2019 MCB Commencement Reception and Awards

May 14, 2019

The 2019 UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences undergraduate graduation took place at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday, May 12.

Following commencement, the Molecular and Cell Biology Department hosted the annual reception for graduating seniors in biology.

Awards were given out to students in the 4 areas of concentration. Dr. Michael Lynes, head of MCB handed out awards to Brian Aguilera and Jennifer Messina for Outstanding Senior in MCB. Kevin Lee and Tony Patelunas each received an award for Outstanding TA award.

See the photo album here


GO: MCB Announces Election Results

July 9, 2020

GO:MCB has announced the results from this year's election including the new position of Chief Diversity Officer:

President: Katie Kyle, Vice President: Emily Green; Treasurer: Patrick Grady; Secretary: Sean Gosselin; Outreach Coordinator: Ryan Duggan; Chief Diversity Officer: Khalia Cain; Graduate Representatives: Khalia Cain, Em Ng, Patrick Grady; Alternate Representative: JD Tamucci

Congratulations to all the new officers and representatives!

Congratulations from MCB! Years of Service Employee Recognition

July 2, 2020

The following MCB employees have reached important milestones in their service to the state and the University. Though the celebration of these achievements will be delayed until all employees are back working in person on campus, it is important that we recognize and applaud their commitment and dedication to UConn and MCB. Thank you!

Celebrating 10 years - Colleen Spurling, Mark Longo

15 years - Craig Nelson, Elaine Mirkin, Victoria Robinson

20 years  -  Andrei Alexandrescu, Michael O’Neill

25 years - Carolyn Teschke

30 years - Johan Gogarten

35 years- Dana Masse

MCB Outstanding TA Awards Announced

June 26, 2020

The Department of Molecular and Cell Biology is pleased to announce that Stephen Hesler and Sean Gosselin have been selected as Outstanding MCB TA for 2019-2020. This award recognizes their outstanding contributions, professional dedication to inspiring student learning and their commitment to education. Congratulations!

Dr. James Cole’s Covid-19 Research Featured in UConn Today

June 23, 2020

Atomwise Partnership Enables UConn Researcher to Investigate COVID-19 Drug Target

University of Connecticut professor of molecular and cell biology James Cole is working on identifying new therapeutics for COVID-19.

University of Connecticut professor of molecular and cell biology James Cole is working on identifying new therapeutics for COVID-19.

Through a collaboration with Atomwise, a California-based company which uses artificial intelligence to advance small molecule drug discovery, Cole is one of the 15 researchers looking at different coronavirus protein targets for COVID-19 treatment.

Cole is focusing on the NSP15/EndoU ribonuclease enzyme the COVID-19 virus needs to replicate as well as degrade viral RNA to hide it from host cell defenses. Cole is looking for a molecule that can inhibit the enzyme and thus inhibit replication of coronaviruses.

“The virus and the host carry out this war,” Cole says. “The virus has to evade the host’s innate immunity response while the host is trying to stop the virus from replicating.”

By inhibiting this enzyme, the body’s innate immune system would prevent the virus from replicating.

Atomwise is connecting researchers around the globe to their Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) program. AtomNet, the company’s patented AI screening technology, screens millions of molecules to find those which have the highest probability of being useful for treatment.

Several other researchers at UConn have been recipients of AIMS Awards from Atomwise in the past.

AtomNet uses 3D models of various protein drug targets to identify molecules that may bind to them. Atomwise then sends these molecules to researchers who conduct experiments to find compounds that bind or inhibit drug targets.

Earlier this year, scientists published the structure of the NSP15/EndoU enzyme from SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, providing the basis for Atomwise’s analysis. Atomwise will search through its database to identify molecules which may bind to the surface of NSP15/EndoU and could potentially be used for drug development.

While there are many potential targets for COVID-19 treatment, NSP15/EndoU is particularly attractive because it is necessary for SARS-CoV-2 replication and is highly conserved among coronaviruses. This means this enzyme is very similar in all coronaviruses.

Successfully targeting NSP15/EndoU would block the virus’ ability to replicate without interfering with normal human cell function.

“There’s no close analog in humans, so it’s unlikely to inhibit things we don’t want it to,” Cole says.

This research may also have ramifications for other coronaviruses which are responsible for other illnesses including SARS and MERS as well as new, emerging coronaviruses.

In addition to partnering with Atomwise for virtual screening with AtomNet, Cole is utilizing UConn’s high-performance computer cluster and the Schrödinger Software Suite to perform additional molecule screenings.

Cole studies how a variety of viral pathogens interact with the host’s innate immune pathways, positioning him well to tackle the challenges presented by COVID-19.

“When the pandemic hit, I was beginning to think we can help with this,” Cole says.

Cole has applied for funding from the National Institutes of Health for this two-year research venture.

“It’s an exciting and new therapeutic target,” Cole says. “It’s a particularly good target and of scientific interest to me.”

 Cole holds a Ph.D. from the University of California. He completed his postdoctoral training at Stanford University. His research focuses on using biochemical, biophysical and structural methods to define the key macromolecular interactions that regulate important biological processes, specifically the innate immunity pathway for defense against viral infection.

