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


Tamucci, Ozcan, and Vijayan Receive Conference Participation Awards

July 27, 2021

The Graduate School offers a Conference Participation Award (previously known as the Doctoral Student Travel Award) to support students’ ability to present their research at national or international meetings and conferences, including both in-person and virtual events. Jeffrey Tamucci, Didem Ozcan, and Nidhi Vijayan each received an award that will be used for participation in a conference at which the student is presenting their research.

MCB Undergrad Paul Isaac Receives UConn SURF Award

July 22, 2021

Summer Undergraduate Researcher Paul Isaac '23 works to find a synthetic protein to help an ancient species. UConn’s Office of Undergraduate Research each year provides Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) awards to support full-time undergraduate students in summer research or creative projects. Paul Isaac, a rising Junior majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and diagnostic and genetic science is doing research on the genomic and cellular components of the horseshoe crab and their immune response with faculty mentor Rachel O’Neill, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.
Learn more in UConn Today 

UConn Researcher Working to Uncover Key to Cellular Mechanisms in Parasite – Aoife Heaslip Receives Grant

June 9, 2021

Heaslip Lab Members
The Heaslip Lab. Top row (L-R) Aoife Heaslip, Irio Schiano, Michael Griffith, Madhavi Devarakonda. Bottom row (L-R) Thomas Sladewski, Camille Pearce and Jacob Kellermeier. (Aoife Heaslip/UConn Photo)

UConn Researcher Working to Uncover Key to Cellular Mechanisms in Parasite

Aoife Heaslip has received a grant to study the molecular underpinnings of a parasite that can cause severe infections in people who are immunocompromised and babies.

Toxoplasmosis is a common but usually non-life-threatening parasitic infection linked to contaminated food or water. While most people infected by Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis, will have very mild or no symptoms at all, the parasite can persist in the body for long periods of time, possibly even an entire lifetime.

People who are immunocompromised and babies, if infection occurs in utero, can suffer severe symptoms. If a person’s immune system cannot combat the infection, it may cause damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs. T. gondii is a leading cause of congenital neurological defects.

University of Connecticut assistant professor of molecular and cell biology Aoife Heaslip has received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study molecular functions of T. gondii. Heaslip hopes this work will provide a better understanding of how this parasite operates and thus pave the way for new therapeutic approaches.

Heaslip will focus on T. gondii’s intracellular cargo transport mechanism. This process involves the movement of vesicles — cellular transport containers for materials like proteins — within a cell. Intracellular transport and vesicle secretion are essential cellular functions for all eukaryotes. For T. gondii, they are key to this pathogens ability to invade and grow within its host’s cells.

Despite its importance, to date, scientists have only studied cargo transport mechanisms in a small number of model species leaving wide knowledge gaps about how other eukaryotes, like T. gondii, complete this task.

The goal of Heaslip’s lab is to uncover the cargo transport mechanism in T. gondii. Their previously published data show there are two proteins: actin and unconventional myosin (MyoF), required for intracellular cargo transport in T. gondii. Both proteins are part of the T. gondii’s cytoskeleton, the part of the cell responsible for maintaining cell shape and locomotion.

Heaslip’s lab will utilize an interdisciplinary combination of approaches including parasite genetics and cell biology, live cell imaging and quantitative vesicle tracking, and in-vitro biophysical approaches to answer these questions.

“My laboratory occupies a unique niche at the intersection between parasitology and molecular motors fields,” Heaslip says. “Utilizing these interdisciplinary approaches makes us ideally positioned to provide new insights into this understudied process.”

Heaslip will work to understand how the cells regulate MyoF activity and how cargo packaged in vesicles interact with the actin cytoskeleton. She will also identify if there are additional molecular plays required for cargo transport and how they work with actin and MyoF to accomplish this task.

This work is relevant beyond toxoplasmosis as T. gondii is closely related to parasites that cause malaria and life-threatening diarrheal diseases. Understanding T. gondii’s transport mechanism will also provide insights into these parasites.

By understanding how a parasite like T. gondii completes cargo transport functions, scientists can leverage that knowledge to develop ways to interrupt this process with drugs that would kill the parasite.

Heaslip holds a Ph.D. from the University of Vermont. She completed postdoctoral training at Indiana University, Bloomington and the University of Vermont. Her research focuses on understanding the biology of T. gondii using interdisciplinary methods to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying essential processes for this parasite to identify new drug targets.

See full article in UConn Today


Professors May, O’Neill and Robinson Receive NFIP Awards

May 17, 2021

The National Fellowship Incentive Program works to build a stronger student and faculty culture around applying for prestigious, nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. Under this program, Drs. Eric May, Rachel O'Neill and Victoria Robinson have been recognized for their work mentoring students through the process of developing proposals and submitting applications for eligible awards.

