project management skills. It is an extremely rewarding venture; one contributes to nurturing the next generation of scientists, and simultaneously learns how to better mentor and be mentored. They both highly recommend this for senior graduate students in MGM. If you are interested in this program: applications are solicited every April, so stay tuned.

Heaton lab awarded RTI Forethought Grant. RTI International recently announced that a group of nine researchers representing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and RTI were selected as the winners of the institute’s Forethought Research Collaboration Challenge.  Nicholas Heaton, PhD lab members in MGM are the Duke University affiliated members of the team. The research group will receive $5 million in seed funding from RTI to create a broad spectrum of antiviral drugs effective against of viruses that cause epidemics and pandemics. These new drugs will be designed to treat infected individuals between the time a virus emerges until vaccines are developed, with the idea being to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed and help maintain economic stability.

Smith awarded an NIH Director’s Award from NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.  Clare Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, received a highly prestigious NIH High-Risk, High Reward grant New Innovator Award.  Clare’s research project focuses on genetic diversity.  Genetic diversity is a key factor underlying heterogenous disease states of tuberculosis. However, current mouse models fail to incorporate both genetic and phenotypic diversity. This proposal leverages diverse but reproducible Collaborative Cross mouse strains, bacterial reporters of infection and novel host-pathogen genetic mapping strategies to mechanistically define loci underlying disease tolerance. Overall, these novel and synergistic strategies will define new models of disease tolerance and set the roadmap for systematically interrogating host-pathogen genetic interactions underlying tuberculosis.

Duke received two New Innovator Awards this cycle and one Pioneer Award.  The NIH Innovator Award, High-Risk, High Reward Research program supports exceptionally creative scientists pursuing highly innovated research with the potential for broad impact in biomedical, behavioral, or social sciences within the NIH mission.

Congratulations Clare!

To read the SOM press release click here.
To read the NIH press release click here.

Brewer awarded an NIH F31 National Research Service Award. Jared Brewer, a PhD student in the Tobin lab, was recently awarded an F31 Individual Pre-doctoral Fellowship from NIH/NHLBI to support his research on macrophage signaling pathways that mediate angiogenesis during mycobacterial infections.


How Much Fiber Should You Eat? Letourneau highlighted in Duke School of Medicine’s Magnify magazine. Jeff Letourneau, a PhD student in Lawrence David’s laboratory, is exploring how day-to-day dietary variation in terms of grams of fiber, types of fiber, and size of food particles, influences the community composition and metabolic functions of an individual’s microbiome.

To read the full article click here.

Ramirez receives a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31-Diversity). Zeni Ramirez, MGM PhD candidate working in the Surana Lab has received an F31-Diversity award to NIAID in her first submission. The title of Zeni’s proposal was “Characterizing and Exploiting Ruminococcus gnavus mediated induction of antimicrobial peptides”. This award will support her research in investigating the host and bacterial molecular mechanisms that underlie the effects of a commensal bacterial isolate’s unique ability to mediate expression of antimicrobial peptides and investigate it’s use in treatment and protection from infections due to antimicrobial-resistant pathogens.

Hughes awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). Erika Hughes is a PhD candidate in Genetics and Genomics working in the Tobin lab. She has been awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support Erika’s research on mycobacterial pathogenesis during eicosanoid-mediated immunity


MGM alumna Yen-Ping Hsueh (PhD ‘08) received Tien Te Lee Young Scientist Biomedical Award in Taiwan for her research on the molecular interactions between carnivorous fungi and the nematode C. elegans. Yen-Ping did her PhD work with Dr. Joseph Heitman studying sex in Cryptococcus at Duke and moved to Caltech for her postdoctoral work with Dr. Paul  Sternberg to investigate the molecular interactions between C. elegans and nematode-trapping fungi.  She established her laboratory at Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan in 2015 where she is currently an associate professor and an EMBO Young Investigator.

Heitman received an Mycological Society of America’s distinguished mycologist award.  Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD received the distinguished mycologist award this week from the Mycological Society of America. He joins other distinguished honorees as John Taylor, Rytas Vilgalys, Meredith Blackwell, Jim Anderson, Linda Kohn, and others.  See previous honorees here.  Dr. Hetiman thanked his laboratory and collaborates in the following statement.  “This is truly a reflection of all of your amazing efforts advancing the science, and a testament to all of your contributions to mycology.  From my perspective, it is humbling to be considered a mycologist, let alone a distinguished one.  That reflects the impact of Tim James and Rytas Vilgalys many years ago in teaching a myopic yeast geneticist about the wonder and mystery of the fungal kingdom.”

More information will be in the next issue of the MSA publication Inoculum.

Stacy Horner Headshot

David and Horner recipients of Thomas Langford Lectureship award. Congratulations to Lawrence David and Stacy Horner on being selected as recipients of Duke University’s Thomas Langford Lectureship Award for academic year 2021-22. This program was established in 2000 in tribute to the memory of Thomas Langford, former Divinity School faculty member, Dean, and Provost, who embodied the highest university values of scholarship, teaching, collegiality, and promotion of faculty excellence and community. This annual Langford Lectureship series is designed to offer Duke’s faculty an opportunity to hear about the ongoing scholarly activities of their recently promoted or hired colleagues.

“Congratulations on this tremendous honor, which is a direct reflection of your stellar research program and its impact” – Joseph Heitman

PERFECT 10! Asiya Gusa scored a perfect 10 on her recent MOSAIC K99/R00 application.  Congratulations to Asyia Gusa, Tri-I Molecular Mycology and Pathogeneis Training Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Sue Jinks-Robertson’s laboratory. The MOSAIC K99/R00 program is designed to facilitate a timely transition of promising postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds from their mentored, postdoctoral research positions to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions at research-intensive institutions.  Asiya applied for the program with Dr. Sue Jinks-Robertson as her primary mentor and Dr. Joe Heitman as her co-mentor.

Asiya has exciting research ahead!  A description of her project is below.  The adaptive mechanisms that enable pathogenic fungi to survive the environment-to-host transition and cause persistent human disease are not well understood. In the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus deneoformans, we have discovered transposon mobilization as a significant cause of mutation during murine infection and in response to heat stress in culture, with the potential to enhance pathogenic traits or enable antifungal drug resistance. In this study, we seek to define the mechanism of stress-induced transposon mutagenesis in C. deneoformans and to determine whether this adaptive genetic strategy contributes to enhanced pathogenesis or drug resistance in disease-causing cryptococcal species during host infection.

John RawlsJoining Forces to Fight Childhood Obesity. John Rawls, Professor in MGM, has teamed up with The Hearts and Parks Program to further investigate pediatric obesity. John Rawls study – Pediatric Obesity Microbiome and Metabolism (POMMS) funded by NIH R24 grant, aims to better understand how gut microbes influence metabolism in adolescents with obesity before and after weight loss intervention. These two projects involve 13 collaborators from across Duke campus who are taking a clinical and multi-omics approach to learn more about pediatric obesity, assess the effectiveness of a clinic-community collaboration to treat it, and better understand how the microbiome and metabolome contribute to intervention success. To read more click here.

Jawahar awarded an American Heart Association Graduate Student Fellowship. Jayanth (Jay) Jawahar, a graduate student in John Rawls’ lab, has been awarded an American Heart Association Graduate Student Fellowship. This award will support Jay’s Ph.D. dissertation research to discern the genes and metabolites used by the human gut bacterium Bacteroides vulgatus to survive and compete with other microbes within the intestine.


Ye awarded a K01 Research Scientist Development Award. Dr. Lihua Ye, a Research Assistant Professor in MGM working in John Rawls’ lab, has been awarded a K01 Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). This award will support Lihua’s research program to understand the mechanisms by which intestinal bacteria and nutrients communicate with the nervous system through specialized sensory cells in the intestinal epithelium called enteroendocrine cells.

David, Heaton and Hammer recipients of the 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Congratulations to Lawrence David, Nicholas Heaton, and Secondary Faculty member Gianna Hammer on being named BWF’s 2021 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease. The award provides opportunities for accomplished researchers to bring multidisciplinary approaches to the study of human infectious diseases.

“An amazing day for MGM, Immunology and Duke to have three recipients out of 11.

They join previous MGM recipients Raphael, Ashley, Jörn, and Stacy, and also myself from the previous BWF Scholar in Molecular Pathogenic Mycology program, the predecessor to the current Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease program.” – Joseph Heitman

To read more click here.

Welcome to the Academy! Two Duke Professors elected to National Academy of Sciences. Joseph Heitman, professor in MGM, was recently one of two Duke Professors elected into NAS this year. Heitman’s recent research has focused on a novel kind of drug resistance called epi mutation in which a microbe’s genes can be silenced through an RNA silencing pathway, causing mutant-like behavior, without any change in the DNA sequence. The Chronicle at Duke recently published an article on Heitman’s great accomplishment, to read more please click here.

Bonglack awarded an NCI Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). Emma Bonglack is a PhD candidate in Pharmacology working in the Luftig lab. She has just been awarded an NCI Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support her research on the role and regulation of monocarboxylate transporters 1 and 4 (MCT1/4) in Epstein-Barr Virus-mediated B lymphocyte tumorigenesis.