Atomwise Partnership Enables UConn Researcher to Investigate COVID-19 Drug Target


Three MCB Students Among the 2020 Biological Undergraduate Research Colloquium Award Winners

June 12, 2020

Misbah Aziz (Mellone Lab) received the Outstanding Senior in MCB award, Kelsey Herbert (Campellone Lab) received the Biology Directors Award, and Alyssa Ferreira received the Excellence in Applied Genetics and Technology Award. Assignment of all awards is made by the Biology Honors Committee following the Biology Undergraduate Research Colloquium held annually during the last week of classes. To learn more about all the awards, visit https://mcb.uconn.edu/biological-sciences-awards/

Two MCB Faculty Awarded 2020 Microbiome Research Seed Grants

June 10, 2020

The Office of Vice President for Research (OVPR) recently announced the award decisions for the UConn Microbiome Research Seed Grant Program. Jonathan Klassen, Metal-Binding Antimicrobial Peptide Mediation of a Fungus-Growing Ant Symbiosis, Co-PI: Alfredo Angeles-Boza and Mark Peczuh, Chemistry, Characterizing the Role of Siderophores in the Euprymna Scolopes – Vibrio Fischeri Symbiosis
Co-PI: Spencer Nyholm were among the four chosen research proposals.  Complete story in UConn Today For more information about the competition, visit the program website.

MCB students Taylor Domingue and Sumeet Kadian 20/21 Werth Innovators!

June 4, 2020

Congratulations to MCB students Taylor Domingue and Sumeet Kadian on becoming 2020-2021 Werth Innovators! Werth Innovators are student ambassadors for entrepreneurship and innovation at UConn who play a central role in building interest and participation in a wide range of programs. They are selected annually from a pool of freshmen applicants based upon their innovative projects and interest in increasing student involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation at the university. These students are awarded a $3,000 scholarship for the 2020-21 school year and receive significant mentoring, programming, and developmental opportunities. During one of their spring breaks, the students will visit Silicon Valley/San Francisco to spend time with UConn alum in the technology and entrepreneurship space.

In December 2017, UConn announced the establishment of The Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation after philanthropist and entrepreneur Peter J. Werth made a historic $22.5 million commitment to UConn. Under University leadership, the Institute brings together student and faculty programs fostering entrepreneurship and innovation that potentially have commercial application and can be used to create new companies. Learn more about the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Applications for 2021-2022 will open in March 2021

Dr. Nathan Alder’s Research Featured in UConn Today

May 28, 2020

Researchers Explore Potential Treatment for Mitochondrial Diseases

UConn researchers are studying a group of compounds that could protect mitochondria in ways that might prevent devastating illnesses like muscular dystrophy and ALS.


(Getty Images)

Huntington’s. Parkinson’s. Muscular dystrophy. Lou Gehrig’s. These diseases share a common cause that devastatingly robs sufferers of their energy, muscle control, and in the case of Huntington’s, their sanity. But now, a group of researchers from UConn describes how a possible therapy might work.

What all those fearsome diseases have in common is dysfunctional mitochondria. Mitochondria are the body’s tiny power plants. These minuscule, rod-shaped structures inside our cells take in oxygen and nutrients and put out ATP, the body’s fuel (ATP is to cells what gasoline is to cars.) When mitochondria don’t work so well, the dysfunction can cause strange and awful symptoms that are particularly distressing in parts of the body that require lots of energy: particularly muscles, the brain, and nerve tissue.

Mitochondrial diseases tend to worsen with age. Scientists have guessed that mitochondria age as the rest of our body does. Damage acquired over time may contribute to mitochondrial diseases, but they aren’t entirely sure what’s happening or how to stop it.

“They’re insidious diseases because they rob your cells of their energy. They’re so hard to diagnose and the symptoms can be so diverse,” says Nathan Alder, a molecular biophysicist in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn.

Alder and other researchers from UConn, the University of Texas, and Alexandria LaunchLabs are researching a group of compounds that seem to protect and even repair damage to mitochondria. The researchers describe the compounds, called SS peptides, and one potential way they may work to heal mitochondria in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

SS peptides are made of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, but each SS peptide is only four amino acids long. They all have the same basic plan: two amino acids with a positive charge alternating with two aromatic amino acids (“aromatic” is a chemistry term meaning they have a ring-like structure similar to benzene).

SS-31 diagram
A diagram showing SS-31, a peptide, or short chain of amino acids that easily penetrates the body’s cells. SS-31 gets hoovered up by mitochondria and snuggles up against the inner walls, where it shields the fatty molecule cardiolipin (green) from damage done by strong positively charged ions such as calcium. (Courtesy of the researcher) 

Previous research by Hazel Szeto at Cornell University, who first described SS peptides and served as co-author on this study, showed that SS peptides can enter into any cell in the body, and mitochondria suck them up like sponges. Alder and his colleagues wanted to figure out what the peptides were doing when they got in there. Using approaches ranging from computer modeling to studying mitochondria in the lab, they began to see the peptides’ effects. It looks like they can alter and potentially repair mitochondria by tuning the electric properties of their membranes.

