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.  

Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena Memorial Fund

photo of Dr. Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena

Dr. Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena

Guillo was born in Chicago, IL. on November 22, 1969, and grew up in Tampa, Florida. Guillo was a graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa where he excelled in athletics and was a member of the state champion soccer team. He moved to New England in the mid-1990s and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000. After a brief return to Florida, Guillo moved back to Amherst in 2002 to join the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) graduate program as a Ph.D. candidate. Guillo received his Ph.D. in 2009 under the mentorship of Dr. Larry Schwartz. Dr. Cadena’s research focused on understanding why a certain population of cells called dopaminergic neurons are uniquely vulnerable to degeneration in individuals with autosomal juvenile parkinsonism (ARJP).

Guillo was extremely dedicated to his research and had always credited the successful completion of his Ph.D. to the strong support of his advisor Dr. Schwartz, as well as many distinguished faculty members in the MCB program who guided him throughout the process. Guillo also conducted research at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in Springfield, MA.

In his teenage years, Guillo was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and sought a suitable bone marrow donor for nearly 30 years. In 2010, Guillo was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and within a few months had succumbed to complications from chemotherapy 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 Travel and Training Fund

The Cadena Travel and Training Fund 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, believed it was only fitting to keep Guillo’s memory alive by giving back to the MCB program, a program that Guillo deeply cherished. Read more

Yingying Geng PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Yingying Geng

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
2:00 PM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  "Rapid cell phenotyping using nanosensors: Applications in cancer stem cell therapeutics and high-content screening"
Advisor:  Vincent Rotello

Two VASCI Faculty Receive Major NIH Grants from its Knockout Mouse Project

UMass Amherst veterinary and animal science researchers Kim Tremblay and Jesse Mager, a wife-and-husband team nationally known for expertise in embryonic development, have each received five-year awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study distinct stages of embryo development in mice that have had essential genes knocked out. They will collaborate with Wei Cui, director of the Animal Models Core at the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

Specifically, Mager and Tremblay, who are co-investigators on each other’s grants, have chosen to investigate a large number of lethal genes whose function is not well understood or not studied at all. These knock-out animals are produced by the Knockout Mouse Project (KOMP), part of the international mouse phenotyping consortium (IMPC), a global effort to identify the function of every protein-coding gene in the mouse genome. Mager says, “We chose to study things that nobody else has, because the idea and goal of the project is not to re-do the effort but to contribute to this library of knowledge on what each and every gene does.” Mager will receive $3.1 million for his research and Tremblay will receive $2.1 million for her studies of the KOMP gene’s role in embryonic organ formation. Read more

Embryologist Kim Tremblay Will Explore the Secrets of Liver Regeneration

photo of Kim Tremblay

Scientists have known since ancient times, as notable in Greek mythology, that liver tissue has a remarkable ability to regenerate, but embryologist Kim Tremblay, veterinary and animal sciences, says, “We still don’t know how it does that, it’s still a mystery even after two thousand years.”

She now has a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to investigate how the organ can replace itself in an amazingly short time. “Unlike any of our other organs, if you cut out two-thirds of your liver, it will grow back in seven days,” she says. “What’s amazing about that time is that in many organisms that have a liver, it can grow back in seven days.”

The liver filters impurities, toxins, alcohol and drugs, for example, from the bloodstream, which kills many cells, so in a sense it’s not surprising that the organ can quickly respond to injury by making new ones, Tremblay says. “There is a reservoir of cells that replace the dead ones. The liver has a huge number of regenerative or homeostatic cues that trigger this, but we have not yet established which cells are responsible for this.” Read more

Allyson Rosati ’19, ’20G publishes environmental epigenetics breakthrough

photo of Allyson Rosati and Rick Pilsner

Allyson Rosati arrived on the UMass Amherst campus from her nearby hometown of Holliston, Massachusetts with a dream of doing research that could improve human health. “I wanted to do something that would have a practical impact in a health-related field,” recalls Rosati, who joined the environmental epigenetics lab of associate professor Richard Pilsner as a sophomore.

