Student Profiles

Simone White  

Simone White

Wolfner/Clark Labs
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2012

From: Horseheads, NY
Undergraduate: Binghamton University, B.A. in Biological Sciences

     
Statement  

I chose to join the GGD program for several reasons. First, the areas of research in the GGD field are very diverse, allowing me to expand my horizons and be able to interact with a variety of people with different research interests. Second, Cornell is large, providing copious resources and opportunities to collaborate, but I also enjoy the feeling of a close-knit community within the field and department. Lastly, I love living in Ithaca. There are many great sights to see in the area, and plenty of outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, camping, kayaking, and the Farmer’s market to name a few).  

Research   The Wolfner lab is broadly interested in understanding the role of various genes during reproduction. More specifically, I am interested in understanding the influence of candidate genes on sperm competition, and how these genes interact between male and female Drosophila to impact sperm success. In Drosophila, males are able to complete with each other through sperm competition, in which two or more males mate with an individual female.  The proportion of progeny sired by an individual male reflects its ability to compete with other males. This process, however, is not independent of the female, as there is growing evidence that females are able to actively influence sperm competition. To examine this question, I will be testing knockdowns of these genes to determine male genes important during sperm competition, female genes that alter the ability of males’ sperm to compete, and genetic interactions between males and females on sperm competition.

Daniel Zinshteyn  

Daniel Zinshteyn

Barbash Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2012

From: Philadelphia, PA
Undergraduate: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. in Biology

 

     
Statement  

My research background prior to coming to Cornell was spread among a number of fields, as were my scientific interests. I knew that I wanted to enroll in a program that would give me the opportunity to work with leading researchers across multiple disciplines. At Cornell, I have not had to focus my interests at the expense of my curiosity; the professors here are helpful, nurturing and take mentoring seriously.

Coming from a big city, I thought it would be difficult to adapt to small-town life, but I’ve found that Ithaca is a wonderful place to live, work, and play. Especially for GGD students; we’re the “fun” grad program. Buy one of us a beer and we’ll tell you about it.

Research  

My research is still taking shape, but currently I am studying genes the function and evolution of genes involved in stem cell differentiation in the germline of Drosophila species. This work ties into ongoing projects in the lab dealing with transposable elements, heterochromatin stability, and hybrid sterility.


Paul Billing-Ross  

Paul Billing-Ross

Gu Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2012

From: Tempe, AZ
Undergraduate: Arizona State University

 

     
Statement  

The development of high-throughput experimental techniques is quickly outpacing our ability to manually analyze data and find meaningful biological patterns. To leverage the power of large-scale datasets, I need to be able to design efficient computational solutions for investigating biological problems. The Cornell GG&D faculties teach me to ask meaningful questions and provide me with training in the experimental and informatics techniques necessary to answer them. The GG&D program provides me with a unique opportunity to develop the strong biological and computational skills which will be increasingly valuable moving forward in the 21st century.

After completing my undergraduate studies at Arizona State University I was ready to pursue a graduate education at an excellent university that provided a change of scenery. Moving from Tempe, AZ to Ithaca provided a welcome change in climate. Also, Ithaca has the best coffee in the country.

Research  

Metabolic networks are crucial to cellular processes ranging from apoptosis to cell growth and proliferation. The extent to which metabolic networks are involved in regulating gene expression and the development of disease is still poorly understood. The Gu lab is using systems including yeast and Drosophila to investigate the evolution of metabolic networks and their functional significance. I am investigating the connection between metabolic networks and the regulation of gene expression.


Robin Schwenke  

Robin Schwenke

Lazzaro Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2011

From: Albany, NY
Undergraduate: SUNY at Albany (B.S. Biology, 2011)

 

     
Statement  

In searching for a graduate program, my two main interests were finding a university with faculty members who demonstrated a passion for interesting research questions and finding an environment that I would enjoy completing my PhD.  I found that Cornell University easily met both of these criteria.

During my first two years at Cornell, I have explored diverse research topics, attended national, scientific conferences, and taught an evolutionary biology course in the Galapagos! Additionally, the well-structured GGD program made the transition into graduate school rather smooth. Lastly, the friendliness of the students both in GGD and in other fields as well as the faculty and their inclination to help you succeed makes for a very conducive work environment. 

Not only has Cornell provided a constructive and comfortable environment to improve my scientific skills, but also the city of Ithaca and the surrounding natural areas (lakes, rivers, gorges, waterfalls) has made for a great place to live as I work on toward improving my skills as a research scientist.  