2020/2021 Outstanding TAs Announced

May 4, 2021

MCB is proud to announce that Katelyn Denegre and Nina Wang have been named the 2020-2021 Outstanding MCB TAs in recognition of their outstanding contributions, professional dedication to inspiring student learning and commitment to education.
Please join us in congratulating Katelyn and Nina on their notable accomplishments.

Fall 2020 Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET) Awards

May 3, 2021

“Excellence in teaching involves the successful engagement of our students by faculty and graduate assistants who foster a spirit of inquiry and intellectual curiosity. We are very proud of our innovative faculty who achieve excellence in teaching and consistently seek new ways to improve as teachers” – Carl Lejuez, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Dylan Audette
Barbara Mellone
Dan Gage
Elizabeth Kline
Joerg Graf
Leighton Core
Mary Bruno
Philip Yeagle
Victoria Robinson
Melissa Durstin

Alyssa Coulter
Amanda Harrop
Camille Pearce
Corey Theodore
Emily Baranowski
Evan McCabe
Nadine Lebek
Ryan Drennan
Tyler McDermott

All Biology Research Symposium Awards

The 2021 All Biology Research Symposium was held virtually on Monday, April 26th.
Congratulations to the following awardees:

Emily Kilian - MCB Department Head Award
Veronica Eskander - Outstanding Senior in PNB Award
Brandon Smith - Connecticut Museum of Natural History Award
Jordana Graveley - Outstanding Senior in EEB Award
James He - Excellence in Applied Genetics and Technology Award
Julia Horan - Margaret F. Ertman Award
Eman Ahmed - Excellence in Applied Genetics and Technology Award
Lily Zhong - Outstanding Senior in PNB Award
Akriti Bhattarai - Biology Director's Award

Specific award information can be found here

Symposium presentations can be viewed here

Drs. Alder, Mellone and Nyholm Promoted to Professor

April 29, 2021

The UConn Board of Trustees approved the award of tenure and/or promotion to 72 individuals across UConn. Among them, Drs. Nathan Alder, Barbara Mellone and Spencer Nyholm were promoted to professor. Please join us in congratulating them!

OVPR Announces 2021 SURF Awards – Includes 14 MCB Students

April 26, 2021

The 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Awards were announced. 14 out of the 56 undergraduate SURF Award recipients for Summer 2021 are MCB students. These UConn students were selected from an exceptionally strong group of applicants representing diverse areas of academic inquiry. These students are:

Michelle Antony '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: EGFR Signals in the Chondroprogenitor Response to Articular Cartilage Injury Faculty Mentor: Dr. Caroline Dealy, Reconstructive Sciences, Orthopedic Surgery & Cell Biology

Amy Backal '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: The Effect of Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP) on the Tongue Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Goldhamer, Molecular and Cell Biology

Poorna Balakumar '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology & Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, CLAS) Project Title: The Role of Hydrogen Peroxide as a Virulence Mechanism of Mycoplasma pneumoniae In Vivo Faculty Mentor: Dr. Steven Geary, Molecular and Cell Biology

Ashiti Damania '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Validation of RGC Subtypes Via Molecular Markers Using Single-Cell RNA Sequencing Faculty Mentor: Dr. Feliks Trakhtenberg, Neuroscience

Brian Fox '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS; Management Information Systems, BUS) Project Title: Defining C1QL1 Protein Signaling in Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cell Differentiation for Central Nervous System Remyelination with Implications for Multiple Sclerosis Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Martinelli, Neuroscience


Varsha Irvathraya '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Chromosomal Rearrangement of CCND1 on the Development of Parathyroid Tumors and Hyperparathyroidism Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jessica Costa, Center for Molecular Oncology

Paul Isaac '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Save the Crabs: An Investigation of the Genomic and Cellular Components of the Limulus polyphemus Immune Response Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rachel O'Neill, Molecular and Cell Biology

William Odell '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Inhibitory Effect of Sugar Kelp Supplementation on Inflammation in Mice with Atherosclerosis Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ji-Young Lee, Nutritional Sciences

Cindy Pan '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology & Philosophy, CLAS) Project Title: Weighing-In on Weight: A Qualitative Study on an Online Weight Loss Intervention Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sherry Pagoto, Allied Health Sciences

Avin Sapowadia '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Lubricin Delivery System via Biomimetic Nano-Matrix for Treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Faculty Mentor: Dr. Yupeng Chen, Biomedical Engineering

Stephen Stanio '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: The Mutagenic and Toxic Effects of Formamidopyrimidine Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ashis Basu, Chemistry

Audrey Worth '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Controlling Pathogen Growth in Raw and Pasteurized Milk with Commercial Bacteriophages Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dennis D'Amico, Animal Science

Joshua Yu '23 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Correlating Uptake and Intracellular Distribution of Nanoparticle Therapeutics with Cytotoxicity Faculty Mentor: Dr. Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Humza Zaidi '22 (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS) Project Title: Identifying an Early, Novel Biomarker in the Retina for Alzheimer's Disease Faculty Mentor: Dr. Royce Mohan, Neuroscience