News Highlights

Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Vierling elected to the Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences section of the National Academy of Sciences

Elizabeth Vierling is Professor at the University of Massachusettes Amherst and Founding Member of the ASPB Legacy Society. She majored in Botany as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and got hooked on lab research during a junior year abroad Freiburg, Germany. After a brief year as a technician at Northwestern University, she got a PhD in Biology at the University of Chicago studying the biogenesis of photosystem I. Her postdoc with Joe L. Key at the University of Georgia started her on research on heat shock proteins (HSPs), first focusing on chloroplasts. This work continued in her faculty position in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, where work expanded from chloroplast sHSPs to homologues in the cytosol and Hsp101, and then into isolating Arabidopsis thaliana mutants defective in heat tolerance. Projects now encompass not only HSPs, but also how nitric oxide homeostasis impacts growth and fertility and the control of mitochondrial gene expression and respiration. She’s now at the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, and writes that “My research includes collaborations across the world that have been wonderfully enriching and expanded my research program in interesting and productive ways.”

Le Liu selected to be a CNS Leadership Fellow

Le Liu, a Ph.D. student in the Plant Biology program, was selected to be a CNS Leadership Fellow. Le will work with Associate Dean Karen Helfer on initiatives related to career preparation as well as on programming addressing diversity, equity and inclusion.

IDGP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement

The Interdepartmental Graduate Programs in Life Sciences (IDGPs) believe that a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is critical to all that we do.  We recognize that systemic racism exists in our society and we pledge to educate ourselves so that we can change our ingrained habits and beliefs. We are committed to make our programs accessible to all and to increase the success of all our members. We dedicate our time, effort and financial resources to these activities. We work with Institutional leaders, faculty, staff and students to achieve these goals. We are providing this pdf link so that you are able to view a working document of our activities. 

We are proud of our amazing students and post docs who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of our community. Our students have fostered a tight-knit, progressive community and their recent efforts have resulted in this petition for systematic change.  We stand with them in recognizing that change is required in order to make progress toward a more equitable, just, diverse and inclusive environment. 

The University has established an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and their website provides links to many resources. We encourage you to make use of these tools, including links to videos, books and podcasts as well as programing, as we embark together on our journey to improve our community for all our members.  

Fermino do Rosario wins Cadena Travel Award


Congratulations to Carline Fermino do Rosario for being awarded the Cadena Travel and Training Award for 2022! The Cadena Award supported Carline’s enrollment in an intensive Quantitative Fluorescence Microscopy course held at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine in the summer of 2022. While attending this intensive one-week course, Carline expanded her knowledge and expertise in microscopy methods to further dissect important questions in living cells. In addition to hands-on experience with advanced microscope systems, Carline learned quantitative analytical methods to digest the data she collected. This invaluable opportunity not only helped Carline advance her research but also propelled her professional development, as she added new skills to her toolbox and deepened her understanding of microscopy techniques.

Carline grew up in Cabo Verde, an archipelago off the west coast of Africa. She moved to the United States at the age of 17 and graduated from New Bedford High School in Massachusetts. For college, she attended Bristol Community College before transferring to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2017. She continued on to pursue her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology at UMass. She is a first-generation graduate student.

Carline is a Ph.D. candidate studying the mitotic spindle under the guidance of Professor Patricia Wadsworth. For successful division, the spindle microtubules must align the chromosomes, elongate to segregate the chromosomes, and signal for cytokinesis. She is interested in the kinetics and mechanism of microtubule stabilization as the cell divides. Her project aims to understand the dynamics of microtubules in the midzone throughout anaphase using photoactivation of LLCPk1 cells expressing PA-GFP tubulin. At UMass, she uses powerful resources at the Light Microscopy Core Facility such as the Resonant Scanning Confocal instrument. The Wadsworth laboratory uses live cell imaging as a tool to enhance the understanding of the processes that govern cell division.

The Cadena Travel and Training Fund honors the legacy of MCB alumnus Dr. Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena. In 2010, Guillo was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and within months succumbed to complications from treatment. At the time of his passing in July 2010, Guillo was survived by his wife, 2-year-old twins (Amaya and Gabriel), parents, siblings, and many close friends. The Cadena Award was established in 2020, 10 years after Guillo’s passing, in memory of his dedication to science and teaching. Guillo’s close friends Nasser and Susanne Rusan, with help and support from Guillo’s family, sought to keep his memory alive by giving back to the MCB program by establishing the Cadena Travel and Training Fund.