Research  

Work in the Lazzaro lab focuses on the evolutionary genetics of insect-pathogen interactions. My research concentrates on the taxonomically pervasive trade-off between immunity and reproduction. Specifically, I am interested in defining the mechanistic basis for the trade-off between female reproduction and immunity using Drosophila. Additionally, I am interested in exploring the evolutionary implications of the life-history trade-off.


Fabiana Duarte  

Fabiana Duarte

Lis Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2010

From: Brazil
Undergraduate: University of Campinas (Brazil), BS in Biology
Graduate: University of Campinas (Brazil), MS in Genetics and Molecular Biology

 

     
Statement  

My research experience as an undergrad and Master’s student inspired me to pursue a PhD degree, and I realized that a PhD program at a top US university would give me the best opportunities, resources and training to become a successful scientist. The GGD program turned out to be a perfect fit for my interests. It has a wide range of research areas to explore and exposed me to a variety of research tools and model organisms during my rotations. The professors are always very friendly and extremely helpful, and our department has a very welcoming and collaborative environment. As a foreign student, the positive working environment in our department was very important to me, and made it very easy to adapt to a new country and lifestyle. Moreover, Ithaca is a lovely place to live and study. It has the tranquility of a small town and the diversity of big cities, and amazing natural scenery, with its beautiful gorges and waterfalls.

Research  

In the Lis Lab we study the molecular mechanisms involved in transcription regulation using Drosophila and mammalian systems as model organisms. When the tools available are not enough to dissect the mechanisms we are interested in, we like to develop new tools and techniques that can help us to explore biology further. One of my goals is to develop RNA aptamers to one of our proteins of interest, the transcription factor Heat Shock Factor (HSF). Aptamers are a special class of nucleic acids that can bind with high affinity and specificity to a particular region of a protein and block its interactions with one or more partners. When expressed in vivo in a controlled manner, they provide a way to rapidly disrupt targeted domains of proteins and assess their functions and mechanisms of action without having to worry about the secondary effects associated with most of the available techniques.


Julia Goodrich  

Julia Goodrich

Ley Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2010

From: Boulder Colorado
Undergraduate: University of Colorado at Boulder, B.S. in Computer Science, 2010.

 

     
Statement  

The first time I was exposed to computer programming was at the age of twelve. It took no more that a few lines of code to convince me of the powers and possibilities that computers held. While I was pursuing a degree in computer science, I had several experiences in experimental biology labs ranging from molecular biology to tissue engineering that led me to become interested in a career that combined experimental biology with computer science. When I was faced with finding an interdisciplinary graduate program that could leverage my combined interests I found that Cornell was a great fit. The faculty research is diverse, collaboration is encouraged, and I have the freedom and support to pursue my research interests. Soon after starting my graduate career at Cornell, I was given the opportunity to work on a collaborative project that combines my background in computer science, previous work developing software to characterize and analyze microbial datasets, and my interest in human genetics.

Research  

The goal of my current research project is to investigate whether there is a genetic component to the variation of the human gut microbiome, and to identify specific loci in the human genome that are responsible. The composition of the gut microbiota differs markedly among individuals, and constitutes a target for novel therapies, however the development of therapeutics will require a deeper understanding of the factors that shape the microbiota, including age, diet, host physiology and health, and host genotype.  To better understand the role of host genotype in modulating microbial community composition, we are conducting a genome-wide association study using fecal samples from monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins pairs that have been studied in depth by the United Kingdom’s Adult Twin Registry (TwinsUK). Results from this analysis will reveal candidate genes and pathways for future mechanistic investigations.


Keegan Kelsey  

Keegan Kelsey

Clark Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2009

From: Iowa City, IA
Undergraduate: School of the Art Institute of Chicago

 

     
Statement  

Having begun research in a medically oriented, human genetics lab, I knew I wanted an environment that excelled in three areas; model organisms, exposure to large datasets, and population genetics. Although working directly with human samples is extremely motivating, I was missing an important and informative perspective from non-human genetics. I also felt, and still feel, that it is increasingly necessary in genetics (and any field!) to be capable of handling massive data sets. Data is not going away and there will simply be more of it in the future. I have fantastic access to knowledge, tools, and datasets to accomplish that learning here.

Since being at Cornell, I have found two things: One, it truly is a teaching university. People are curious, care about your interests, and want to help you. Two, Cornell is undeniably a terrific environment for general training as a scientist. I appreciate this coming from an art school background and am using it to build a fantastic network of scientists, non-scientists and friends that span all fields of work.