Mitochondrial membranes are intricately creviced double-layers of fatty molecules called lipids that surround proteins sticking out of the membrane itself. The outer layer of the membrane “talks” to the rest of the cell, sensing conditions and passing ATP and other molecules back and forth. The labyrinthine inner layer of the membrane holds the ATP factories. One of the special lipids enriched in the inner membrane, cardiolipin, has a strong affinity for SS peptides.

Mitochondria tend to accumulate positively charged things like calcium ions—mitochondria actually serve as storage centers for cellular calcium. Yet calcium overload can cause damage to mitochondria’s cardiolipin-containing membranes over time, ripping into the membrane and causing permanent damage.

SS peptides can prevent that from happening, Alder and his colleagues found. The peptides are positively charged but in a gentler way than calcium; they snuggle up against the mitochondrial membrane and shield it from the smaller, more damaging calcium ions.

“This is probably not the only effect of SS peptides. But it’s an interesting one,” Alder says. The researchers want to understand more about how the peptides interact with the mitochondria and why they appear to have such broad-based efficacy against so many mitochondrial disorders. The team is currently using UConn’s nuclear magnetic resonance facilities to get detailed pictures of SS peptide structural features and how the peptides might alter or maintain the shape of the mitochondrial membranes. “We know they work. We want to know how they work. By understanding the mechanism of action, we can engineer more effective peptide analogs and possibly tailor them to treat specific mitochondrial afflictions,” Alder says.

Article in UConn Today


Congratulations MCB SURF Award Winners!

May 21, 2020

The following MCB Undergraduate students received 2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Fund awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects. All SURF projects will be pursued remotely this summer in accordance with restrictions on undergraduate research due to COVID-19. Please note that the project titles listed reflect the original projects proposed.

Akriti Bhattarai '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Identification of Putative Resistance Genes in the Sugar Pine Genome (Pinus lambertiana) and across the White Pines Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jill Wegrzyn, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Rei Bufi '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS; Individualized Major: Globalization, Art, and Activism, CLAS) Project Title: The Need for Evidence-Based Exercise Intervention for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Faculty Mentor: Dr. Linda Pescatello, Kinesiology

Daniel Fairchild '21 (Structural Biology and Biophysics, CLAS; Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Near IR Tethered Bichromophoric Fluorophore-Quencher Voltage Sensitive Dye Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ping Yan, Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling

Elena Haarer '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Defining the Functions of the Actin Cytoskeleton in Cellular Senescence and Biological Aging Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kenneth Campellone, Molecular and Cell Biology

Sarah Kricheff, Dec. '20 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Developing a Biosensor for Mechanical Tension in Live Cells Faculty Mentor: Dr. Yi Wu, Genetics and Genome Sciences

Katherine Lee '22 (Structural Biology and Biophysics, CLAS) Project Title: Computational Investigations into Allostery and Binding Dynamics of Tau Protein Antibodies: Affinity, Specificity and the Potential for Intentional Design Faculty Mentor: Dr. Eric May, Molecular and Cell Biology

Roshni Mehta '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS; French, CLAS) Project Title: Who Let the DoGs Out? An Analysis of RNA Transcription Readthrough and Termination Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leighton Core, Molecular and Cell Biology

Jayla Millender '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS; Africana Studies, CLAS) Project Title: The Impact of Angiogenic and Osteogenic Factors in the Presence of Biodegradable Piezoelectric Films In Vitro Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thanh Nguyen, Mechanical Engineering

Seema Patel '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: TLS Inhibitors: A Promising Class of Compounds as Anti-Cancer Agents Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kyle Hadden, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Ariana Rojas '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: The Role of Taxi, Miniature, and an Uncharacterized Homeobox Gene in the Development of Double-Layered Epithelium in Oncopeltus fasciatus Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Jockusch, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Shannel Senior '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Synthesis and Characterization of Antimicrobial Cyclic Peptides Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alfredo Angeles-Boza, Chemistry

Sameena Shah '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Discriminatory Bullying of Ethnic and Immigrant Minority Youth: Does Cultural and Familial Belongingness Moderate the Relation Between Being Bullied and the Negative Psychological and Behavioral Consequences Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alaina Brenick, Human Development and Family Sciences

Hannah Smith '21 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Developing an Effective Barcoding Method for Salp Species Differentiation and Phylogenetic Resolution Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rachel O'Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology

Congratulations, SURF awardees!


Professor Gogarten Receives 2020 Mentorship Excellence Award

April 29, 2020

Dr. Gogarten has been selected as one of this year’s recipients of the faculty Mentorship Excellence Award, in recognition of his outstanding mentorship of undergraduate researchers. He was selected from a very strong group of nominees by a committee of Peer Research Ambassadors in the Office of Undergraduate Research. The undergraduate mentee who nominated him cited his "extraordinary commitment to challenging and supporting them, which transformed their undergraduate experience, fostered their graduate school aspirations, and allowed them to achieve things they never thought possible."  Awards will be presented at the Fall Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition.