MGM Summer Undergraduate Research Engagement (MGM SURE)

The Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology is pleased to continue for the tenth summer a 10-week summer fellowship program for Duke undergraduates. The program runs ~10 weeks from June to August.. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2024. To download the application, click here: 2024 MGM SURE Application


The goal of undergraduate research opportunity is to introduce motivated students to important questions in Genetics, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Virology, and RNA Biology through faculty-mentored research projects and practical lab experience. The program also includes monthly science and career development discussions with faculty and trainees (graduate students and postdocs) in MGM. The research experience culminates in MGM SURE fellows presenting their summer research project at the department’s annual retreat in early September.

Overall, the program aims to capture students who are interested in developing a research project in an MGM lab during their undergraduate years at Duke and completing their senior thesis based on this research. The program also aspires to prepare students to become scientific scholars immersed in sustained long-term pursuit of biomedical research.

Program Overview

Research in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology spans both model and pathogenic organisms and the full spectrum of genetics from unicellular to multicellular eukaryotic organisms. Many investigators are experts in both microbiology and genetics, including those utilizing yeasts as experimental microbial systems, and those probing the interactions of infectious agents with cellular or heterologous host model systems. Much of the history of modern molecular biology can be traced directly to genetic approaches with microbial and infectious systems, including the discoveries of DNA and RNA as the genetic material, the elucidation of the genetic code, and the development of recombinant DNA approaches based on bacterial restriction-modification systems and related enzymes. Existing areas of strength in the Department include: 1) microbiology (virology, mycology, bacteriology); 2) RNA biology and genomic expression analysis; 3) fungal genetics; 4) genetics of model systems and humans; 5) chromosome structure, function, replication, and repair, and 6) epigenetics.

Eligibility and Criteria

MGM SURE is open to Duke undergraduate students who have completed or are currently enrolled in at least one biological sciences course. With the exception of graduating seniors, all Duke undergraduates are eligible to apply. Prior research experience is not required, since a goal of the program is to immerse students in cutting-edge research labs where they can acquire skills in experimental practices, data analysis and interpretation, and effective science communication. Those undergraduates currently involved in research in MGM labs are also eligible to apply. Candidates not currently working in MGM labs are encouraged to contact faculty of interest prior to submitting an application to discuss the possibility of doing summer research in a particular lab.

We encourage women and individuals from underrepresented groups to apply. Students will be selected based on academic record, letters of recommendation, and descriptions of research interests and goals.

The research engagement will run ~10 weeks from June to August. Students should be present full-time for the entire summer program, and ought not be enrolled in courses during the research engagement period.

Number of Awards

In Summer 2024, MGM SURE will grant 4-6 awards to support summer research projects of ~10 weeks in duration. Each award includes a $4000 stipend (to help cover accommodation and living expenses for 10 weeks) and $1000 in project expenses to be paid to the host lab. Note that housing/accommodation is not provided or coordinated by the program.

Projects involving human subjects, either in-person or online, may need approval from the Duke Institutional Review Board. All MGM SURE fellows will be required to complete the necessary online safety training offered through the Duke Safety Office

2422 MGM Sure Students

 Chiara Federico


Ferroptosis is a newly recognised form of cell death characterised by the accumulation of iron, leading to the production of ROS and subsequent lipid peroxidation. As such, the ferroptosis pathway is intriguing for its tutor suppressor qualities. Upon treating lung cancer cells with Divarasib GDC 6036, a covalent inhibitor of KRAS G12C, we have observed that the activity of the cystine/glutamate antiporter SLC7A11/xCT decreases, suggesting that RAS is implicated with ferroptosis. Therefore, we will be exploring how drugs against mutant Ras proteins interact with the ferroptosis pathway. 



Meghan Quinlan


Using the C. elegans RME neuronal circuit as a model, I am investigating regulation of neuronal positioning. RME neurons in C. elegans are anchored to zona pellucida domain-containing proteins (ZPDCP) which mediate non-neuronal cell interactions. At the Yan Lab, I am focussing on how ZPDCPs function in the regulation of anterior/posterior positioning of RME neurons by investigating ZPDCP interactions in neurons, pharyngeal muscles, and hypodermal cells.




