Professor Kenneth Noll Retires after 32 Years at UConn

April 29, 2022

Kenneth Noll’s career at UConn began in 1990.  Ken NollHe received his doctoral degree working with Ralph Wolfe at the University of Illinois where he identified the elusive “component B” in methanogenesis as 7-mercaptoheptanoylthreonine phosphate.  Component B is essential to the last step in making biogenic methane.  Its characterization was a major advance in understanding the global carbon cycle.  He did his postdoctoral work with Carl Woese, the inventor of 16S rRNA phylogenetics, at the University of Illinois, mapping the genomes of archaea using rare-cutting restriction enzymes.  At UConn, Noll’s research and teaching interests encompassed microbial physiology and molecular evolution, especially of extremely thermophilic prokaryotes in the Thermotoga and Archaea; genome organization and horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of prokaryotes; evolution of microbial metabolic pathways; biological hydrogen generation; microbial fuel cells; and biofuels. He led the sequencing of 11 genomes from thermophilic bacteria back when sequencing genomes was less convenient than today.  Noll’s research accomplishments are recorded in over 100 reviewed papers, articles, and book chapters. He was responsible in whole or collaboratively for bringing over $10.8 million in research funding to UConn for a variety of research projects on thermophiles, termite gut microbiology, biological sensors, and horizontal gene transfer. His reputation as a tough but fair editor led to his service on several editorial boards and grant review panels and as an ad hoc reviewer for many federal funding agencies and journals.

Noll spent several years as Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Education and Research, a difficult role in a highly complex department.  Professor Emeritus David Benson notes that “Dr. Noll’s career exemplifies what being a Professor is all about – intellectual curiosity, training a new generation, expansive interests, service, and public engagement. Aside from running a fascinating research program on hyperthermophilic bacteria funded by NSF, NASA and DOE, he also served as Associate Department Head.  His fairness and clarity were critical for helping our graduate and undergraduate educational programs adapt and even thrive amid budget rescissions and administrative pressures."

Noll believes in the importance of science communication and is himself a gifted communicator. He served as editor, writer, and designer of MCB’s annual publication, MCB Notes, and Expression for 12 years. In addition, he created two graduate professional communications courses: “Communication Skills: Building your Research Story” and “Communication Skills: Improvisation to Improve Listening.” He also gave many graduate student professional development training presentations about public speaking.  Nationally, he organized and hosted the wildly successful ASM Kadner Institute career workshops at UConn for three years, and served for six years on the ASM Committee on Graduate and Postdoctoral Education. He practiced his skill at public speaking at presentations on campus, and to community groups on topics ranging from thermophiles to Charles Darwin, natural selection, life in the deep sea, termite guts, and even the Higgs boson.  He was able to translate complex scientific issues into everyday language that could be understood by the general public.  Consequently, he participated in science fairs for high schools, BioBlitz events enumerating microbial diversity in the field, taught middle school children about microorganisms in his summer course called “Magnificent Microbes” as part of the “Kids Are Scientists and Engineers, Too” program; did radio interviews about microorganisms; spoke to retirees at the Center for Learning in Retirement (CLIR); and held forth in interviews on local radio stations and podcasts.

DarwinHe is also quite the performer.  Using his theatrical skills, he melded science with the personality of Charles Darwin, and performed, in character, to schools, museums, and at public events, so audiences could understand the historical context of when Darwin lived. He created a website, Charles Darwin: A Life in Stories which he has dedicated to bringing Mr. Darwin to life.  Noll’s fascination with history garnered international recognition for UConn as one of 17 “Milestones in Microbiology” historical sites when he unearthed the seminal work of Herbert William Conn, who practiced the then-new discipline of microbiology at the end of the 19th century, and was the co-founder of the ASM and Professor at the Storrs Agricultural College.  Through these activities, Noll has become a well-known ambassador for MCB and all things microbiology.

Dr. Noll has a passion for sharing his excitement for science with children. For several years he ran a summer program for middle school children in which they explored microbes in ponds, the woods, and kitchens. He created a website, ‘Microbes and More’ that has pages with resources for teachers where they can find out about his work teaching microbes to children, exploring Mark Twain’s use of microbes in one of his stories, the fascinating world of microbes in termites’ guts and self-made flip books for children to learn about extremophiles.  In recognition of these manifold activities, Professor Noll received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement in 1997.

According to Michael Lynes, current head of MCB, “Dr. Noll was a passionate scientist, communicator, and colleague.  His energy was always focused in a way that benefitted those around him, and his love of a good story led him to represent the MCB community in novel and effective ways.  He was particularly active in leading the recognition of MCB and the UCONN scientific community for some of the early microbiology research that was done on campus.”

