Nielsen and Lin Receive Tenure and Promotion

June 11, 2013

Congratulations to Kirsten Nielsen, PhD, who was promoted to Associate Professor and awarded tenure by the University of Minnesota. “I am very happy to be granted tenure and a promotion and want to thank all those who supported me in this effort,” Nielsen said. “I wouldn’t have accomplished this goal without the great start I had in the Heitman lab and the continued support of our strong mycology community.”  Nielsen has been working in the Department of Microbiology since 2007.

Nielsen received her BS degree in Biochemistry from Purdue University and her PhD in Botany and Plant Pathology from North Carolina State University. She has been interested in the interactions between pathogens and their hosts throughout her scientific career. While an undergraduate at Purdue, she studied the bacterial pathogen Pasturella multocida in rabbits and helped in the development of a vaccine against this organism. In her PhD work, she examined the role of a ribosome-inactivating protein in protection of corn kernels from the fungal pathogen Aspergillus flavus. Using the closely related model fungus Aspergillus nidulans, she was able to show that the 25 kD protein entered the fungal cell to cause cell death. While in the Heitman lab, she studied the role of mating and mating type in the virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans. She characterized mating in the most common pathogenic form of C. neoformans (var. grubii) and used this mating to develop congenic strains in this variety. Her focus was the utilization of these congenic strains to examine virulence characteristics for var. grubii.

Nielsen’s current research focuses on Central Nervous System Penetration by Cryptococcus neoformans, hypothesizing that pheromone signaling plays a central role not only during mating of C. neoformans but also during entry into the CNS. By perturbing pheromone signaling during individual and coinfections with congenic alpha and strains, she hopes to identify key components required for CNS penetration in this pathogen and provide a foundation for further treatment strategies to reduce cryptococcal meningitis.

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Congratulations to Xiaorong Lin, PhD, on receiving conferral of tenure and the rank of Associate Professor of Biology by the Texas A & M University. “Conferral of tenure by the University constitutes a major affirmation that truly outstanding research and scholarly achievements have occurred on the part of a scientist whose work is consistent with the goals of the Department and the University,” said former mentor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD.

After earning her BE and ME degrees in Chemical Engineering from Dalian University of Technology and the Chinese Academy of Science respectively, Lin developed an interest in biology, specifically, fungal developmental biology. Her PhD training was focused on the characterization of polarized growth in the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans in Dr. Michelle Momany’s lab at the University of Georgia. She joined the Heitman lab for her post-doctoral training in 2007 where she studied the morphogenesis and development of Cryptococcus neoformans. She was appointed Assistant Professor of Biology at the Texas A & M University in 2008.

Research in Lin’s current laboratory focuses on medical mycology, studying the molecular mechanisms of fungal pathogenesis and investigating novel drugs that have the potential to treat fungal infections. The long-term goal of her research is to seek better approaches for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention of fungal diseases.

Lin was also recently awarded a Burroughs Wellcome Foundation Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases award.These five-year awards provide $500,000 to support accomplished investigators at the assistant professor level to study pathogenesis, with a focus on the interplay between human and microbial biology, shedding light on how human and microbial systems are affected by their encounters. The awards are intended to give recipients the freedom and flexibility to pursue new avenues of inquiry and higher-risk research projects that hold potential for significantly advancing the biochemical, pharmacological, immunological, and molecular biological understanding of how microbes and the human body interact.