News & Announcements

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.  

Jake Schnabl PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Jake Schnabl

Tuesday, October 27, 2020
1:00 PM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  "It takes a village to build a brain: Defining the heterogeneous glial and neural crest contributions to zebrafish forebrain development and neurogenesis"
Advisor:  Michael Barresi

Ben Adams PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Ben Adams

Thursday, November 5, 2020
3:00 PM
Zoom link:  Please contact sends e-mail) to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  “Substrate selection in endoplasmic reticulum protein quality control”
Advisor:  Daniel Hebert

Tracking Shape Changes in Amazon Fish After Major River is Dammed

photo of Caquetala spectabilis - Courtesy of UMass Amherst/Albertson lab

A team of biologists led by Craig Albertson and Ph.D. student Chaise Gilbert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report this week on their comparison between museum collections of cichlid fishes collected before a dam was closed in 1984 on the Tocantins River in the Amazon and contemporary specimens taken from the Tucuruí Reservoir by fishermen 34 years later. 

Working with others in Brazil,  Albertson’s team tested the idea that these fish could be expected to show changes in body shape as a consequence to shifts in habitat and foraging behavior after the dam rapidly changed environmental conditions from a clear, flowing river to a deep, murky reservoir.

“The once-historic rapids and streams that characterized the system have disappeared from the surrounding area, which in turn has affected the abundance and variety of food sources available to native fishes,” they write in Evolutionary Application this week. Read more

Research Identifies Sperm Biomarker Associated with Couples’ Pregnancy Probability

photo of Rick Pilsner

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have identified a single-measure biomarker in sperm mitochondrial DNA that may predict male reproductive health and pregnancy success. The discovery applies not just to couples seeking care for infertility but also for the general population. This biomarker could become a more accurate predictor of male infertility than semen parameters, on which health care organizations and clinicians have long relied.

“Clinically, the diagnosis of male infertility really hasn’t changed in decades,” says UMass Amherst environmental epigeneticist Richard Pilsner, corresponding author of the study published today, Oct. 6, in the journal Human Reproduction. “In the last 10 to 20 years, there have been major advances in the understanding of the molecular and cellular functions of sperm, but the clinical diagnosis hasn’t changed or caught up.”

In addition to Pilsner, the team of UMass researchers included lead author Allyson Rosati, who wrote the paper as part of her undergraduate honors thesis and recently completed a master’s in molecular and cellular biology; and Brian Whitcomb, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Read more

Li-Jun Ma Receives Joint Genome Institute Award for Fungi Research

photo of Li-Jun Ma

Professor Li-Jun Ma, biochemistry and molecular biology, has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) Community Science Program (CSP) to conduct in-depth research on a group of soil fungi, Fusaria, that are economically important because they devastate crops – not only food but biofuel feedstocks. This is a collaborative project between principal investigator Ma and co-principal investigator Robert Proctor, a research microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization.

Ma says that two of the top 10 plant pathogens are in the Fusarium family, based on a ranking by many molecular plant pathologists. For these new investigations, she will collaborate with Igor Grigoriev and his team at the Joint Genome Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Other collaborators include evolutionary biologist David Geiser, director of the Fusarium Research Center at Penn State University; Kerry O’Donnell, an expert on taxonomy and biological diversity of Fusarium; and Daren Brown, who has more than 20 years of experience in Fusarium research. Read more

Microbiologist Mandy Muller Receives NIH Grant to Advance Anti-viral Strategies

photo of Mandy Muller

Virologist Mandy Muller, microbiology, recently received a five-year, $1.9 million Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) grant from the NIH’s National Institute for General Medical Sciences to continue her advanced studies into how certain viruses, such as those in the Herpes family and those that cause Kaposi’s sarcoma in immune-compromised individuals, evade the body’s immune response by hiding, undetectable, deep in tissues for decades.

Muller’s lab is trying to detect these viruses earlier than ever before, as soon as the onset of infection, before they can hijack immune pathways and before they can hide. She has been working on the same Kaposi's Sarcoma Associated Herpes virus that she started studying as an undergraduate in her native France – and there is still much to learn, she says. Read more

John Gibbons Receives NSF CAREER Grant for Fungi Research

photo of John Gibbons

You can’t herd them, you can’t put two in a corral and hope they will breed to produce offspring with desirable traits, but the humans of 10,000 to 13,000 years ago figured out how to domesticate molds and other fungi to preserve food, make it tastier and to make wine.

How this happened is “the big question,” says John Gibbons, food science, who this month begins the search for Fungal Domestication Syndrome, supported by a five-year, $729,900 National Science Foundation faculty early development (CAREER) grant. “Almost everything we know about domestication stems from plant and animal models,” Gibbons says. “But fungi have very different underlying population biology and ecology.” His studies will advance knowledge of the effects of fungi domestication and related genomic and evolutionary processes. Read more

Heuck’s Lab Honored with NIH Small Business Technology Transfer Award

photo of Alejandro Heuck

Associate professor Alejandro Heuck’s biochemistry lab, in collaboration with Worcester-based Microbiotix, Inc., has been awarded a two-year, $600,000 NIH Small Business Technology Transfer award to develop a high-throughput screening method to identify inhibitors of a bacterial secretion system that attacks human cells by injecting toxins. A treatment based on the inhibitors could act by a new mechanism to enhance the host’s innate immune response to infection, Heuck says. 

His co-principal investigator on the project is Donald Moir, chief scientific officer at Microbiotix, who has many years of experience in anti-infective drug discovery and inhibitors of Type 3-mediated secretion. Heuck himself is an expert in Type 3 secretion-mediated translocation, the assembly of the translocon and its function. Read more

Timme-Laragy Named Member of NIH Cancer Etiology Study Section

photo of Alicia Timme-Laragy

Alicia Timme-Laragy, associate professor of environmental health sciences, has been selected to serve as a member of the Cancer Etiology Study Section for the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Cancer Etiology Study Section reviews grant applications related to the causal agents, processes, and cells involved in early events in carcinogenesis. Focus areas include the role of DNA damage, DNA replication stress and DNA repair defects in carcinogenesis. Focus areas include the role of DNA damage, DNA replication stress and DNA repair defects in carcinogenesis. Read more