It’s very rare for an undergraduate to publish research as the lead author in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Rosati accomplished this and more after her research team identified a biomarker in sperm DNA that may predict male reproductive health and refine the diagnosis of male infertility. Rosati, 23, wrote a paper that was recently published paper in the journal Human Reproduction as part of her Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) thesis in 2019. 

A double-major in Spanish and biochemistry and molecular biology, Rosati also took advantage of the semester abroad offering, studying in Madrid in the spring of her junior year. As a senior,  she received a UMass Rising Researcher award and went on to complete a master’s degree at UMass, continuing her research in Pilsner’s lab. She graduated last spring from the one-year Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program. Read more

Blanchard Lab to investigate soil microbe communities’ response to climate change and role in carbon emissions, supported by a national research team 

In a new national effort, UMass Amherst scientists led by Jeff Blanchard, biology, have received a two-year, renewable resource grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to apply – for the first time – new genomics and omics-related techniques to microbial communities at 15 to 20 established NSF research sites across the United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. 

The new soil data will be integrated with older soil sample data to assess how these communities are responding over time to climate change and their role in respiring carbon dioxide from soil, which is the major repository of terrestrial carbon, Blanchard says. 

The work will take advantage of his lab’s soil-warming and microbe population experiments at Harvard Forest in Petersham and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Researchers will use advanced -omics capabilities at the DOE’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and its Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). “We are fortunate to be able to work with top-notch laboratory and computational scientists at JGI and EMSL,” Blanchard says. Read more

UMass Amherst Faculty Recognized Among 2020 World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers

Six campus researchers in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been recognized among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2020 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science. They have consistently had high citation counts over a decade. The citation analysis identifies influential researchers as determined by their peers around the world. They are judged to be influential, and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says. 

MCB faculty recognized for this honor include Vincent Rotello, the Charles A. Goessmann Professor of Chemistry and a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Hang Xiao, Professor and Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science. Xiao’s lab focuses on molecular mechanisms and interactions of possible disease-preventing nutraceuticals to enhance nutrient bioavailability through food processing and nanotechnology, among other topics. The Rotello lab takes a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing chemistry, biology and biomedical engineering, to tailor nanomaterials to develop new biological applications. Read more

Kristyn Robinson, Daniel MacVeigh-Fierro and Robert Yvon win proposal competition

photo of giant check

Congratulations to Robert Yvon, Daniel MacVeigh-Fierro and Kristyn Robinson on receiving the internal awards for the MCB proposal competition! MCB students write an NSF-style fellowship proposal as they enter their second year as part of our program curriculum. The proposals are reviewed internally, and prizes are awarded based on the strongest applications. The prizes for the 2019 submissions went to:

Daniel MacVeigh-Fierro, "N6-Methyladenosine (m6A) protects key mRNAs from KSHV-induced mRNA degradation"
Kristyn Robinson, "Understanding key intervention points in a parasitic fungal infection"
Robert Yvon, "Characterization of a Novel Protein/Carbohydrate Microparticle Central to Extracellular Signaling in Plants"

Congratulations to the award winners!

Three UMass Amherst Researchers Named 2020 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Dr. Alice Cheung

Three University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an honor bestowed upon members by their peers to recognize their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The three are: Professors Alice Cheung, Triantafillos Mountziaris, and James V. Staros.

Alice Y. Cheung, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, “for contributions to understanding the molecular and cellular biology of fertilization and polarized cell growth in plants.” Her research interests include understanding the signaling of pollen tube growth in plant sexual reproduction. Her lab works to identify female signal molecules, their receptors on the pollen surface and signalling molecules that regulate the pollen cellular machinery for growth. Another major area of research interest for the Cheung lab is to understand the signaling of plant growth regulators. Read more