Ethan Rehder


The bacterium Phocaeicola vulgatus is a common human gut anaerobe associated with the host inflammatory response and production of fatty acid metabolites. P. vulgatus is also known to be capable of surviving in aerobic conditions for several days and effectively colonizing the digestive tracts of new hosts. At the Rawls Lab, we are seeking to identify genes underlying P. vulgatus's ability to survive in aerobic conditions on surfaces in the built environment for short periods of time. Our methodology involves the use of a transposon insertion single-gene knockout library to identify candidate genes for selective advantage in the aerobic built environment.



Ariella Ruiz


Sex differences are widespread in health and disease, but the reasons for this are poorly understood. The X and Y chromosomes are the largest sources of genetic variation in humans, which will be the focus of our research. In the San Roman Lab, we will utilize human cell lines from individuals with various numbers of X and Y chromosomes for our analyses. The goal of the project is to learn more about how X and Y chromosome copy number affects genome-wide expression.




Clare Williams


Enteroviruses are single-stranded, positive sense RNA viruses belonging to the Picornaviridae family. Despite these viruses being the leading causes of human infections worldwide, particularly in infants and children, there is no effective treatment against the diseases caused by these common viruses, with the exception of poliovirus. At the Coyne Lab, we are seeking to understanding mechanisms by which viruses infect cellular barriers and the innate immune response, primarily in the epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract. My work within the Coyne lab will focus on developing a functional reporter virus by inserting a tag protein in Echovirus 5, a type of enterovirus, and further characterizing the host innate immune response during infection using cell lines and mouse-derived intestinal organoids (3-D 'mini-guts') as models.




2022 MGM Sure Students

Paloma Garcia


This past summer, I worked in Dr. Clare Smith’s tuberculosis lab at Duke. In the Smith Lab, I investigated how genetic interactions between mice and Mycobacterium tuberculosis influence the host’s disease susceptibility. More specifically, I ran macrophage infections using Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and genotypically diverse mice in which I detected whether a specific gene knockout would change the resulting bacterial burden in mice macrophages. Additionally, I determined what type of fluorescent plasmid would shine the brightest in a fluorescent/bioluminescent imager (the IVIS machine) by transforming BCG with fluorescently tagged plasmids and reading their brightness. In the future, this fluorescent plasmid could be used to track the pathogenesis of tuberculosis infections.




Lauren Valle


Flaviviruses utilize several mechanisms to evade the type I interferon (IFN) mediated antiviral response. For example, the flavivirus NS3 protein, a viral protease and helicase, aids in this evasion by preventing the downstream signaling that induces type I IFN, thus preventing the body’s innate immune response. Recently we found that UFL1, the E3 ligase of the ubiquitin-like modifier UFM1, helps in facilitating the downstream signaling that induces type I IFN, and that it, unexpectedly, is also required for flavivirus immune evasion. With the knowledge that flavivirus NS3 proteins bind to UFL1 during infection, current studies are aimed at defining the molecular mechanisms by which UFL1 and the UFM1-conjugation system positively regulate flavivirus infection. My research in the Horner Lab focuses on how the flavivirus NS3 protein evades the innate immune response and the effect of UFL1 depletion on the viral life cycle to further investigate the hypothesis that NS3 hijacks UFL1 to facilitate RIG-I- mediated immune evasion during infection.



Michael Sheyner

"_"CD36 is a scavenger cell-surface, receptor protein that imports Fatty Acids (FAs) into a cell. It has been shown to be co-expressed with certain olfactory receptors (ORs). CD36 has also been hypothesized to play a role in olfaction by enhancing the OR response to FA ligands. The objective of this project was to analyze the role of CD36 in olfaction when CD36 and the ORs were co-expressed and then exposed to a mixture of FA molecules via in vitro experiments. The project also tested for OR/FA ligand binding, without any CD36 expression, to observe the selectivity of ORs for individual FA ligands. We aim to expand this research into in vivo mouse models and use a larger variety of FAs to better understand the olfactory system in mammals and how it pertains to olfactory FA perception. 