Felicia WilliamsWilliams awarded Ataxia Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship. Congratulations to Felicia Williams, Graduate Student in the Scaglione lab, on being awarded the Diverse Scientists in Ataxia Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship from the National Ataxia Foundation.Williams research focuses on misfolding and aggregation of proteins containing highly repetitive poly amino acid tracts that are often associated with progressive neurodegenerative disorders, such as the polyglutamine diseases. However, the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum is a biological outlier that is naturally resistant to polyglutamine aggregation. The goal of Williams research is to identify unique regulators of protein aggregation in this organism and to shed light on how nature has dealt with these difficult proteins. In the long term, we hope that this will aid in expanding treatment options for neurodegenerative disorders caused by polyglutamine expansion.


Heitman Elected to the National Academy of Science. Congratulations to Joseph Heitman, James B. Duke Professor and Chair of MGM, who was one of two Duke Faculty members elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Heitman studies model and pathogenic fungi to address unsolved problems in biology and medicine. His pioneering research using the model budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae led to the discovery of FKBP12 and TOR as the targets of rapamycin, a drug now widely used in organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, and interventional cardiology. Joe joins 3 other MGM faculty members, Sue Jinks-Robertson, Tom Petes, PhD and Bill Joklik, PhD who were previously elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

“This honor is a direct reflection of having been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly talented and motivated cadre of students, fellows, lab personnel, collaborators, and colleagues over the past several decades.  It is their efforts that made any such success both possible and a reality.  It is also a direct reflection on an institutional ethos and culture that supports, sustains, inspires, and celebrates discovery-driven science.”  – Joseph Heitman

To read the full article click here.

Heaton receives 2021 Young Investigator Award. Congratulations to Nick Heaton, Assistant Professor in MGM, on being the recipient of the viruses 2021 Young Investigators Award. Heaton’s current work broadly focuses on understanding how respiratory RNA viruses induce inflammation and lung disease, as well as how virally induced damage is eventually repaired. His most recent study has revealed a new mechanism that prevents influenza-virus-induced lung inflammation from being transferred to a developing fetus during maternal infection. For full article posting please click here.

Ashley Chi Headshot

Chi receives award from the American Association for Cancer Research. Congratulations to Ashley Chi, M.D., Ph.D. on receiving the Michael Kastan Award for research excellence from the American Assoication for Cancer Research. The Michael B. Kastan Award for Research Excellence is formally bestowed on the first or corresponding author of an article in Molecular Cancer Research (the flagship AACR journal for fundamental cancer research discoveries) that’s had a significant impact on the fields represented by the journal, but all co-authors are named as recipients of the award in recognition of the importance of team science.

“This is fantastic and richly deserved recognition of Ashley’s myriad contributions to understanding tumor microenvironments, addiction of tumor cells to nutrients, and pathways and proteins involved in oncogenesis.
I am delighted to see his research recognized in this very visible way, and all the more so that it is in honor of Michael Kastan the DCI director.” – Joseph Heitman

To read more click here.

Cronan and Hughes co-authors on new publication in Cell. Mark Cronan and Erika Hughes, in the Tobin Lab, are co-first authors on a new publication in Cell describing how the host immune system coordinates formation of the granuloma, a central host structure in tuberculosis. Other contributors include Jared Brewer, Gopinath Viswanathan, Emily Hunt, and MGM secondary faculty member Simon Gregory. Please click here to read more.


Telzrow awarded inaugural OBGE Administrative Fellowship. Calla Telzrow, a 5th year MGM student in Dr. Andy Alspaugh’s lab, has been named the 2021 Inaugural OBGE Administrative Fellow. The Administrative fellowship, currently in the pilot phase, is a new student professional development opportunity intended to provide current biomedical PhD students with direct experience in graduate education administration, curriculum development, and strategic planning. Calla is undertaking a 6-month fellowship funded by OBGE during which she will focus on establishing two new student-centered resources for SoM biomedical PhD trainees. Learn more about Calla’s project and the Fellowship here:

Dolat on the cover of Journal of Cell Science. A new infection model created by Lee Dolat and Valdivia is featured on the cover of the Special Issue on Cell Biology of Host-Pathogen Interactions in the Journal of Cell Science. Their study describes how endometrial organoids – tissue-like structures grown in a three-dimensional matrix – can be used to investigate the cell biology of Chlamydia infections and demonstrate how Chlamydia virulence factors regulate immune cell recruitment and activation. Read the full story here and check out the beautiful cover image!

Harrell research featured in American Society for Microbiology. Lizzie Harrell, emeritus primary faculty member in MGM, research has been featured in a recent article in the ASM news. Dr. Harrell has been a member of ASM for over 40 years, joining at the height of the American civil rights movement and the protests against Vietnam war. Harrell received her undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University and her master’s degree at University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill, where she was among the group known as the “Black Pioneers,” the first 414 Black students to attend UNC between 1952-1972. When she completed her master’s degree, she had a 6-week-old child at home and a husband in medical school. She was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in microbiology from North Carolina State University in 1978 and the first full-time Black faculty member in the Basic Science Department at Duke University.

“It is terrific to see Lizzie recognized in such a visible way by the American Society for Microbiology, and as someone with a long history at Duke and in MGM, I am especially proud to see her many contributions in clinical microbiology and medicine recognized and celebrated.” – Joesph Heitman

To read more click here.

Sullivan selected as recipient of the 2021 Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award. Congratulations to Beth Sullivan, Professor in MGM, on being the recipient of the 2021 Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award. The Hammes Faculty Teaching Award honors a faculty member for continuing excellence in teaching and mentoring and for exemplary commitment to the education of graduate students within Basic Science Departments and Graduate Training Programs of the School of Medicine.  The nominees and winners are selected by a graduate student committee that is assembled each year with representation from all SoM PhD training programs. The School of Medicine established this award in 2001 in honor of Gordon G. Hammes, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and University Distinguished Professor, who served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs from 1991 through 1998.  During his tenure as Vice Chancellor, Professor Hammes led a number of major initiatives to improve the scope and quality of our graduate program within the School of Medicine.

“Congratulations on receiving the 2021 Gordon Hammes Faculty Teaching Award!  This award recognizes and reflects your stellar commitment to teaching, mentoring, and administration.  Your teaching in the graduate school, the medical school, and Trinity College in the Genomics Forum have been exemplary and highly impactful in conveying excitement about human genetics and genomics.  Your mentoring through your research program has been outstanding and inspired and inspirational to the next generation.  And your administrative service as past co-director of the UPGG Program, currently as Associate Dean for Research Training, and your service on myriad committees for the department, SOM, and university have set a very high bar for selfless service to our institution.  As someone who overlapped at Duke with Gordon Hammes from 1992-1998, I know how pleased he will be to see your efforts and contributions so recognized as he was highly passionate about support for graduate programs, and graduate students, in the SOM” – Joseph Heitman

John RawlsRawls Elected to American Academy of Microbiology (AAM). Congratulations to John Rawls on being one of 65 new Fellows elected into AAM. Fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology, an honorific leadership group within the ASM, are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. Rawls, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the School of Medicine and leader of the Duke Microbiome Center, studies how host-microbiome interactions in the intestine regulate digestion, inflammation, and energy balance. By comparing zebrafish, mouse, and humans, his lab has uncovered conserved mechanisms of host-microbiome communication. His recent work showed that specialized sensory cells in the intestine called enteroendocrine cells perceive specific microbial products and communicate that information to the nervous system and the brain. To read more click here.

“This is an exemplary recognition of John’s landmark and paradigmatic studies on the microbiome, development of novel zebra fish models, and elucidation of mechanisms via which the host senses both microbial signals and small molecules/nutrients in the GI tract with broad implications for health and disease” – Joseph Heitman. 

“This is great news and a well-deserved honor for John. Congratulations, John” – Rodger Liddle


Nielsen Elected to American Academy of Microbiology (AAM). Congratulations to Kirsten Nielsen, Post-doctoral Fellow Alumnus in the Heitman lab, on being one of 65 new Fellows elected into AAM. The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM’s mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. To read more click here.


McMillan graphical abstract featured on the cover with Cell Reports. Plant-microbe interactions 101 just added a new chapter!  Learn about how outer membrane vesicles from pathogenic and commensal plant bacteria activate protective plant immune responses in the latest publication from the Kuehn lab.  Vesicles may be small, but these complex biological packages play a big role in inter-kingdom interactions, suggesting a promising role as tools to probe plant immune responses. Read the full story here and be sure to check out the cover of the issue!

Congratulations to the Heaton Lab. Congrats to the Heaton lab who published a new study describing how fetal inflammation can be controlled during a maternal viral infection. To read the paper that was published in Science please click here.