Now that he has retired from a well-rounded career, Noll plans to continue sharing his love of science through his websites and public appearances.

Dr. Noll has been appointed by the UConn Board of Trustees as Professor Emeritus, Molecular and Cell Biology.

 

Spring ’22 Undergraduate Awards

April 28, 2022

University Scholars

Michelle Antony, Poorna Balakumar, Ashiti Damania, Rayna Esch, Paul Isaac, Alexandra Goldhamer, Sarah San Vicente, Joshua Yu

Open to undergraduate students from all of the University's schools and colleges, the University Scholar Program allows students to design and pursue an in-depth research or creative project and to craft a learning plan that supports their interests and academic goals during their final three semesters. Each student is mentored by an advisory committee of three faculty. See the Scholars projects


Todd M. Schuster Award

Danielle Arsenault
about the award


All Biology Undergraduate Research Symposium Awards

MCB Outstanding Senior Award: Lauren Daddi
Identification of ciprofloxacin resistance factors via in vivo evolution of Aeromonas veronii in the medicinal leech, Lauren Daddi, Joerg Graf

Excellence in Applied Genetics and Technology Award: Roshni Mehta
Who Let the DoGs Out? An Analysis of RNA Transcription Readthrough and Termination, Roshni Mehta, Leighton J. Core, Luke Wojenski


Darren Lee and Ryan Frier
The Holster Scholar Program is a highly-selective enrichment opportunity for curious first-year Honors Students that supports in-depth, individualized learning experiences in the summer following a student's first year.


Spring 2022 IDEA Grants

Ananya Aggarwal ’24, Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS Synthesizing Cisplatin Loaded Nanoparticles for the Intraperitoneal Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Nour Al Zouabi ’23, Molecular and Cell Biology & IMJR: Rights, Health, and Refugees, CLAS Refugees’ Post-Resettlement Barriers to Accessing Healthcare Services in the Northeastern  United States During COVID-19

Alexandra Goldhamer ’23, Molecular and Cell Biology & Human Rights, CLAS The Attenuation of Diet-Induced Obesity Through Locus Coeruleus Chemoactivation

Judith A. and David C. Kelly Summer MCB Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Shell Chen (Stacey Hanlon lab), Hamza Kasanga (Jonathan Klassen lab), and Harpreet Kaur (Charlie Giardina lab)

The Judith A. and David C. Kelly Summer MCB Research Fellowship program will support these three rising senior MCB majors in their research activities in an MCB Faculty laboratory during the summer of 2022.

Professional Science Master’s (PSM) News

April 27, 2022

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'21-'22 HIGHLIGHTS

Internships

During the 2021-2022 academic year, students completed internships at Center for DNA-Guided Medicine; Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Yale School of Medicine; UConn Health; Shoreline Biome; and UConn School of Nursing Biobehavioral Laboratory.

Recent Graduate Employment 

Research Associate, Sensei Biotherapeutics; Quality Control Associate, Moderna; LabCorp Integrated Genetics; Yale School of Medicine; Research Specialist, Pathology Core, Gene Therapy Program, University of Pennsylvania; Senior Microbiologist, Sterilization, Medtronic; Associate Scientist, Artizan Bioscience; UConn Health.

Professional development speakers included CEOs, upper management, independent consultants, and MCB PSM alumni from a variety of large companies, startups, non-academic institutions, etc., across the biotechnology and pharmaceutical spectrum.

 

MCB Faculty Awards, Promotions and Accolades

National Fellowships Incentive Awards

The Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships (ONSF) has recognized professors Stacey Hanlon, Eric May and Carol Teschke (Fall '21) and Kat Milligan-McClellan (Spring '22) for their work mentoring students through the process of developing proposals and submitting applications for eligible awards. The National Fellowships Incentive Program (NFIP) works to build a stronger student and faculty culture around applying for prestigious, nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. They each received $1000 in professional development funds.


Rachel O’Neill, professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences is one of three UConn scholars honored this year with its most prestigious faculty title, the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor

O’Neill’s work centers on how genomes function and evolve. She uses cutting-edge genomic, computational and imaging approaches to gain fundamental insights into chromosome biology and genome evolution in a wide variety of organisms. Her studies on the structure and function of chromosome centromeres, essential for proper chromosome segregation during cell division, have shaped the field of centromere biology. She is highly sought-after as a collaborator on large-scale national and international projects that require a high-level expertise in genome assembly curation.