Research  

Currently, I am using globally collected populations of Drosophila melanogaster, inbred and fully sequenced, to identify factors involved in the modification of chromatin. I’ve developed a novel approach to assaying position-effect variegation (PEV), a proxy for chromatin state, and apply this technique to explore questions surrounding chromatin state variation both within and between populations. Current questions are: Do known genetic modifiers of chromatin state fully explain PEV phenotypic variance observed across a population? Are there non-SNP variants that influence change in chromatin state? How common and important is the transgenerational transmission of epigenetic variation to phenotypic makeup?


Ian Welsh  

Ian Welsh

Kurpios Lab
GGD
Entered program: Fall 2009

From: Bar Harbor, ME
Undergraduate: University of Maine, Orono, BS (Biology, Chemistry minor)

     
Statement  

Morphogenesis represents a critical and dynamic utilization of genomic information in the life history of an organism and thus a powerful system for advancing our understanding of genomic regulation and function. To take full advantage of this system requires a multidisciplinary approach that combines experimental embryology and classical genetics with the latest and rapidly evolving tools of genomic sequence analysis. GGD seamlessly integrates this approach, providing students exposure to cutting edge technology and opportunities to develop as effective experimentalists. I believe the breadth of resident expertise and environment of strong collegial interaction amongst field members has been central to my success as a graduate student.

Research  

My thesis research in the Kurpios lab is aimed at identifying the transcriptional targets and cellular mechanisms through which the transcription factor Pitx2 drives asymmetric organ development. Using a laser capture microarray data set in conjunction with in vivo functional genomics studies, I have found that Pitx2 targets serve to integrate left-right patterning with intercellular signaling via noncanonical WNT signaling and thus provide a mechanism to effect left-right differences in cellular behavior. Just as important as identifying the transcriptional targets of Pitx2, is understanding the mechanisms that provide robust regulation of the spatial and temporal expression of Pitx2 itself. Significantly, I am also investigating the role that chromatin organization and epigenetic regulation plays in organizing asymmetric expression from the Pitx2 locus across the left-right axis of developing embryos.

Publications  

Welsh, I.C. and O’Brien, T.P.  (2000). Loss of late primitive streak mesoderm and interruption of left-right morphogenesis in the Endrbs-1Acrg mutant mouse. Developmental Biology 225,151-168.

Krebs, L.T., Iwai, N., Nonaka, S., Welsh, I.C., Lan, Y., Rulang, J., Saijoh, Y., O’Brien, T.P., Hamada, H., and Gridley, T. (2003). Notch signaling regulates left-right asymmetry determination by inducing Nodal expression. Genes and Development 17, 1207-1212.

Burgess, R.W., Peterson, K.A., Johnson, M.J., Roix, J.J., Welsh, I.C., and O’Brien, T.P.  (2004). Evidence for a conserved function in synapse formation reveals Phr1 as a candidate gene for respiratory failure in newborn mice. Mol. Cell. Biol. 24, 1096-1105.

Frank, A.C., Meyers, K.A., Welsh, I.C., and O’Brien, T.P. (2003). Development of an EGFP-based dual-color reporter to facilitate genetic screens for the recovery of mutations in mice. PNAS 100, 14103-14108.

Han, L., Dias Figueiredo, M., Berghorn, K. A., Iwata, T. N., Clark-Campbell, P. A., Welsh, I. C., Wang, W., O'Brien, T.P., Lin, D. M., and Roberson, M. S.  (2007). Analysis of the gene regulatory program induced by the homeobox transcription factor distal-less 3 in mouse placenta. Endocrinology 148, 1246-1254.

Welsh, I.C., Hagge-Greenberg, A., and O’Brien, T.P. (2007). A dosage-dependent role for Spry2 in growth and patterning during palate development. Mechanisms of Development 124 (9-10), 746-761

Munroe, R.J., Prabhu, V., Acland, G.M., Johnson, K.R., O'Brien, T.P., Welsh, I.C., Noden, D.M., and Schimenti, J.C. (2009). Mouse H6 Homeobox 1 (Hmx1) mutations cause cranial abnormalities and reduced body mass. BMC Developmental Biology 9:27.

Welsh, I.C. and O’Brien, T.P. (2009). Signaling integration in the rugae growth zone directs sequential SHH signaling center formation during the rostral outgrowth of the palate. Developmental Biology 336, 53-67.

Lyndaker, A.M., Modzelewski, A.J., and Welsh, I.C. (2012). Reproductive and Developmental Genomics Retreat at Cornell University, 2012. Mol. Reprod. Dev. 79, 588-591

Welsh, I.C., Thomsen, M., Gludish, D.W., Alfonso-Parra, C., Bai, Y., Martin, J., and Kurpios, N. A. (2013) Integration of L-R Pitx2 transcription and Wnt signaling drives asymmetric gut morphogenesis via Daam2. (In Press, Developmental Cell, September 30, 2013 issue)