Catching up with Deborah Springer. Deb Springer, former fellow in the Heitman Lab, has been spending her lab time on the fight against COVID19. Now with a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, immunology, and infectious diseases from the University at Albany, she works as a lead science in assay development, translational genomics, for Q2 Solutions in North Carolina. Her hours in the lab these days ultimately help advance COVID-19 research. To read more on Springer’s journey please click here.

Kristin Thole earns certification from the national board for health and wellness coaching (NBHWC). OBGE congratulates Kristin Thole, OBGE Health & Wellness Coach, on earning national certification from the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). Kristin, who provides Health & Wellness Coaching to PhD students in the School of Medicine, received her training with the Duke Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program.

Health & Wellness Coaching is not just about one’s physical well-being, it is about the whole person: their values, goals, work, balance, fulfillment, and life purpose. Any concern that gets in the way of achieving optimal health and well-being is the perfect subject for beginning coaching (for example: stress, exercise, rest, communication, relationships, physical space, professional development). Health and wellness coaching effectively motivates and supports behavior change through a structured partnership between the client and coach. The coach helps the individual develop and realize their optimal health vision through inquiry, personal discovery, and accountability. Health & Wellness Coaching is not professional counseling or psychotherapy.

Expected outcomes of a coaching session include:

  • Clear understanding of your goals and values
  • Motivation to support behavior change
  • Strategies for moving toward your goals

Heaton and Matsunami among a team of researchers studying the mysterious symptom of abrupt loss of smell and taste associated with COVID-19. The researchers are located in the Departments of Neurobiology, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Immunology, and Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences. I’ve also attached the original image and an image that can be used with social media. Thanks in advance for sharing this story on your blogs, websites, and social media.

Gokhale awarded Helen Hay Whitney Award. Congratulations to Nandan Gokhale, former student in Stacy Horner’s lab, now postdoctoral  Fellow in Ram Savan’s lab at the University of Washington, on being awarded the Helen Hay Whitney Fellowship Award. The Helen Hay Whitney Foundation was established and endowed by Mrs. Charles S. Payson, the former Joan Whitney, in 1947, and named in honor of her mother, Helen Hay Whitney. Originally established to stimulate and support research in the area of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, the Foundation later expanded its interests to include diseases of connective tissue and, ultimately, all basic biomedical sciences. The Helen Hay Whitney Foundation supports early postdoctoral research training in all basic biomedical sciences. The most critical and long-lasting investment in the research enterprise is the development of career scientists who contribute through both their own research and, eventually, their training of future generations of scientists. Whitney Fellows have gone on to become some of the most highly regarded medical and scientific professionals in their respective fields, and have served as mentors to succeeding generations of scientists.

Gibbs recipient of the 2020 Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence. Kyle Gibbs, Denis Ko Lab, has been selected as a recipient of the 2020 Chancellor’s Award, for Research Excellence(CARE). This award acknowledges dedication and exceptional contributions as a graduate student, including scientific discoveries and publications, as well as the positive impact you have had on lab, departmental, and institutional culture.

In the Ko Lab, Kyle studies how multiple host and pathogen factors regulate Salmonella replication inside human cells. To date, his main discovery is that a Salmonella protein, SarA, is translocated into host cells where it mimicks the cytokine co-receptor gp130 to activate STAT3 signaling. This effector-induced reprogramming of host transcription promotes Salmonella replication in cells, as well as virulence in mice. Concurrently, he has discovered intracellular replication of Salmonella is also regulated by human genetic variation affecting expression levels of a divalent cation channel. Thus, his work demonstrates novel mechanisms by which pathogen and host diversity generate divergent outcomes during Salmonella infection.


Transcription factors may inadvertently lock in DNA mistakes. Raluca Gordan, MGM Secondary Faculty Member, led a team of Duke Researchers to find that transcription factors have a tendency to bind strongly to “mismatched” sections of DNA, sections of the code that were not copied correctly. The strong binding of transcription factors to mismatched sections of regulatory DNA might be a way in which random mutations become a problem that leads to disease, including cancer. To read more, click here.

DCI Virologist Pursues EBV Pathways To Cancer. Micah Luftig was elected for his work on the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and the temporal regulation of gene expression in viral-induced cancers.  Luftig is interested in viral pathogenesis and immune response and how that differs between patients that do and do not go on to develop cancer. To read more, click here.


Heaton, Scent-Sensing Cells Have a Better Way to Fight Flu. A collaboration between Heaton’s team and the laboratory of Ashley Moseman in Duke immunology reports on the remarkably robust immune response of olfactory sensory neurons, the smell receptors that line the nose, where a virus might first be encountered. Their finding reveals not only a successful strategy against infection, it points out the diversity of immune responses from one kind of cell to another, Heaton said. To read more, click here.

Vance Fowler Headshot

Fowler to give lecture on IDWeek. Vance Fowler MGM Secondary Faculty Member will be featured on IDWeek October 23, 2020. IDWeek will feature Vance G. Fowler, Jr., MD, MHS in the Maxwell Finland Lecture on Friday, Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. ET. “Staphylococcus aureus: Lessons Learned from 20 Years with the Persistent Pathogen.” Listen to an expert on Staphylococcus aureus describe the impact that a project can have on improved patient outcomes as well as summarize the importance of clinical, bacterial, and host genetic factors in influencing the initiation and severity of infections caused by S. aureus.

Matt Scaglione headshotCongratulations to Matt Scaglione on being awarded the 2020 Dictyostelium Junior Faculty Award. Research in the Scaglione laboratory focuses on understanding how these pathways play a protective role in neurodegenerative diseases.  Our lab is particularly interested in how protein homeostasis (proteostasis) is maintained in the cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum.  Our interest in Dictyostelium discoideum comes from its peculiar genome that encodes for nearly 10,000 proteins that contain homopolymeric amino acid tracts.  Among the most common repeats are polyglutamine tracts.  This is particularly surprising because expanded polyglutamine repeats cause a class of nine neurodegenerative diseases in humans.  We and others have found that unlike other organisms Dictyostelium discoideum is naturally resistant to polyglutamine aggregation.  Further work from our group has identified a novel type of molecular chaperone that suppresses polyglutamine aggregation in Dictyostelium discoideum and in human cells. Future work in the Scaglione lab is to both identify other novel factors that prevent protein aggregation in Dictyostelium discoideum and to determine if these factors can be utilized to treat neurodegenerative diseases in humans.

Briana DavisJohn RawlsTwo pairs of Duke SOM PhD trainees and their PIs which includes from MGM, Briana Davis and John Rawls, have been awarded the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced study this year. The official new release came out a few hours ago from HHMI. This is a very prestigious award as there is an internal competitive process to be nominated and only 45 fellowships were awarded across the country.

Brief description of award:
The goal of the Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study is to increase the diversity among scientists who are prepared to assume leadership roles in science, particularly as college and university faculty. The program provides awards to pairs of students and their dissertation advisers who are selected for their scientific leadership and commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

The link to the official announcement can be found here:

The full list of awardees can be found here-

From Duke (name, department/program, PI):
– Briana Davis, MGM, John Rawls lab
– Nina Marie Garcia, Pharmacology, James Alvarez

Permar awarded Gale and Ira Drukier prize in Children’s Health Research. Congratulations Sallie Permar, Professor of Pediatrics, on being awarded the fifth annual Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research. The Drukier Prize honors early-career pediatricians whose research has made important contributions toward improving the health of children and adolescents. Dr. Permar, associate dean of physician scientist development, professor of pediatrics, immunology, molecular genetics and microbiology, and founding director of the Children’s Health and Discovery Institute at Duke University School of Medicine, is being honored for her research into the development of vaccines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of neonatal viral pathogens.

To read more click here.

Sullivan part of international team of researchers that generated a complete human X chromosome sequence. In an accomplishment that opens a new era in genomic research, Beth Sullivan and her lab have joined with the Telomere-to-Telomere (T2T) consortium, including researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), University of Washington, and University of California, Santa Cruz, to produce the first end-to-end DNA sequence of a human chromosome. The results, published on July 14th in the journal Nature, show that generating a precise, base-by-base sequence of a human chromosome is now possible, and will enable researchers to produce a complete sequence of the human genome.

After nearly two decades of improvements, the reference sequence of the human genome represents the most accurate and complete vertebrate genome sequence ever produced. Still, there are hundreds of gaps or missing DNA sequences that are unknown. These gaps most often contain repetitive DNA segments that are exceptionally difficult to sequence, and are likely to include genes and other functional elements that may be relevant to human health and disease.

In this study, researchers sequenced the X chromosome using Oxford Nanopore and PacBio technologies that can sequence long segments of DNA. The research teams used newly developed computer programs to assemble the many segments of generated ultra-long read sequence. A notable aspect of this effort was closing of the largest remaining sequence gap on the X chromosome, the roughly 3 million bases of repetitive DNA found at the middle portion of the chromosome, called the centromere that is responsible for chromosome inheritance and genome stability. There is no “gold standard” for researchers to critically evaluate the accuracy of assembling such highly repetitive DNA sequences, and the Sullivan Lab was called on to help confirm the validity of the generated sequence using the molecular approach of pulsed field gel electrophoresis and Southern blotting.

