First Rosbash-Abovich Award Recipients Announced

Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Biology and his wife, Nadja Abovich, established the Rosbash-Abovich Award as a way to inspire and acknowledge excellence in research by post-doctoral fellows and graduate students in the Brandeis life sciences. The Rosbash-Abovich award will be awarded annually.

The award honors the most outstanding papers published the previous year that have been authored by a Brandeis postdoctoral fellow and a Brandeis PhD student. In addition to the honor being selected, each winner is presented with a monetary award.

Future winners will present their talks at upcoming Volen Scientific Retreats, but due to COVID restrictions, the 2020 winners will be presenting their talks during the Molecular Genetics Journal Club meetings.

Most outstanding paper by a post-doctoral fellow

Michael O'Donnell

Michael O’Donnell, PhD

The 2020 winner for the most outstanding post-doctoral paper is Michael O’Donnell for the publication titled “A neurotransmitter produced by gut bacteria modulates host sensory behavior“. O’Donnell, is a former postdoc in the Piali Sengupta Lab. Sengupta said

Mike is a remarkable scientist and mentor. He single-handedly and independently established a new research direction in my lab. He also served as an informal mentor to many graduate students and has continued to do so even after he left my lab. I greatly appreciated our long discussions and arguments, and he is very much missed.

Sengupta also noted that O’Donnell was chosen to receive this award

on the basis of the creativity and novelty of his work that was published in Nature. The committee was particularly interested in nominating a researcher who was a driving force behind the work and Mike certainly fulfilled this criteria.

O’Donnell is now an assistant professor at Yale and recently formed the O’Donnell lab. He presented his talk to the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on December 2, 2020. He spoke about his work on neuromodulators produced by different bacteria.

Most outstanding paper by a PhD student

James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu

Professor James Haber & Gonen Memisoglu, PhD

The recipient of the 2020 award for the most outstanding PhD student paper is Gonen Memisoglu for the publication “Mec1 ATR Autophosphorylation and Ddc2 ATRIP Phosphorylation Regulates DNA Damage Checkpoint Signaling.“ She was a PhD student in James Haber’s lab. She received her PhD in 2018 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. She will be presenting her talk at the Molecular Genetics Journal Club on February 2, 2021.

When asked about his former PhD student, Haber said

I was delighted to learn that Gonen was the recipient of the Rosbash/Abovich award for the best publication by a graduate student last year; but I had to ask “which paper” because Gonen made two important discoveries last year about the way cells respond to DNA damage. Gonen helped develop a highly efficient way to edit the yeast genome and to create dozens of very precise mutations in the Mec1 gene that is the master regulator of the DNA damage response.  When there is a chromosome break, the Mec1 protein phosphorylates a number of proteins that creates a cascade of signaling to prevent cells from progressing through mitosis until damage is repaired. Gonen discovered that the extinction of the this signal depended on Mec1’s autophosphorylation of one specific target and that changing that specific amino acid to one that could not be phosphorylated was enough to cause cells to remain arrested. She also identified several alterations of the Ddc2 protein that associates with Mec1 that were also critical for its normal activation.

During her time in my lab Gonen was a super hard-working and exceptionally insightful grad student, but also incredibly generous with her time, helping others in the lab

GreenLabs Recycling: An Innovative Answer to Lab Waste

GreenLabs Recycling

Several years ago, Brenda Lemos and David Waterman, at the time Brandeis graduate students working in Jim Haber’s lab, noticed that clean, polypropylene (#5 plastic) pipette tip boxes were being thrown away. Although never contaminated in the lab, these boxes are typically labeled “medical waste” and blocked from recycling, ultimately ending up in landfills. This is a problem given that 10 million pipette boxes are purchased each year and most often can’t be reloaded and reused. The boxes end up becoming part of the 6 million tons of plastic waste that are produced by 20,500 research institutions world-wide.

That is when the now Dr. Waterman and the future Dr. Lemos, created the GreenLabs Recycling program. Rather than the pipette boxes being disposed of in a landfill, they are now being diverted into recycling at the point of use by the people who are using them.

Pipette box binThe system works this way: GreenLabs Recycling places recycling bins at participating labs. Scientists in the labs place the pipette boxes into the recycling bins as they are used. “Participation in this program has been great. Other scientists understand the importance of recycling these materials,” David said.  Brenda and David collect the bins and bring the materials back to a facility in Acton. There the boxes are sorted by cleanliness, color and type of plastic. After sorting, the boxes are granulated and used at local manufacturers. They prefer to use Massachusetts-based manufacturers in order to reduce the environmental impact of shipping the materials.

They are currently collecting lab plastics at five locations – Brandeis, other universities, and small and large biotech companies in the area. They expect to be soon working with two additional locations.

What are the future plans for GreenLabs Recycling? David said that they would eventually like to take the recycled plastics and manufacture their own long-lasting, permanent products such as trash cans, recycling bins, and non-disposable office products.

David credits the Brandeis Innovations Sprout Program and Icorp™ Program for their support. “They have been a huge help”, he said.

GreenLabs will be participating in the Mass Innovation Nights event on Thursday, March 14. This event will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Faculty Club and features new, innovative products from Brandeis students, alumni, and staff. This event is free and open to the public.

Marder Lab wins the Ugly Sweater contest

 

A new feature was added to the 2018 Life Sciences Holiday Party – the Ugly Sweater Contest! Lab’s were encouraged to purchase, design, and bedazzle a sweater for their PIs to wear and show off at the party. Ballots for best sweater were cast at the event with the Marder lab submitting the winner. Eve’s sweater was decked out with crabs, lobsters, STG’s and neurons.  Congratulations!