Rachel Solecki

"_"RNA-binding protein EIF4A3, a key component of the exon junction complex (EJC), is essential for RNA splicing, translation, localization, and nonsense mediated decay (NMD).  Mutations in any of the EJC components—EIF4A3, RBM8A, and MAGOH—lead to neurodevelopmental disorders, including intellectual disability and microcephaly.  Aside from its canonical functions in the EJC, EIF4A3 also binds to microtubules (MTs), suggesting an even greater list of roles in processes essential to cell division.  One such pathway this protein is implicated in is the p53-signaling pathway, which serves to regulate cell divisions and apoptosis.  Our research focuses on better understanding how EIF4A3 functions, specifically by analyzing how apoptosis contributes to microcephaly and cell fate phenotypes.  In addition, we aim to study EIF4A3 localization by creating a fluorescent-protein tagged EIF4A3 that can be used in transfection of HeLa cells.


Amitesh Verma

"_"The unique evolution of the human neocortex has become an intriguing, yet puzzling recent field of research. One area of study, human accelerated regions (HARs), may offer answers. HARs are highly conserved non-coding genomic regions that exhibit an unexpectedly high rate of mutation along the human lineage and are candidate loci for the unique evolution of human traits. Working in the Silver Lab, I investigate the enhancer and neurodevelopmental activity of one particular HAR, HAR0480, which has been hypothesized to interact with Wnt pathway co-receptor LDL receptor-related protein 6.



Isaac Yang 

Isaac Young

G proteins, which are a family of proteins that regulate cell functions such as growth and reproduction through signaling transduction pathways, have an intricate relationship with mating in Cryptococcus neoformans. Interestingly, deletion of the Ric8 gene—a gene that encodes a known regulator of the G protein signaling pathway—induces unisexual mating in the resulting deletion mutants. Our project this summer focused on studying the epistatic interaction between Ric8 and other genes involved in the G protein signaling pathway. By identifying additional proteins in the pathway and knocking out the corresponding genes in ric8 mutants, we were able to identify which proteins in the signaling pathway were dispensable to the process through which ric8 mutants reproduced unisexually.  



2021 MGM Sure Students

Eric Bing

Eric BingResearch into the genus chlamydia has historically focused on the host, yet recent advances in genomic techniques have opened the opportunity to investigate the mechanisms of infection on the side of the microbe. My research will focus on utilizing a mariner transposon-based system and CRISPR-directed TN7 system to help characterize the genome of a LGVL2 chlamydia strain to understand microbial mechanisms of infection and help develop genetic tools to aid future investigations.



Tiffany Liu

Tiffany LiuElevated levels of plasma lipid are often caused by reduced activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme that aids lipid absorption from the blood by peripheral tissues. One major modulator of LPL function is angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4), which inhibits LPL. My research focuses on characterizing the effects of Angptl4 on zebrafish lipid metabolism by monitoring angptl4 expression and lipoprotein under different physiological conditions, in vivo in real time. We aim to use the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system to develop knock-in transgenic zebrafish with reporter gene expression that mimics endogenous angptl4 gene expression.


Rashad Rahman 

Rashad RahmanCryptococcus neoformans is a globally significant pathogen that typically affects individuals with weakened immune systems. Responsible for more than 200 thousand cases of cryptococcal meningitis, the fungus poses a significant threat to people living with HIV/AIDS. The Jinks-Robertson lab seeks to understand the effect of heat stress on C. neoformans survival by focusing on transposon mobilization. Our work will contribute to the development of tailored therapies to improve patient outcomes.



Kristen Murphy

Kristen MurphyAn emerging important group of innate immune response regulators are RNA binding proteins (RBPs) and the RNA modifications they recognize and target. One of these classes of RBPs, the Interferon-induced proteins with tetracopeptide (IFITs), are interferon stimulated genes (ISGs) that sense pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) to facilitate the immune response. My research will focus on the specific targets of RNA modifications and PAMPs that IFIT3 targets and how it impacts the innate immune response.



Caroline Anderson

Caroline AndersonSalmonella is a gram-negative bacterium which, depending on the serotype and host, can cause diseases ranging from gastroenteritis to typhoid fever and is responsible for 1.3 billion cases of disease annually. The flagellin has been proposed as a vital component of host-pathogen cross talk during Salmonella infection that can modulate host immunopathology, morbidity and mortality. FliB is a protein responsible for lysine methylation of surface exposed flagellar filament proteins, fliC and fljB, and is conserved among most clinically relevant serovars of Salmonella. It has been hypothesized that fliB plays a role in the pathogenicity of Salmonellal; thus I will be examining the targets and functional consequences of methylation by fliB. I have found so far that there is differential cytokine expression, cellular invasion and replication, growth and pyroptosis induction in ∆fliB mutants.