Sullivan’s co-authors include senior author Adam Phillippy at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), Jennifer Gerton, a Senior Investigator at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and former trainee of MGM faculty member Tom Petes, and first author Karen Miga, a graduate of Duke’s University Program in Genetics and Genomics.

The T2T consortium, partially funded by NHGRI, aims to generate a more complete reference sequence of the human genome and is continuing its efforts with the remaining human chromosomes to generate a complete human genome sequence in 2020.


Derbyshire, Fighting Malaria in the Classroom and in the Lab. Trinity College of Arts and Sciences recently published an article on Emily Derbyshire, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Secondary MGM Faculty Member, focusing on how she wants to help people – and she wants to do it at scale. Derbyshire’s focus in the classroom is overcoming the fear chemistry inspires in many students. Derbyshire quotes, “I try to remove any intimidation or preconceived notions about how hard it is. I think sometimes people just never had the opportunity to be taught in a way that was accessible.” To read the full article please click here.

photo of Carlos, Victor, and MaribelCongratulations to Dr. Victor Garre, Professor of Genetics at the University of Murcia and his two Ph.D. students, Maribel Navarro Mendoza and Carlos Perez Arques, for receiving the Fleming Award for a recent article published in Current Biology on discovering the centormeres of Mucor.  The Fleming Award is granted by the Spanish Society of Microbiology (SEM).  With the receipt of the award, one of the authors is invited to give the closing plenary talk at the upcoming XV National Conference on Mycology.  This meeting is being postponed until 2022 because of the COVID-19 crisis.  Click here to read the paper.  This paper was a collaboration between several investigators including Dr. Joseph Heitman and Dr. Kaustuv Sanyal.


Derbyshire: 2020 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. Congratulations to Emily Derbyshire, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and secondary MGM faculty member, on being awarded a 2020 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Based on institutional nominations, the program provides discretionary funding to faculty at an early stage in their careers. Criteria for selection include an independent body of scholarship attained in the early years of their appointment, and a demonstrated commitment to education, signaling the promise of continuing outstanding contributions to both research and teaching.

The Derbyshire lab combines chemical biology, biochemistry and genomics to uncover complex biological processes in pathogenic parasites with the long-term goal of advancing therapeutic design. Through an integrative approach utilizing small molecule probes, gene sequencing technologies, proteomics and high-throughput screening, their efforts have discovered parasite and host processes involved in Plasmodium parasite infection. Their findings highlight the dependence of Plasmodium on host factors and reveal parasite vulnerabilities that may be leveraged for future disease control efforts.

Ko promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. Please join in congratulating Dennis Ko, whose promotion to Associate Professor with tenure was just approved by the Duke Board of Trustees. This is terrific and richly deserved news, and MGM is very fortunate to have Dennis as a colleague. Ko joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology in 2012, his research program is advancing in science and with translational potential to impact medicine as well.

The Ko lab discovers fundamental insights in host-pathogen interactions and susceptibility to infectious disease by using both human and pathogen genetic diversity. Ko pioneered genome-wide association studies of cellular infection traits more than a decade ago with the Hi-HOST platform (High-throughout Human in vitrO Susceptibility Testing). His lab has used Hi-HOST, experimental dissection, and translational studies to make discoveries regarding the role of methylthioadenosine (MTA) in regulation of inflammation and sepsis, human genetic variation and Salmonella invasion and typhoid fever risk, and human genetic regulation of C. trachomatis infection. They have also expanded Hi-HOST to various bacterial, fungal, protozoal and viral pathogens and made data publicly available: They have also had success in leveraging pathogen variation to discover a Salmonella secreted effector that mimics the cytosolic domain of an activated cytokine receptor to turn on STAT3 and that diverse intracellular pathogens evolved convergent mechanisms of CXCL10 suppression for immune evasion. Ultimately, the Ko lab utilizes a unique perspective to reveal critical genes and pathways with the goal of enabling development of new biomarkers and therapies.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dennis is leading his research program while homeschooling his two children while his wife treats patients at Durham Regional Hospital. While at home, he taught his son how to ride a bike, observed 4 planets and 3 of the moons of Jupiter through their backyard telescope, supervised the construction of the Saturn V rocket (in Lego form), invented marshmallow nutter butters, and helped take down their Christmas tree in April. Members of his lab in this time defended a thesis, submitted an F31, remotely taught a college microbiology class, analyzed various omics datasets, worked on manuscripts, and fostered a dog.

Heitman joins American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS). Please congratulate Joseph Heitman, Chair and James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, on being elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS) for 2020. He is among 276 artists, scholars, scientists and leaders honored this year.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences honors excellence and convenes leaders from every field of human endeavor to examine new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world, and work together, as expressed in our charter, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” Our studies have helped set the direction of research and analysis in science and technology policy, global security and international affairs, social policy, education, and the humanities.

Heitman states “It is a humbling honor to be elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and a testament to being surrounded by highly talented lab members, colleagues, and collaborators who made this success possible.  Also especially touching to share this honor with a stellar cadre of Duke colleagues who were also elected to the academy from across the university this year”.

A message from Nancy C. Andrews:

“We congratulate these incoming members of the Academy for excelling in a broad array of fields; we want to celebrate them and learn from them,” said Nancy C. Andrews, Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Academy. “When Academy members come together, bringing their expertise and insights to our work, they help develop new insights and potential solutions for some of the most complex challenges we face.” The Academy’s projects and publications are focused on the arts and humanities, democracy and justice, education, global affairs, and science.

To read more click here.


Congratulations to Sue Jinks-Robertson, Ph.D., Mary Bernheim Distinguished Professor, Effective July 1, 2020. Duke University has awarded distinguished professorships to 29 faculty members from eight Duke colleges and schools, with Sue Jinks-Robertson, Ph.D. being one of these faculty members from the School of Medicine. In recognition of her research accomplishments and her contributions as a mentor and administrator, Sue Jinks-Robertson was recently appointed the Mary Bernheim Distinguished Professor. Sue has been a leader and, arguably THE leader, in determining the mechanisms responsible for cellular mutagenesis. She showed that the rate of mutagenesis was elevated by transcription, and further demonstrated that some of the mutations were associated with the activity of Topoisomerase 1. Her studies also clarified the role of the error-prone DNA polymerase zeta in spontaneous and UV-induced mutagenesis. In addition to her studies of mutagenesis, Sue developed a system to analyze heteroduplex formation during mitotic recombination; she found that the current accepted models of recombination are inadequate to explain the observed patterns. She has been a superb citizen of the scientific community: serving on multiple NIH study sections, organizing meetings, acting as a member of editorial boards, and being a member of the Board of Directors of the Genetics Society of America. She has been a wonderful mentor and role model for individuals at all levels: undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and beginning faculty members. She is Director of the Cell and Molecular Biology graduate program, co-Director of the Cancer Genetics and Genomics Program of the Duke Cancer Institute, and co-Vice Chair of MGM. Her award of the Mary Bernheim Distinguish Professorship is a well-deserved acknowledgement of her many accomplishments.

As a woman scientist, it is a particular honor to be named a Mary Bernheim Distinguished Professor.  Mary Bernheim was one of the original faculty members of the Duke Medical School when it was established in 1930 (Biochemistry Department) and is best known for her discovery of monoamine oxidase (MAO) while a graduate student at Cambridge.  She helped pave the way for other women to pursue academic careers at a time when such appointments were few and far between.

This is terrific recognition of Sue’s myriad accomplishments in science, and her broad contributions to leadership, mentorship, education, and administration. Sue’s contributions are very much valued, and appreciated. Being named a distinguished professor is a signature and capstone accomplishment, and we in MGM are proud and honored to have Sue as our esteemed colleague.

Mary Bernheim was a highly illustrious Duke faculty member, and her discovery of monoamine oxidase has been hailed as “one of the seminal discoveries of 20th century neuroscience”.
She has a wikipedia entry that has a lot of further information about her life and accomplishments:

The drugs that have been developed to target the enzyme she discovered are legion, and have been very widely used in medicine.

Please Congratulate Sue on this spectacular recognition.


Sullivan recognized among the top 5% of all instructors in Trinity College in the Natural Sciences. Beth Sullivan, Associate Professor in MGM and Associate Dean for Research Training in the School of Medicine, was recently named one of the top instructors in Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Teaching excellence is at the core of Duke’s mission, and each semester, the Trinity College Office of Assessment administers course evaluations to document this component of the students’ experience. Each year Beth teaches an undergraduate course “Genetics and Epigenetics: The Codes that Control our Genome” as part of the Genetics and Genomics Cluster in the Duke Focus Program. During the 2019 fall semester, in the categories of Overall Quality of Course and Overall Quality of Instructor, Beth’s course evaluations were among the top 5% of all undergraduate instructors teaching in the Natural Sciences. The Trinity commendation is based on the recognition by the students through these course evaluations of Beth’s commitment to teaching, dedication to students, and creative approach toward innovation or traditional methods of instruction.