O’Neill’s work on repetitive DNA, which makes up about 50% of the human genome but is frequently dismissed as “junk DNA”, has had far-reaching impact, including on normal fetal and placental development, the discovery of novel retroelements, evolutionary breakpoints and chromosome evolution, and continuing challenges to the centromere paradox. She is part of the team that released the first complete human genome sequence, published in a series of papers in Science. Her 2010 publication titled “Chromosomes, Conflict, and Epigenetics: Chromosomal Speciation Revisited”, remains one of the most cited reviews from the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. Collectively, O’Neill has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and led or contributed to projects that have brought over $23 million in extramural funding to UConn.

O’Neill is also the director of the Institute for Systems Genomics (ISG). As Director of the ISG, she has developed multiple new degree programs, initiated core facilities and programs (including the SARS-COV2 Surveillance Program) and established the iGEM and Genome Ambassadors outreach programs. Most recently, O’Neill organized and hosted Nobel Laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna for the ISG Distinguished Lecture series, an event that attracted about 1,800 attendees for the live virtual presentation.

O’Neill also is part of the team that spearheaded the COVID-19 testing efforts at UConn that have helped UConn remain safe, efforts that were widely praised throughout the country including by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator (2020-2021), Dr. Deborah Birx.

O’Neill has been recognized with several honors for her teaching, research and service, including a UConn Excellence in Teaching award, a Connecticut Women of Innovation – Academic Leadership Award, and is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.


MCB Professor Teschke Elected to Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering

Carol Teschke

The Department would like to congratulate Dr. Carol Teschke for her recent election to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering  (CASE)

The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineeringwas established in 1976 by Special Act of the Connecticut General Assembly to fulfill a need for authoritative and organized technical advice for state government. CASE is a non-profit institution patterned after the National Academy of Sciences.

CASE members are elected based on recognition of their scientific and engineering distinction achieved through significant contributions in theory or applications, as demonstrated by original published books and papers, patents, the pioneering of new and developing fields, and innovative products, outstanding leadership of nationally recognized technical teams, public service, and external professional awards in recognition of scientific and engineering excellence.


David Knecht Awarded 2021 Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award

David Knecht

The Marth Award was established by the UConn AAUP to recognize the leadership and dedication of Edward Marth, former Executive Director of the UConn AAUP Chapter, and to encourage and reward outstanding mentoring of graduate students by UConn Graduate Faculty members. It is awarded annually to a faculty member with an extraordinary record of excellence and effectiveness in graduate student mentoring. Dr. Knecht has demonstrated such a record, and the MCB department is happy that he has been recognized for his exceptional contributions to graduate student mentoring through this award. The Marth Award winner is invited to give a short address at the PhD graduation ceremony in May.


Graf Receives 2022 CLAS Faculty Mentoring Award

Graf_JoergJoerg Graf has been awarded the CLAS 2022 Faculty Mentoring of Graduate Students Award. The Faculty Mentoring Awards recognize faculty who demonstrate exemplary support, encouragement, and the creation of opportunities to enrich the learning and professional development of others. Awards are given in three categories each year: mentoring of faculty, mentoring of graduate students, and mentoring of undergraduate students.


Holster Scholar Mentors

Professors Ken Campellone and Jonathan Klassen agree to mentor Holster Scholars Ryan Frier and Darren Lee respectively. Each will receive $1000 in the form of professional development funds that are available from a generous donation from Robert (’68) and Carlotta (’68) Holster, UConn alumni dedicated to the success of ambitious and curious students.

MCB Undergraduate Students win SURF Awards

The UConn Office of Undergraduate Research recently announced the selection of 39 undergraduate students to receive 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects.

Of those who received awards, 10 were MCB majors and include:

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2021-2022 Outstanding MCB TAs

April 18, 2022

Please join us in congratulating Derrick Kamp and Nidhi Vijayan on receiving the 21/22 MCB Outstanding TA Awards in recognition of their outstanding contributions and professional dedication to inspiring student learning and commitment to education.

 

The Human Genome Project Pieced Together 92% of the DNA – Scientists Have Finally Filled in the Remaining 8%

April 13, 2022

 | When the Human Genome Project announced that they had completed the first human genome in 2003, it was a momentous accomplishment – for the first time, the DNA blueprint of human life was unlocked. But it came with a catch – they weren’t actually able to put together all the genetic information in the genome. There were gaps: unfilled, often repetitive regions that were too confusing to piece together.

Read full article in UConn Today