2019 MGM Sure Students 

Yen Dinh

Yen DinhWhen a rabbit gives birth, its pups ascend towards the nipples of the doe and elicits a well-characterized head-searching pattern followed by the grasping of the doe’s nipple. This behavior has been linked to 2-methylbut-2-enal (2MB2), a volatile compound found in rabbit milk. In Dr. Matsunami’s lab, I am currently responsible for cloning and testing candidate receptors for 2MB2 in order to isolate the receptors that drive this head-searching, nipple-grasping behavior.



Annalise Bracher

Annalise BracherRadial glial cells (RGCs) are neuronal stem cell crucial to the proper development of the brain and are known to facilitate the migration of neurons to the cortical plate via their basal processes. However, much is still unknown about the role that these basal processes and their distal endfeet structures play in cortical development. Recently, several extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins have been identified in RGC endfeet, suggesting a possible novel role of the ECM in cortical development. My research will focus on characterizing these ECM proteins and assessing the possibility of their local translation in endfeet.


Michelle Kim Boyoung

Michelle Kim BoyoungThe hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3-NS4A protease complex is required for viral replication and is the major viral innate immune evasion protein. NS3-NS4A evades antiviral innate immunity by inactivating several proteins, including MAVS, an innate immune signaling protein, and Riplet, an E3 ubiquitin ligase that activates innate immune signaling. We have found that phosphorylation of NS4A, the cofactor for NS3, plays an important role in the inactivation of Riplet. My research will focus on identifying the cellular kinase that phosphorylates NS4A to regulate Riplet inactivation during HCV infection.


Brad Woodie

Brad WoodieAnorexia is part of the behavioral response to infection that facilitates host survival – depriving pathogens of essential nutrients and reducing energy spent on food-seeking to better mount an immune response. Enteroendocrine cells (EEC) make up 1% of the intestinal epithelium and constitute the body’s largest endocrine organ. EEC release appetite-regulating hormones such as cholecystokinin, polypeptide YY, and ghrelin in response to luminal contents. EEC express functional Toll-like receptors, but their role in controlling food intake during infection is not well understood. My research focuses on characterizing the role of EEC hormone production in infection-induced anorexia using the zebrafish model organism.


Tanmayi Vashist 

Tanmayi VashistThe trehalose pathway has been identified as an attractive antifungal target because it is essential to the virulence and/or fitness of the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. The Tps1 enzyme is critical to the pathway because it is responsible for the first step in the production of trehalose; among others, eleven different proteins are predicted to interact with Tps1 based on yeast two-hybrid experiments performed in the Perfect laboratory. By indirectly measuring trehalose levels, I have identified two genes that were significantly altered in trehalose levels compared to wild-type strain (H99) when grown at 37 degrees Celsius. I will be conducting further tests to confirm that the observed phenotype is causal to the reduction in trehalose and allow me to characterize the interaction of the two genes with Tps1 and the trehalose pathway.

Amelia Martin 

Amelia MartinOrganisms of the Leishmania genus are directly responsible for approximately 2 million new cases of infectious disease each year. The intracellular lifestyle employed by these pathogens is contingent upon the protease GP63.  GP63, despite often being erroneously referred to as a single protease, is present in multiple forms with 7 copies of GP63 on chromosome 10 of Leishmania major and more divergent copies on chromosomes 28 and 31. However, it is unknown how these different copies of GP63 vary in their enzymatic properties and expression during infection. I hypothesize that different copies of GP63 cleave different substrates during infection. Therefore, I will be testing and comparing the substrate-specificities and kinetic properties of divergent copies of GP63.

2018 MGM Sure Students

Amelia Martin 

Amelia MartinOrganisms of the Leishmania genus are directly responsible for approximately 2 million new cases of infectious disease each year. The intracellular lifestyle employed by these pathogens is contingent upon the protease GP63.  GP63, despite often being erroneously referred to as a single protease, is present in multiple forms with 7 copies of GP63 on chromosome 10 of Leishmania major and more divergent copies on chromosomes 28 and 31. However, it is unknown how these different copies of GP63 vary in their enzymatic properties and expression during infection. I hypothesize that different copies of GP63 cleave different substrates during infection. Therefore, I will be testing and comparing the substrate-specificities and kinetic properties of divergent copies of GP63.