2020 Faculty Awards Recognition:

Surana receives Hartwell Foundation Award. Congratulations to Neil Surana, M.D., Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and MGM’s secondary Faculty Member on receiving the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award.

The primary mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to grant awards to individuals for innovative and cutting-edge biomedical applied research that will potentially benefit children. The individuals and children should be citizens of the United States. The general aim is to provide funds for early stage research projects that have not yet qualified for funding from traditional sources. The Primary Mission of the Foundation is led by the President.

Surana’s research innovatively integrates gnotobiotic murine models, immunology, microbiology, and characterization of the microbiota with the ultimate aim of identifying specific commensal bacteria with immunomodulatory potential and subsequent characterization of their biologic effects. We have recently developed an inventive approach for identifying with high specificity organisms within the microbiota that are causally related to the phenotype of interest. Using this approach of microbe–phenotype triangulation, we identified Clostridium immunis, a new bacterial species that protects against colitis in murine models, and two bacterial species that induce host expression of a critical antimicrobial peptide. We are now investigating the molecular mechanisms—from both the bacterial and host perspectives—that underlie these host–commensal relationships. Furthermore, we are extending our discovery platform to human samples and additional disease processes to identify more causal microbes.

Surana joins MGM faculty Lawrence DavidNick Heaton and Debby Silver on receiving this spectacular award.

For additional information see

Please click here to see School of Medicine announcement about Dr. Surana receiving the Hartwell Foundation Award.


Cece Kelly awarded NIDDK F31. Cece Kelly, a PhD candidate in the Rawls lab, has just been awarded an NIDDK Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). The title of Cece’s proposal was “The role of HNF4a in maintaining intestinal epithelial cell homeostasis in the presence of microbes”. This award will support her research on microbiota-sensitive transcriptional programs that maintain intestinal homeostasis.

Hoy receives perfect score on F31. Michael Hoy, MGM Graduate student in the Heitman Lab received a perfect score of 10 on his most recent F31 submission to NIAID. The title of Michael’s proposal was “Structure-guided development of fungal specific calcineurin inhibitors”. Calcineurin is a novel antifungal target that is required for immune activation in humans and essential for virulence in pathogenic fungi such as Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida albicans, and Aspergillus fumigatus. We proposed to design fungal-specific calcineurin inhibitors through rational, crystal structure-guided design, which then can be developed and implemented to treat fungal infections. These novel antifungal compounds will serve as a powerful addition to the currently limited armamentarium of antifungal drugs.

Michael joins Shelby Priest, Hannah Brown, Stephen Walsh and Kyle Gibbs, MGM graduate students who also received perfect scores on F31 submissions.

Gokhale selected for a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award. Congratulations to Nandan Gokhale, graduate student in Stacy Horner’s lab, on being selected for a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award to recognize outstanding achievement in Graduate Studies.

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.

Please click here to see Duke’s Press Release on Nandan geting the Weintaub award.

Others associated with MGM who have also received this award:
Audrey Odom John, PhD now director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and Gianna Hammer, MGM secondary faculty member

To see more about this award click here.

Walsh awarded NIH F31. Stephen Walsh, a PhD candidate in the Coers lab, has just been awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support his research on the sexually transmitted pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis and its interactions with the human innate immune system


Clare Smith HeadshotMatt ScaglioneSmith and Scaglione selected to be a Whitehead Scholars for the next five years. Clare Smith and Matt Scaglione, Assistant Professors in MGM, have been selected to be a Whitehead Scholars 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.

The Scaglione Lab research focus “Proteopathies are a class of at least 71 diseases characterized by the accumulation of protein aggregates.  Protein aggregates are caused by an imbalance in protein homeostasis resulting in the accumulation of misfolded proteins.  One major question in biomedical research is:  How do cells recognize and deal with misfolded proteins? To investigate this laboratories utilize a wide array of model organisms to interrogate cellular pathways that handle misfolded proteins.  Research in our lab focuses on utilizing the model organism Dictyostelium discoideum to investigate cellular responses to neurotoxic proteins.  We have chosen to utilize  Dictyostelium  as a model organism because we realized that Dictyostelium normally expresses proteins with long polyglutamine tracts that cause one class of proteopathy.  Our lab and others have shown that Dictyostelium have an extraordinary ability to resist aggregation of a polyglutamine expanded protein know to aggregate in other model organisms.  Our lab went on to identify a novel type of molecular chaperone that imparts Dictyostelium resistance to polyglutamine aggregation.  In the future we hope to leverage our findings in Dictyostelium to develop novel therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases”.

Lawrence David, Assistant Professor in MGM, was presented with an unusual project by his advisor when he was a student: to study he 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

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

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’sgroup 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.


Congratulations to Audrey Odom. Congratulations to Audrey Odom, first undergraduate to work in Joseph Heitman’s lab and alumni of Duke University, on becoming the new Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Odom is currently an Associate Professor at Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. There her lab aims to improve the fundamental understanding of the basic molecular and cellular biology of the malaria parasite.

Congratulations to the MGM PhD graduates! They successfully defended between Summer 2018-Spring 2019 and celebrated with the Duke hooding and Graduation ceremonies (May 11-12, 2019): Hilary Renshaw, Helen Lai, Rafael Campos, Sarah Jaslow, Dora Posfai, Shannon McNulty, David Martinez, Ross Walton, Arifuzzaman Mohammad, Ryan Finethy, Pohan Chen, Katelyn Walzer, Chien-Kuang Ding, Angelo Moreno, Allison Roder, Kaila Pianalto, Caitlin Murdoch and Justin Silverman. See pictures of the hooding ceremony here. Best wishes and much happiness to all of the graduates!

Brook Heaton promoted to Assistant Research Professor. Congratulations to Brook Heaton on being promoted to Assistant Research Professor.

Brook’s research interests focus on uncovering new viral restriction factors using CRISPR screening technology.  By utilizing both WT influenza viruses and viral reporters she aims to find inhibitors that work at every step of the viral lifecycle.

Jinks-Robertson elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Sue Jinks-Robertson, Professor and co-Vice Chair in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, was one of two Duke Faculty members elected to the National Academy of Sciences, which is widely considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. Sue joins 2 other MGM faculty members, Tom Petes, PhD and Bill Joklik, PhD who were previously elected to the National Academy of Sciences.  To read more about this honor click here.


Alspaugh appointed Vice Chair for Academic Affairs. Andrew Alspaugh, MD, Professor in Medicine (Infectious Diseases), agreed to serve as Vice Chair for Academic Affairs in the Department of Medicine effective April 1, 2019. Dr. Alspaugh will focus on the oversight of the Department’s appointment, promotion, and tenure process in conjunction whit the associate vice chair for academic affairs.


photo of Bill SteinbachSteinbach elected to the Association of American Physicians.  William Steinbach, MD, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics was elected into the Association of American Physicians (AAP) during a joint meeting on April 6th of the AAP, the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), and the American Physician-Scientists Association (APSA).  Dr. Steinbach was one of 4 Duke physicians to receive this honor.  To read more about Dr. Steinbach’s research, click hereDuke Pediatrics news Release.

Letourneau receives prestigious NSF GRFP Fellowship. Congratulations to Jeff Letourneau, MGM Graduate Student in Lawrence David’s lab, on being awarded this fellowship. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship 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. Jeff is interested in understanding how complex communities of microbes cooperate and compete in the breakdown of dietary fiber in the human gut. In his research, he is using in vitro models to explore how habitual fiber consumption and gut microbiome composition affect an individual’s capacity to derive health benefits from fiber supplementation. He is also leading an upcoming human study to test the effects of increased fiber intake on behavior and cognition.

Heitman and Cowen awarded a CIFAR research program on Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities
Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD, James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University and Leah Cowen, PhD, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Infections and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto received a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) research program award in the interdisciplinary area of the Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities. Dr. Heitman and Dr. Cowen are co-directors for this new program, The Fungal Kingdom. The goal of the Fungal Kingdom program is to address threats of fungi to humans, animals, and plants/agriculture/food security, and to develop ways to mitigate these threats. More detail on the program is available here:

CIFAR is a Canadian-based, global charitable organization that assembles extraordinary research leaders to address science and humanity’s most significant challenges. CIFAR funds collaborative networks of scientists in the range of 15 to 25 investigators who come together over a sustained period of time (programs are funded in five-year increments) to solve important problems. The global call for applications ( announced 4 new programs and 4 returning programs. CIFAR received 120 proposed new programs, 12 finalists were chosen, and four were selected for funding, including the Fungal Kingdom: Threats & Opportunities program.  To read the CIFAR news release click here.

Marchuk receives 2019 Research Mentoring Award for basic science research. Douglas Marchuk, James B. Duke Professor, has been announced as the 2019 recipient of the School of Medicine Basic Research Mentoring Award. The Research Mentoring Awards were created in 2009 to honor outstanding research mentors in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing.  Winners of this award demonstrate excellence in numerous aspects of mentoring, including accomplishments of individual mentees, programs implemented by the mentor, or by exceptional creativity in mentoring.

