News & Announcements

HHMI Gilliam Fellowship to Support Doctoral Student-Faculty Mentor Pair

photo of Samar Mahmoud

Molecular and cellular biology doctoral student Samar Mahmoud was recently named a Gilliam Mentor Training Fellow by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), an award that will support her early scientific career in the lab of Peter Chien, biochemistry and molecular biology. She will receive funds for a stipend and education costs, while Chien will embark on a year of mentor training from HHMI. The goal is to improve faculty mentoring skills, support new scientific leaders and foster diversity and inclusion in science, the institute points out.

Mahmoud and Chien are one of 44 advisor student pairs awarded the coveted fellowship in 2019. Read more

UMass Amherst Researchers Awarded $3.1 Million NIH Grant for Breast Cancer Risk Study

A University of Massachusetts Amherst interdisciplinary research team has received a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to measure the impact of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables on the breast cancer risk of lactating women. In the unprecedented research, called the New Moms Wellness Study, environmental toxicologist Kathleen Arcaro, nutritionist Lindiwe Sibeko and cancer epidemiologist Susan Sturgeon will use breastmilk to assess whether eating at least eight to 10 daily servings of deeply pigmented and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables reduces biomarkers of breast cancer risk. Read more

How Microtubules Branch in New Directions, a First Look in Animals

photo of branching microtubule (Maresca Lab)

Cell biologist Thomas Maresca and senior research fellow Vikash Verma at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say they have, for the first time, directly observed and recorded in animal cells a pathway called branching microtubule nucleation, a mechanism in cell division that had been imaged in cellular extracts and plant cells but not directly observed in animal cells. Details appear this month in the Journal of Cell Biology.

In this work supported by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the researchers set out to explore specific mechanics of cell division, what Verma calls “the rules of faithful and complete division,” in fruit fly cells. In particular, they want to understand how structures called microtubules help to define where the cell splits in half during the division process. Read more

Food Scientists Create Innovative Model for NASA To Predict Vitamin Levels in Spaceflight Food

photo of Hang Xiao

A team of food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a groundbreaking, user-friendly mathematical model for NASA to help ensure that astronauts’ food remains rich in nutrients during extended missions in space. The new research, published in the journal Food Chemistry by senior author Hang Xiao, gives NASA a time-saving shortcut to predict the degradation of vitamins in spaceflight food over time and more accurately and efficiently schedule resupplying trips. The investigation was funded with a $982,685 grant from NASA. Read more

MCB Retreat at Stratton

Ira Male PhD dissertation defense

photo of Ira Male

Monday, September 23, 2019
10:00 AM
French Hall, Room 209
Dissertation Title:  “Hedgehog Signaling Regulates Neurogenesis in the Zebrafish Hypothalamus"
Advisor:  Rolf Karlstrom

Timme-Laragy, Colleagues Host Visit from State Representative to Discuss PFAS Contamination

photo of Alicia Timme-Laragy

Alicia Timme-Laragy, associate professor and developmental toxicologist with expertise in how early life exposures to pollutants affect health, recently hosted a visit by state Rep. John Velis of Westfield to discuss her ongoing research to identify and understand the health risks of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in contaminated drinking water. The meeting was arranged by Westfield Residents Advocating For Themselves (WRAFT), a community group dedicated to addressing PFAS contamination in Westfield, with whom Timme-Laragy has been working as part of her Public Engagement Project (PEP). As a culmination of this project, Timme-Laragy also visited the State House on Beacon Hill to meet with Rep. Kate Hogan and legislative aides for Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli. Read more

Five Professors Awarded Distinction by Board of Trustees

Five professors were awarded distinction by the Board of Trustees at its Friday, Aug. 2 meeting. MCB faculty Barbara A. Osborne (Veterinary and Animal Science) and Sankaran ‘Thai’ Thayumanavan (Chemistry) were appointed as Distinguished Professors. The title Distinguished Professor is conferred on select, highly accomplished faculty who have already achieved the rank of professor and who meet a demanding set of qualifications.

Professor Osborne’s accolades for her research contributions are extensive. Most notably, she has been a pioneer in her research field, where she conducted innovative studies that used cutting- edge technologies and that were published in premier journals, including Nature, Nature Immunology, Blood, and the Journal of Immunology. On campus, she has contributed her extensive expertise in foundational and translational research to the establishment of the Institute of Applied Life Sciences. The impact of her research is reflected in her extensive publication record, which encompasses more than 125 articles that have been cited over 15,000 times, giving her a stellar h-index of 51. She has supported her research through NIH grants continuously since joining UMass, attracting over $39M in external funding. Professor Osborne has taught extensively at the undergraduate and graduate level, and led the creation of undergraduate courses in biotechnology. At the graduate level, she has directed the interdisciplinary graduate program in Molecular and Cellular Biology. She has also trained and mentored a large number of Ph.D., M.S., and Honors students and postdoctoral fellows in her lab. 

Prof. Thayumanavan’s research program is characterized by prolific excellence. Since promotion to Professor in 2008, Prof. Thayumanavan has published over 120 articles, with more than 30 in the top tier of chemistry journals as lead author. In the same time period, he has garnered more than $26 million in external support. He has given more than 100 presentations on his research since 2008, including keynote addresses and prestigious lectures such as the Nanqiang lecture in Xiamen University (2014), and he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011.” He currently has grants that run several years into the future: an NIH grant with a 1.0 percentile score (amazing), an NSF grant as a CCI, an ARO MURI grant, and several other federal funded applications that are still running (an NIH R01, industrial sponsors) and many previous grants. This alone shows the longevity of his program and argues strongly for continued productivity. Read more

Announcing the Inauguration of the On-Ramp Summer Pre-graduate Program

IDGP On Ramp Students 2019

The Interdepartmental Graduate Programs in the Life Sciences (IDGPs) launched a brand-new On-Ramp program for entering students on August 1st, with 18 soon-to-be PhD students participating. The month-long On-Ramp program is designed to facilitate the transition to graduate school by providing mentoring and professional development opportunities prior to the start of fall classes. Participants have the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member and current graduate students in a laboratory or in the field on research. In addition to hands-on training experience, On-Ramp students participate in lab meetings, journal clubs, and professional development workshops. On-Ramp students are paired with a graduate student peer mentor and join current students for social and programmatic events. There has been enthusiastic support for On-Ramp from all four IDGP graduate programs (MCB, NSB, OEB, and PB). We hope the On-Ramp Summer Research Program becomes a permanent part of the IDGP graduate experience at UMass.
Molecular and Cellular Biology Program
Neuroscience and Behavior Program
Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Program
Plant Biology Program

Jill Graham PhD dissertation defense

photo of Jill Graham

Wednesday, August 21, 2019
1:30 PM
Integrated Sciences Building, Room 221
Dissertation Title:  “TPR-containing proteins control Protein Homeostasis and Organization for the Endoplasmic Reticulum"
Advisor:  Dan Hebert