Brandeis Alum, Tepring Piquado, Running for California State Assembly

Tepring Piquado CampaignThe career track for Brandeis alumni can lead them in interesting directions. Brandeis Alumna Tepring Piquado is running to represent California’s 54th Assembly District. The seat’s former occupant, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, resigned in December. She is one of the candidates vying for the open seat in a special election, to be held April 3rd. Among the candidates are experienced political directors and activists. Dr. Piquado, a political newcomer, is the only neuroscientist.

While at Brandeis, Tepring was a part of Arthur Wingfield’s Memory and Cognition Lab, defending in 2010. Her research at Brandeis focused on the effects of aging and its impact upon the cognitive abilities of the elderly. While at Brandeis, Tepring was active in the Brandeis chapter of SACNAS. She currently serves as co-chair for the SACNAS Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

She now is a Research and Policy Scientist at the RAND Corporation. In speaking with us, Tepring said, “I love my job as a policy researcher at RAND Corporation where I provide policymakers with the best available information to help make decisions; but I’m ready to stand up and take part in state government.  My experience and expertise, coupled with my ability to think critically and act compassionately, make me the best person to address issues affecting our community.”

While speaking at the March for Science LA on April 22, 2017, Tepring said “Evidence matters! Research and analysis are only the means, not the End. Science gives us a process to find the best available data to help us get closer to the truth. The sooner we understand the facts; the sooner politicians can discuss policy solutions.”

You can join #TeamTepring or visit www.voteTepring.com to subscribe to her newsletter.

From PhD to Life

By Craig W. Stropkay, (PhD ’13, Molecular and Cell Biology, Ren lab)

Reach for the stars, they said. You should definitely go get your PhD, you’d be great for it, they said. Well, I guess they did have a point. Pursuing my doctorate degree in Molecular Biology at Brandeis was definitely one of the most challenging things that I have ever had to do in my life. I could spend hours telling you about the long hours I spent trying to construct my dissertation or the countless nights that I had to wake up and drive into the lab from Medford just to “feed” my cells — but that’s not the point of this article. I want to talk about something that I wish was more openly discussed when I first started my journey towards pursuing a PhD. Something that I believe is important to anyone who is currently working their way towards earning their doctoral degree: a job.

Now I know what you may be thinking: why would I need to worry about a job when I know I will continue onto a postdoc and then a tenure-track academic post? Isn’t that what everyone does? That is precisely my point. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing a career in academia upon completion of your doctorate. It takes a lot of patience, skill, and dedication to remain in the field after you have literally spent years becoming an expert in everything dealing with Life Science. Maybe you’ve considered going that route, feeling that your choices are limited. Many people believe that apart from academia, their only “alternative” option is to go into industry and work in biotech or pharma.

Image from Naturejobs article

[Read more…]

The Benefits of Middle Age

Almost all our cells harbor a sensory organelle called the primary cilium, homologous to the better known flagella found in protists. Some of these cilia can beat and allow the cell to move (eg. in sperm), or move fluid (eg. cerebrospinal fluid) around them. However, other specialized cilia such as those found in photoreceptor cells and in our olfactory neurons function solely as sensory organelles, providing the primary site for signal reception and transduction. The vast majority of our somatic cells display a short and simple rod-like cilium that plays crucial roles during development and in adulthood. For instance, during development, they are essential for transducing critical secreted developmental signals such as Sonic hedgehog that is required for the elaboration of cell types in almost every tissue (eg. in brain, bones, muscles, skin). In adults, cilia are required for normal functioning of our kidneys, and primary cilia in hypothalamic neurons have been shown to regulate hunger and satiety.

Given their importance, it is not surprising that defects in cilia structure and function lead to a whole host of diseases ranging from severe developmental disorders and embryonic lethality to hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain), infertility, obesity, blindness, and polycystic kidney among others. Often these diseases manifest early in development resulting in prenatal death or severe disability, but milder ciliary dysfunction leads to disease phenotypes later in life.

Much is now known about how cilia are formed and how they function during development. However, surprisingly, how aging affects cilia, and possibly the severity of cilia-related diseases, is not well studied. A new study by postdocs Astrid Cornils and Ashish Maurya, and graduate student Lauren Tereshko from Piali Sengupta’s laboratory, and collaborators at University College Dublin and University of Iowa, begins to address this question using the microscopic roundworm C. elegans (pictured below). These worms display cilia on a set of sensory neurons; these cilia are built by mechanisms that are similar to those in other animals including in humans. Worms have a life span of about 2-3 weeks, thereby making the study of how aging affects cilia function quite feasible.

benefits-midage

They find that cilia structure is somewhat altered in extreme old age in control animals. However, unexpectedly, when they looked at animals carrying mutations that lead to human ciliary diseases, the severely defective cilia seen in larvae and young adults displayed a partial but significant recovery during middle-age, a period associated with declining reproductive function. They went on to show that the heat-shock response and the ubiquitin-proteasome system, two major pathways required for alleviating protein misfolding stress in aging and neurodegenerative diseases, are essential for this age-dependent cilia recovery in mutant animals. This restoration of cilia function is transient; cilia structure becomes defective again in extreme old age. These results suggest that increased function of protein quality control mechanisms during middle age can transiently suppress the effects of some mutations in cilia genes, and raise the possibility that these findings may help guide the design of therapeutic strategies to target specific ciliary diseases. Some things can improve with aging!

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