Doug was nominated for this award by his current and former students, fellows, and faculty colleagues who highlighted the various ways in which Doug has mentored trainees and junior faculty alike. Doug was co-Director of the University Program in Genetics and Genomics from 2002-2009 and director from 2009-2014, as well as the founding Director of the Division of Human Genetics. He has been the course director of the Human Genetics course (MGM732) for many years and founded the highly impactful grant writing course (MGM702) that has benefited students across the basic sciences and engineering departments. In his own lab, Doug has mentored many undergraduates, graduate students, MSTP students, and postdoctoral fellows. His trainees have gone on to successful careers in academic research, academic administration, patient advocacy, and medicine. Doug is also a staunch supporter of his faculty colleagues, particularly junior faculty, advocating for their research programs and professional development and serving on tenure committees. Doug’s tireless dedication to education, mentoring, training, and science is inspiring.

This well-deserved award will be presented to Doug by Dean Mary Klotman at the annual Spring Faculty Meeting to be held at the Doris Duke Center, Duke Gardens on Wednesday, May 8th at 5pm.


Alspaugh receives 2019 Golden Apple Award. Andrew Alspaugh, MD, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, has received the 2019 Golden Apple Award. The Golden Apple Awards are the highest teaching awards presented by the Duke University School of Medicine student body to recognize outstanding dedication to medical student education.

Andy has been directing the medical school microbiology course for the past 6 years, and and describes it as a highlight of his experiences.  Andy’s primary appointment is in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, and his secondary appointment is in MGM.  Andy is quite active in graduate student education and his lab alumni are excelling as independent investigator faculty members (Liz Ballou, the University of Birmingham), and in exemplary post-doctoral experiences (Teresa O’Meara with Leah Cowen and Suzanne Noble, and Kyla Ost with June Round), in addition to the current students in his lab (Kaila Pianalto who defended recently, Hannah Brown who recently received a priority score of 10 on her F31 NIH fellowship, and Calla Telzrow).  Andy also serves as the co-director for the Tri-Institutional Molecular Mycology and Pathogenesis Program (Tri-I MMPTP) and was a course director for five years for the Molecular Mycology course at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.

To read more, click here.


Luftig honored for work by AAAS. Micah Luftig, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, was recently named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was recognized for his contributions to biological science in the field of viral oncology at the AAAS meeting on February 16. To read more, click here.


Brown awarded Jo Rae Wright Fellowship. Congratulations to Hannah Brown, MGM Graduate student in Alspaugh’s Lab, on being offered the Jo Rae Wright Fellowship for Outstanding Women in Science for academic year 2019-2020.


Heitman awarded 2019 Edward Novitski Prize. Joseph Heitman, M.D., Ph.D., Chair and James B. Duke Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology have received the 2019 Edward Novitski Prize for his work on human fungal pathogens and for indentifying the molecular targets of widely-used immunosuppressive drugs. Heitman will be presented with this prize at the upcoming 30th Fungal Genetics Conference. Click here for the 2019 Edward Novitski Prize announcement.



Medina awarded a DeLill Nasser. Edgar Medina, Graduate Student in the Buchlar lab, received a DeLill Nasser award for Professional Development in Genetics for Spring 2019. Edgar is working to develop a member of an ancient lineage of Fungi as a new model to understand how the ultra-conserved gene networks that control cell division in Eukaryotes can change and rewire through evolutionary time.  Edgar will attend the Fungal Genetics Conference in Asilomar, CA this March. To read more, click here.


Sullenger named to National Academy of Inventors. Bruce Sullenger, PhD, Professor, was elected fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Class of 2018, he is among 148 new fellows this year and join 11 other Duke faculty who have been recognized by the 7-year organization. To read more click here.




Lowe announced as Whitehead ScholarCraig Lowe, PhD, Assistant Professor, was awarded a Whitehead Scholarship by the School of Medicine. Craig is the tenth MGM Faculty Member to receive this prestigious distinction. The Lowe Lab is working to understand the genetic basis of vertebrate adaptation and disease. We are especially interested in understanding the genetic differences that underlie unique aspects of human biology. Some of these genetic differences have given humans unique and wonderful abilities, but other parts of our genome leave us predisposed to certain diseases and disorders.


Matsunami featured on WRAL News.  Hiro Matsunami, PhD, Professor, was featured on the WRAL morning news on Monday, January 7, 2019. Hiro discusses his recent paper published in Nature Communications about replacing drug-sniffing dogs with robotic noses.  To watch the clip click here.




Matsunami, Thiele, and Franks receive DIBS Incubator Award.  Hiro Matsunami, PhD, Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Dennis Thiele, PhD, Professor in the Department of Medicine, and Kevin Franks, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology received a Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Incubator Award for their application, “Smelling Sulfur in Wilson’s Disease: toward an early and non-invasive diagnosis for the copper metabolism disorder.”  They will receive $100,000 for their research project.  DIBS supports innovative interdisciplinary research.


headshot of Micah Luftigheadshot of Bill Steinbach Luftig, Steinbach, and Tomaras, named AAAS Fellows. Micah Luftig, PhD, Associate Professor, and secondary MGM faculty members, William Steinbach, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Georgia Tomaras, MD, Professor in Surgery were named Fellows of the American Associate for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The new fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold-and-blue rosette pin on Saturday, February 16 during the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.  SOM Blog


Matsunami featured in Duke Today and EurekAlert! Hiro Matsunami, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology use animal stem cells to create an ‘e-nose’ for detecting explosives, drugs, and other compounds.  To read the full article in EurekAlert, The Global Source for Science News, click here.  To read the Duke Today article, click here.  To read the full manuscript in Nature Communications, click here.


Bastidas research featured in Duke Today.  Robert Bastidas, PhD, Assistant Research Professor in the laboratory of Raphael Valdivia, PhD, was featured in a Duke Today article titled, “Chlamydia attacks with Frankenstein Protein.”  In partnership with Jonathan Pruneda, Assistant Professor at Oregon Health & Science University and several other researchers, Robert has shown that one Chlamydia protein, known as ChlaDUB1, is capable of manipulating human cells in two different ways, with one appearing to be essential for thriving inside the host.  To read more, click here. To read the full manuscript, click here.


Brown and Gibbs received perfect scores on F31.   Hannah Brown and Kyle Gibbs, two MGM graduate students received a perfect score of 10 on their most recent F31 submission. The title of Hannah’s project is, “Defining pH-Sensing in fungal virulence.”  The research funded by this grant aims to explore how microbial organisms sense and respond to a change in environment in order to infect and cause disease. Specifically, I will study the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans and its ability to adapt to the more alkaline and warmer environment of the human lung as a way to understand this response. By better understanding how these pathogens manipulate themselves in order to better infect and coexist with the host, we aim to define new strategies to treat and clear microbial infections.  The title of Kyle’s project is, “STAT3-dependent manipulation of host transcription and immune responses by Salmonella.”  The research funded by this grant aims to determine both (1) how a novel Salmonella effector, SarA, drives the activation of the host transcription factor STAT3, and (2) how activation of STAT3, with accompanying host transcriptional changes, alters the host cell physiology to accelerate theintracellular replication of Salmonella, and thereby increase the virulence of sarA-containing Salmonella strains. Determining how SarA assembles a host signaling complex to phosphorylate STAT3 could provide a model for both other uncharacterized bacterial effectors and poorly characterized signaling by cytokine receptor intracellular domains. Understanding how, and to what end, SarA activates STAT3 during infection could open research into host-directed treatments for both infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders that are regulated by STAT3 signaling.  Congratulations to both of them on this exciting news!


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 Microbiologyand 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 awards from ASM  Joseph Heitman, M.D., Ph.D., Chair and James B. Duke Professor and Nicholas Heaton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology have received awards from the American Society for Microbiology.  Dr. Heitman received the ASM 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 Award for Early Career Basic Research which recognizes an early career investigator with distinguished basic research achievements in the microbioal 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.


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.


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.


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.


Davey awarded an AHA Fellwoship. Lauren Davey, Phd, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Raphael Valdivia, was awarded an American Heart Association Research Award.  Lauren’s research focuses on Akkermansia muciniphila, an intestinal bacterium that eats mucus produced by its host. Colonization with Akkermansia is associated with health and its abundance is inversely correlated with cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes and obesity. Akkermansia is a promising candidate for a novel probiotic, however, it remains poorly characterized. To better understand this fascinating bacterium, I am developing genetic tools to study the molecular mechanisms of mucin degradation, intestinal colonization, and interactions with other bacteria that inhabit the mucus layer. Using a combination of high-throughput DNA sequencing and colonization models, I am working towards identifying genetic factors required for Akkermansia survival in vivo. By investigating how Akkermansia interacts with the host and other gut microbes, I hope to contribute to efforts to leverage microbial ecology as a treatment for cardiovascular disease and obesity.


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.

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 TodayUPIFrontiers 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 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’Arcy, who joined the Silver Lab in March 2018, 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 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 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.