MCB director Thomas Maresca wins Fulbright

There are more cells in the human body than there are stars in the Milk Way, and billions of these cells reproduce themselves every day through cell division. Essentially, a single cell splits, pulling apart its chromosomes perfectly, and then reforming as two separate cells with two separate, but full sets of perfectly identical chromosomes. Normally, this process works flawlessly, but when it doesn’t, when more chromosomes wind up in one cell than the other—a condition called aneuploidy—the results can be serious and range from cancer to birth defects.

Thomas Maresca, professor of biology at UMass Amherst, is an expert in cell division, and his work was recently recognized by the Fulbright Scholar’s program. Maresca will spend the Spring semester at Portugal’s Institute de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde da Universidade do Porto working closely with another leader in the field of cell division, Helder Maiato. Maiato has recently pioneered the use of Indian Muntjac (barking deer) cells to study cell division, which is a powerful advance because it allows cell division researchers to apply a reductionist approach to an incredibly complex process in living cells.

Maresca’s goal is to map the pathways that cells utilize to achieve faithful chromosome segregation, which is vital to normal embryonic development and the maintenance of healthy tissues through adulthood. To do so, he and his colleagues need to find answers to two crucial questions: how do cells detect and correct errors during division, and how do cells actually reinforce the physical connections between the chromosomes and the spindle, which is the structure that helps pull the chromosomes apart.

“Scientifically speaking, I can’t wait to get to work with Helder Maiato and his team to make important contributions to our field and to also establish an impactful international collaboration,” says Maresca. “Beyond the science, the Fulbright Program was formed after World War II to promote peace by building cultural bridges between the U.S. and nations around the world, which means that the program expects its awardees to serve as ‘cultural ambassadors.’ It is exciting and humbling that my family and I have been given the opportunity to serve in this role and to help advance the Fulbright’s mission.”

Plant Biology graduate student Jedaidah Chilufya receives Future Leaders Award

Jedaida Chilufya

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) presented Jedaidah Chilufya with the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. This award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning.

Professor Mafu Receives Award for Research

Assistant Prof. Sibongile Mafu is a recipient of the RICHARD AND SUSAN SMITH FAMILY FOUNDATION Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research, and she is using the award to help fund her work discovering new plant-derived enzymes to combat antimicrobial resistance and build more resilient plants.

DeAngelis recieves $2.5M in DoE grants to investigate soil microbes' role in carbon cycle

Hands holding dirt sample

Kristen DeAngelis, Microbiology, was recently was awarded two grants totaling about $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance understanding of the role of soil microbes in feeding carbon into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Soils are the largest repository of organic carbon in the terrestrial biosphere and represent an important source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, DeAngelis says. "Our results could lead to new ideas for curbing the effects of climate change, and one of the implications of this research could be remediating soil to improve its ability to store carbon.” 

Madelaine Bartlett won the prestigious Marcus Rhoades early career award from the Maize Genetics Community

Madelaine Bartlett

She was recognized for her research in plant genetics and the evolution of plant development. Bartlett’s lab studies the genes that control development in maize and Brachypodium distachyon. They are working to determine which genes are important in grass flower development, how they work, and how the evolution of these genes impacts the evolution of floral form.

UMass Amherst Research Advances Knowledge of the Battle Between Viruses and Human Cells

photo of Daniel MacVeigh-Fierro

In the long-term battle between a herpesvirus and its human host, a University of Massachusetts Amherst virologist and her team of students have identified some human RNA able to resist the viral takeover – and the mechanism by which that occurs.

This discovery, described in a paper published Feb. 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents an important step in the effort to develop anti-viral drugs to fight off infections.

“This paper is about trying to understand the mechanism that makes these RNA escape degradation,” says senior author Mandy Muller, assistant professor of microbiology. “The next step is to figure out if we can manipulate this to our advantage.”

How and why some RNA are able to escape the viral degradation are questions Muller’s team – including lead author and graduate student Daniel Macveigh-Fierro and co-authors and undergraduates Angelina Cicerchia, Ashley Cadorette and Vasudha Sharma – has been investigating. The research was supported by a $1.9 million Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) to Muller in 2020 from the NIH’s National Institute for General Medical Sciences. Read more