Jesse Mangold

Jesse MangoldI am a rising senior studying Biology & Global Health and I am involved with research at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in the laboratory of Dr. Sallie Permar. Our lab investigates maternal and infant immune responses that contribute to impeding transmission of vertically transmitted neonatal viral pathogens (HIV, CMV, ZIKV), and how these immune responses can best be targeted by vaccine approaches. In the lab, I am involved with a project aiming to define the pressures that select infant transmitted/founder (T/F) viruses from the circulating virus pool in HIV-1 infected mothers. We have isolated and produced 47 HIV Env-specific IgG monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) from four HIV-infected transmitting women and 45 HIV Env-specific IgG mAbs from three HIV-infected non-transmitting women. We have defined the autologous HIV virus populations in these HIV-infected women and the Env sequences of HIV viruses that initiated infection in their matched infants. We will define the fine-epitope specificity and neutralization activity of these Env-specific mAbs against their paired maternal autologous viruses to test if infant T/F viruses are defined by their neutralization resistance to maternal neutralizing antibodies. Our findings will help inform the development of maternal vaccination strategies aimed at preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV to help achieve an HIV-free generation.

Conan Juan

Conan JuanAn animal’s sense of smell is dependent on odorants binding to olfactory receptors in the nose. Different odorants bind different olfactory receptors, and the combination of receptors that an odorant binds to determines what smell is perceived by the organism. Enantiomers are molecules that are mirror images of each other. Although enantiomers have the same physical properties, some are known to smell different. For example, humans perceive (+)-carvone as caraway and perceive (-)-carvone as spearmint. Behavioral studies also suggest that mice have the ability to discriminate between enantiomeric pairs like (+)-carvone and (-)-carvone. On a similar note, previous studies suggest that animals have the ability to differentiate between deuterated odorants and undeteurated odorants. The goals of my project are in two parts: 1) to provide molecular evidence of a mouse’s ability to discriminate between enantiomeric pairs and 2) to provide molecular evidence that a mouse can differentiate between deuterated and undeteurated odorants.

Annie Lu

Annie LuI’m currently working on one of Dr. Chi’s research projects regarding the nutrient-sensing regulation of gigaxonin protein encoded by GAN gene. Gigaxonin is critical for the degradation and turnover of cytoskeleton proteins in axonal cells. I will be working with new methods in biotechnology to identify the intricacies of functional role of this protein and how its dysfunction contributes to human genetic disorder.



Anuk Dayaprema

Anuk DayapremaOne system and phenotype of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection under study is the latent/lytic switch in Burkitt lymphoma (BL) cells. Though much is known about the specific viral promoter controlling this (BZLF1), the effect of normal viral variation on lytic reactivation in latently infected cells has not been studied. In comparing the sequence variation in several lytic genes, we have found polymorphisms in the 3’UTR of the BALF5 gene (DNA polymerase) that could explain increased rates of lytic reactivation. Our hypothesis is that the different 3’UTRs among viral strains may lead to increased expression of the polymerase, increased DNA replication, and higher viral titers. Our goal is to probe in silico the targeting/lack of targeting of the BALF5 3’UTR by the EBV BART and other miRNAs, and to functionally characterize the BALF5 3’UTR from BL strains relative to B95-8 and M81 EBV strains.

Griffin Haas

Griffin HaasInfluenza A virus (IAV) has a segmented, negative-sense RNA genome. The mechanism through which IAV selectively packages its genome is not well understood, but it has been suggested that vRNA-vRNA interactions between the segments facilitate incorporation of each segment into progeny virions. My research focuses on achieving a better understanding of IAV packaging, particularly by using the reverse genetics system for IAV to perturb its terminal-end packaging signals and observing how such changes affect the virus.



Andrea Chalem

Andrea ChalemA family of NSUN genes are writers for 5-methyl C (m5C). Methylation of cytosine to m5C is known to be necessary for cell function, but its role in viral pathogenesis remain unclear. Our research aims to study the effects of the NSUN2 gene and cytosine methylation on Murine Leukaemia Virus using both knockout and over expression NSUN2 cell lines. Mapping of NSUN2 RNA binding sites will also be performed to pinpoint the exact location of m5C on the viral RNA transcripts. Through the use of these tools we should be able to develop a better understanding of the role the epitranscriptome in MLV pathogenesis.

Past Fellows