Drs. Vance Fowler and Sallie Permar, MGM secondary faculty members, are the recipients of the 2018 Research Mentoring Award for Translational Research.   The Research Mentoring Awards were created in 2009 to honor the outstanding research mentors in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing.  Winners of this award demonstrate excellence in numerous aspects of mentoring, including accomplishments of individual mentees, programs implemented by the mentor, or by exceptional creativity in mentoring. These awards will be presented by Dean Mary Klotman at the annual Spring Faculty Meeting, which will be held at the Doris Duke Center, Duke Gardens on Wednesday, May 9, 4:45pm. 


Dr. Bill Steinbach, MGM secondary faculty member, is the recipient of the 2018 Ruth and A. Morris Williams Faculty Research Prizefor his outstanding contributions in clinical science research.  This award will be presented  by Dean Mary Klotman at the annual Spring Faculty Meeting, which will be held at the Doris Duke Center, Duke Gardens on Wednesday, May 9, 4:45pm.  


The Division of Human Genetics Scientific Retreat was held on Friday, March 16 at the NC Biotechnology Center in the Research Triangle Park. The keynote speakers were Stacey Gabriel from the Broad Institute and John Greally from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. There were several short talks from trainees and faculty along with a Happy Hour poster session. View the gallery here.


Every year, F1000Prime gives awards to faculty members who have worked especially hard writing F1000Prime article Recommendations that have proved popular with users in the previous year and also to those who have made an extraordinary contribution to F1000Prime’s service. Congratulations to Dr. Joe Heitman for receiving an ‘Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year’ award!


Michael Hoy and Giuseppe Ianiri both from the lab of Dr. Joseph Heitman, have received the Young ISHAM grant for the ISHAM 2018 conference. Michael has also been selected to give a short talk to students and postdocs at the event. Congratulations to Michael and Giuseppe!  The International Society for Human and Animal Mycology conference is held in Amsterdam June 30 – July 4, 2018.


Dr. Micah A. Luftig has accepted the NIH’s invitation to serve as a member of the Virology-A Study Section, Center for Scientific Review. Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors. Service on a study section also requires mature judgment and objectivity as well as the ability to work effectively in a group. His term will be from July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2022.


Professor Josh Akey from Princeton University gave a talk entitled “Genomic Tales of Human History” for a packed house at the UPGG Seminar on February 27. In gratitude for early support of his career as a postdoc at University of Washington, his MGM faculty host, Dennis Ko, presented him with a fragment of a Neanderthal hand axe.  



Dr. Shinohara, MGM secondary faculty member, has been selected to be a study section member of the Innate Immunity and Inflammation (III) Study Section at NIH. Study section members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors. Study sections review grant applications submitted to the NIH, make recommendations on these applications to the appropriate NIH national advisory council or board, and survey the status of research in their fields of science. These functions are of great value to medical and allied research in this country.


The fungus that causes athlete’s foot and other skin and toenail infections may have lost its ability to sexually reproduce as it adapted to grow on its human hosts. The Heitman lab paper on toe fungus was recently published in Genetics and has been getting news coverage. Read more about the research at Duke Today.


Joe Heitman: two interviews about his research

JCI Insight article  &Weill Cornell Medicine article

Animal Study Shows How to Retrain the Immune System to Ease Food Allergies: Soman N. Abraham, Ph.D., professor in Duke’s Department of Pathology and a secondary faculty member in MGM, is senior author of a study published this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Read the article by Duke Health here.


Our own Amy Hafez, graduate student in Micah Luftig’s lab, has been elected as one of the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) members of the Duke Board of Trustees. Amy will be defending her Ph.D. on March 8th and plans to pursue post-doctoral work in Science Policy. We will be excited to welcome her back during her three-year term on the BOT.


Joe Heitman, is the recipient of the 2018 American Society for Clinical Investigation’s (ASCI) Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award for his key contributions to our understanding of how eukaryotic microbial pathogens evolve, cause disease, and develop drug resistance; and his discovery of TOR and FKBP12 as targets of the immunosuppressive chemotherapeutic drug rapamycin. He will deliver the ASCI/Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award Lecture on April 20 at the upcoming AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting. For more information, see the interview published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation here, the School of Medicine blog here and Dean Klotman’s tweet here. Congratulations, Joe! 


Congratulations to MGM secondary faculty, Sallie Permar and Georgia Tomaras for being elected AAM fellows! They were among 96 new fellows elected to the American Academy of Microbiology, an honorific leadership group. 


Allison Roder, a PhD candidate in the Horner lab, has just been awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award  Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31). This award will support her research on defining novel regulatory controls of hepatitis C virus envelopment. Congratulations Allison!


Congratulations to our Chair, Joe Heitman, for being a 2018 recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring. The recipients of the Dean’s Awards in Mentoring are recognized for helping to create a vibrant culture at Duke that values exemplary mentoring. The Dean’s Awards Ceremony will be on March 28, 2018 at 4:30 PM in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.


On January 27, some MGM faculty and students attended the Black Tie Dinner for the Duke Bouchet Society. The purpose of this dinner is to showcase and celebrate successful minority scientists produced by Duke University. It is a night of inspiration and encouragement as we gather together, not only for fellowship, but to also hear the stories of Duke Alumni that have gone on to be successful in their respective fields.  Pictured is Emma Bonglack, Stacy Horner and Christine Vazquez.


Ted Espenschied in the Rawls lab took second place in the Pratt School of Engineering photo contest with an image capturing a cross-section of the intestine of a transgenic zebrafish. To see Ted’s photo entitled, “The Inside Track”,  and the other winning photos, click here.


John Lu, an MGM SURE alumnus, and undergraduate researcher in the Luftig Lab, was recently named a Marshall Scholar. This prestigious fellowship enables students to pursue post-graduate studies in the UK. In the Luftig Lab, John has worked on biochemical characterization of the interface between EBV and host proteins that regulate B-cell transformation. As a Marshall Scholar, he plans to study health policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine followed by a year of research toward a master’s in biochemistry at Cambridge. After this training in the UK, he intends to complete an M.D./Ph.D. and then embark on a career to develop vaccines that can eradicate neglected tropical diseases. A full press release on Duke Today can be found here.


Division of Human Genetics Retreat –  This free event will be on March 16, 2018 at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. The event is open to all Duke faculty, students, and staff interested in human genetics. Our two Keynote Speakers will be Stacey Gabriel of the Broad Institute and John Greally of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The program will also include short talks and posters by trainees and a social hour. Email to register.


Duke named 5th globally in microbiology by US News and World Report    There are many who have contributed to advance microbiology across our campus, including basic science and clinical departments, and the collaborative and collegial nature of the institution has fostered an environment that promotes interdisciplinary collaborations that advance excellence in microbial sciences.  Duke has a history of strength and both depth and breadth in virology that began when Bill Joklik was Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and which continues to this day, in part sponsored by the Center for Virology and the Human Vaccine Institute.  Similarly Duke has a history of excellence in mycology, and much of this stems from the tireless efforts of John Perfect, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine.  In 2002 a group of investigators focused on bacterial pathogens were brought together (Meta Kuehn, Soman Abraham, Rich Frothingham, and Ken Wilson) and assisted in the recruitment of additional colleagues working on bacterial pathogens that led to the success of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis, which became the Center for Host-Microbial Interactions.  The Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology founded and supports and sustains the Center for Virology, the Center for Host-Microbial Interactions, and the Duke Microbiome Center, and thereby provides a series of forums that promote collaboration between basic scientists and physician-scientists.  The success of microbiology as a discipline at Duke is attributable to many contribution centers, departments, institutes, and programs, and the faculty and colleagues who bring their talents and energy to bear on understanding our microbial world and developing ways to mitigate the impact of microbial pathogens on human health.”  Joseph Heitman, James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

“Duke MGM has led a successful effort to establish microbiome sciences at Duke.  Recruitment of microbiome faculty into MGM formed a nidus that served to motivate and support other Duke faculty within and beyond MGM to engage in microbiome research.  As a result, we now have a spectrum of exciting microbiome research projects happening at Duke.  This includes development of novel computational approaches to understand and predict microbiome perturbations, design of new probiotics and prebiotics therapies, establishment of much-needed genetic tools for “genetically intractable” microbes, development of approaches for engineering environmental and host-associated microbiomes, and defining the molecular mechanisms by which microbiomes contribute to human diseases.  These research projects have been supported by innovative graduate training programs such as the NSF-funded Integrative Bioinformatics for Investigating and Engineering Microbiomes (IBIEM) Program, and by the intellectual environment and resources provided by the new Duke Microbiome Center and other Duke Centers.” (John Rawls)

A reception to celebrate Duke University being named 5th globally in microbiology by US News and World Report was held on Tuesday February 27th, 2018, 4:30 to 6 or 6:30 pm, Great Hall, Trent Semans Center. The celebration was a time to thank the various groups who contribute to the success of microbiology at Duke by working so productively and collaboratively for recruitment, mentorship, and advancing research programs:  The Human Vaccine Institute, the Global Health Institute, the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, the Infectious Diseases Divisions of the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, and the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

Photos of the Event

Link to US News and World Report:


Lynne Zechiedrich, who was our invited guest speaker at the MGM retreat in 2016, was recently elected to the National Academy of Inventors. Lynne’s work on minicircles has been developing since the early 1990s. Twister Biotech, Inc. is a Baylor College of Medicine spin-out company from Lynne’s work. Read more about Twister Biotech here.



The ‘Innate Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Symposium’ will be held May 23rd 2018, in the Great Hall of the Trent Semans Building. Registration will be required and is free. The event is open to all faculty, students, and staff. The program is being finalized and an update will follow soon.


The North Carolina Microbiome Consortium is pleased to announce that it will hold its second inagural Microbiome Symposium on May 15th, 2018 at the NC Biotechnology Center in RTP. Please mark your calendars for a full day of industry and academic talks, networking and student poster sessions. Registration will open in the coming months.


Duke researchers are 1% of the top 1% of most cited researchers. The Chronicle published an article with this information that includes two MGM faculty in the list. Bryan Cullen, PhD, and Georgia Tomaras, PhD, are in the top 34 researchers listed out of 3400 in their respective fields, according to a report released by Clarivate Analytics. We asked Dr. Cullen and Dr. Tomaras their thoughts on this list. Dr. Cullen said, “When you perform biomedical research, you of course want the resultant manuscripts to be widely read and to then influence the research performed by other groups. The fact that the research performed by my group has been cited in over 21,000 articles published by other scientists is very gratifying, as it shows that our research has indeed had a significant impact”. Dr. Tomaras added, “What stands out most to me are the technical staff, graduate students and postdocs who are the scientists in the lab every day making the experiments happen. Communication of scientific results through publication is a key part of scientific progress. One important driver of scientific progress is the strong day to day collaborations within and across the Departments in concert with the research institute model. In my case, this is with the Departments of Surgery, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Immunology, Medicine, and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.” Congratulations on this recognition of your hard work!


Claire De March’s book chapter is published. Claire De March‘s research, in Hiroaki Matsunami’s lab, focuses on understanding the complexity of olfaction at the molecular level. Using computer tools, cell biology, and sensory analysis, she hopes to help elucidate the strategy of our organism to perceive its volatile environment. She wants to establish the link between the chemical structure of an odor molecule, the biological processes involved, and the sensation it causes. Claire was honored in 2016 with “5 best Ph.D. thesis awards” from international foundations and the most impressive one is from the French newspaper, “Le Monde”. She wrote a book chapter with Cédric Villani, the Fields medal 2010 and member of the National Assembly of the French government. This book was published in November 2017.


David Martinez, a PhD candidate in the Permar lab, has received two highly prestigious fellowships. He was awarded an NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Graduate Diversity Enrichment award. These awards will fund research projects involving factors that regulate the placental transfer of maternal IgG and mechanisms of HIV virus escape from maternal neutralizing antibodies. Congratulations David!


MGM Assistant Professor, Lawrence David, was selected for a Damon Runyon Innovation Award. The Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award is designed to provide support for the next generation of exceptionally creative thinkers with “high-risk/high-reward” ideas that have the potential to significantly impact our understanding of and/or approaches to the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer.


Former MGM faculty member, Hunt Willard, is named Director of the Geisinger National Precision Health Initiative:


Katelyn Walzer, MGM Graduate Student wins ASTMH Young Investigator Award. The purpose of the ASTMH Young Investigator’s Award is to recognize the work of young investigators and to encourage developing scientists to pursue careers in various aspects of tropical disease research. Katelyn was one of 5 winners among over 80 applicants. She is pictured here with ASTMH President, Patricia Walker and other recipients of the 2017 award. See the complete list of past winners here. Congratulations, Katelyn!


People with malaria give off a distinctive “breath-print”. Prof Audrey Odom John, PhD, the first Duke Undergraduate Student to work in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph Heitman, James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology has researched and developed a prototype breath test to detect malaria. Read more about Dr. Odom’s prototype here.


MGM’s newest faculty member is Craig Lowe, PhD. We are looking forward to Craig’s arrival to MGM in the Spring of 2018 from Stanford University. Read more about Craig here.


Tobin receives 2017-2018 Thomas Langford Lectureship Award – David Tobin, PhD, Associate Professor of MGM presented a lecture about his research at the annual Langford Lectureship series on October 23, 2017. This luncheon series was designed to provide Duke’s faculty with an opportunity to hear about ongoing scholarly activities of recently promoted or hired colleagues. Congratulations, David! See pictures here.


Congratulations to Dr. Emily Derbyshire for receiving the New Innovator Award. The NIH Director’s New Innovator award supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects. The Derbyshire lab has utilized novel strategies to identify host liver factors that are involved in Plasmodium infection. Through these studies, they found that the parasite’s liver stages have vulnerabilities that are distinct from their blood-infective forms. To better understand liver stage vulnerabilities, they propose to dissect the underlying mechanisms of host factor involvement in parasitic survival using an integrative multidisciplinary approach. Their work will advance the current understanding of host-parasite interactions during malaria’s elusive liver stage and will provide starting points for host-based antimalarial therapies to surmount the challenge of parasite drug resistance.


Congratulations to Dr. Bill Steinbach who received the 2017 ID Oswald Avery Award. The Oswald Avery Award recognizes outstanding achievement in infectious diseases by a member or fellow of IDSA who is 45 or younger. See the full article here.


In a study published September 26 in eLife, Duke researchers from the Heitman Lab show that lineages of the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus deuterogattii house a specific mutation in their DNA that increases their mutation rate. These ‘hypermutators,’ as they are called, rapidly develop resistance to the antifungal drugs FK506 and rapamycin. See the full article here.


Michael N. Hall was awarded the 2017 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for discoveries in relation to Nutrient-activated TOR proteins that regulate cell growth.
Michael N. Hall of the Biocenter at the University of Basel discovered the nutrient-activated TOR proteins and their central role in the metabolic control of cell growth.  By showing that the TOR system adjusts cell size in response to the availability of raw materials, Michael N. Hall revealed an unanticipated linchpin of normal cell physiology. More…


Non-coding alpha satellite RNAs are essential for human centromere assembly and cell cycle progression. New research from Shannon McNulty, a Duke MGM graduate student in Beth Sullivan’s lab, is featured in the August 7 issue of Developmental Cell. The study reports the crucial role of chromosome-specific non-coding RNAs produced from highly repetitive alpha satellite DNA at human centromeres and their interaction with key centromere and kinetochore proteins. The work is highlighted by a Preview published in the same issue of Developmental Cell.The primary research article can be accessed here.


Al Harding (Heaton Lab) – A feature on Al’s work was just published on DukeTODAY! It describes how our technology can be used to produce improved influenza virus vaccines.


Ristaino receives a Fullbright Award.  Jean Ristaino, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology received a Fullbright U.S. Research Scholar Award. Jean conducted sabbatical studies in the Heitman lab and us continuing to collaborate with Francis Fang in the Heitman lab on oomycete pathogens of plants. Read more here.


Rawls and Davison feature in Duke today. John Rawls, PhD, Associate Professor and James Davison, Graduate Student in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology recent publication, “Microbiota regulate intestinal epithelial gene expression by suppressing the transcription factor Hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 alpha” was featured in Duke today. Read more about the research here.


Tobin receives 2017-2018 Thomas Langford Lectureship Award – David Tobin, PhD, Associate Professor of MGM will present a lecture about his research at the annual Langford Lectureship series. This luncheon series was designed to provide Duke’s faculty with an opportunity to hear about ongoing scholarly activities of recently promoted or hired colleagues. Congratulations, David!


Horner receives ASV award. Stacy Horner, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology received the Ann Palmenberg Junior Investigator Award from the American Society for Virology at the 2017 annual meeting in Madison, and presented a talk in conjunction with receiving the award.  This award recognizes junior investigators who have made significant contributions to the field of virology and who display exceptional promise. The award is named in honor of former ASV president Dr. Ann Palmenberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, for her tireless efforts over several decades in supporting and continually improving our society’s annual meeting.  Stacy and her lab members have launched an exciting research program on mechanisms of innate immunity that defend against viral infection, and in parallel launched a highly successful pioneering program studying the impact of the modification of the N6 position of adenine by methylation on both viral and host RNA, studies that have resulted in a landmark publication in Cell Host and Microbe and featured on the cover (Gokhale et al CHM 2016) and a recent PLOS Pearls on this topic (Gokhale and Horner, PLOS Pathogens 2017).  These later studies contribute to the rapidly growing, emerging field of epitranscriptomics.  Congratulations, Stacy!


Aballay receives an NIH R37 Merit Award. Alejandro Aballay, PhD, Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and Director of the Center for Host Microbial Interactions at Duke University, will be receiving an NIH MERIT Award from NIGMS for his research project on the role of the nervous system in controlling immunity in the model host C. elegans. More…


Horner named a Burroughs Wellcome Investigator.  Stacy Horner, PhD was awarded the Burroughs Wellcome 2017 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases award. The Investigators i