News & Announcements

Anastasiia Klimova PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Anastasiia Klimova

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
2:00 PM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  "Roles of RecN DNA repair protein and PriA DNA helicase in maintaining genomic integrity of Escherichia coli K-12"
Advisor:  Steve Sandler

Allison Sirois receives prestigious Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA)

photo of Allison Sirois

Allison Sirois (S. Moore group) was recently awarded an NIH IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellowship at Tufts University to work in the Oudin Lab starting Fall 2020! The IRACDA program combines a traditional mentored postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop academic skills, including teaching, through workshops and mentored teaching assignments at a partner institution. The program is expected to facilitate the progress of postdoctoral candidates toward research and teaching careers in academia. There is only one IRACDA research institution in Massachusetts, and about twenty nationwide. Congratulations, Allison! Read more

Fuu-Jiun Hwang PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Fuu-Jiun Hwang

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
10:00 AM
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Dissertation Title:  "Study of Multivesicular Release (MVR) in Auditory Ribbon Synapse"
Advisor:  Luke Remage-Healey and Geng-Lin Li

Heather Sherman PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Heather Sherman

Thursday, May 14, 2020
11:30 AM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  "LKB1 isoform expression as a regulator of T cell phenotypic stability"
Advisor:  Lisa Minter/Barbara Osborne

Unraveling One of Prion Disease’s Deadly Secrets

Yeast cells expressing a fluorescently-tagged prion that has been cured. Photo courtesy UMass Amherst/Serio lab.

A molecular biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has for decades studied the nightmarish group of fatal diseases caused by prions – chronic wasting disease in deer, mad cow in cattle and its human analog – credits a middle-of-the-night dream for a crucial insight, a breakthrough she hopes could lead to a cure.

In a new paper in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst, and others, report an unanticipated role for prion nucleation seeds that enhances their ability to appear and resist curing. Nucleation seeds are molecule clusters that form when prions attach to one another and change shape. “Once that change occurs, it creates a very stable aggregate known as amyloid that was thought to be impossible to inactivate by normal means,” Serio notes. “One key factor controlling the transition from harmless protein to invincible disease menace was so hidden and obscure that it had not been previously proposed,” she says. Read more


UMass Amherst Chemists Mobilize Quickly to Find Simple, ‘Smart Swab’ Detector for COVID By-products

Three researchers in the chemistry department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have teamed up to investigate whether they can develop a simple, color-changing test swab for COVID-19 in the next year that would alert users if their body carries a viral product left after infection.  

To support the work, Sankaran "Thai" Thayumanavan, Jeanne Hardy and Trisha L. Andrew received a one-year, $198,000 RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), designed to quickly fund promising approaches to an emergency. As NSF explains, RAPID supports proposals “having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events.” Read more

Whole Strawberries Studied for Their Anti-inflammatory Benefits

University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientist Hang Xiao has received a new federal grant to expand his research into the health benefits of certain fruits and vegetables; in this case, strawberries.

With a three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Xiao and colleagues will aim to identify the mechanism by which whole strawberries affect the gut in positive ways. Findings from one of Xiao’s earlier studies suggested a strong scientific basis for using strawberries to support colon health and suppress or reduce or prevent inflammation of the colon.

Xiao and UMass Amherst colleagues David SelaGuodong Zhang, and Zhenhua Liu theorize that the whole strawberry inhibits colon inflammation by alleviating an imbalance in the composition and function of gut microflora, which in turn restores a homeostatis in the colon. Read more

Computational Techniques Developed to Explore ‘The Dark Side of Amyloid Aggregation in the Brain’

photo of Jianhan Chen

As physicians and families know too well, though Alzheimer’s disease has been intensely studied for decades, too much is still not known about molecular processes in the brain that cause it. Now researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say new insights from analytic theory and molecular simulation techniques offer a better understanding of amyloid fibril growth and brain pathology.

As senior author Jianhan Chen notes, the “amyloid hypothesis” was promising – amyloid protein fibrils are a central feature in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. “But the process is really difficult to study,” he says. “For many years people thought the fibril might be the harmful factor in the brain. But after billions of dollars of investment failed to deliver an Alzheimer’s drug, that thinking is really questioned. We now believe that the fibril is not the toxic species, but it’s the earlier forms, soluble oligomers or proto-fibrils. That’s what we wanted to study.” Details of their multi-scale approach with many atomistic simulations are in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more

Morita Lab Studies Glycolipid Biosynthesis as a Potential Drug Target

photo of the Morita Lab

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious lung disease that is becoming increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics due to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Developing new drugs to treat TB is particularly challenging because the bacteria that cause the disease have impermeable cell walls that block antibiotics. The American Lung Association recently awarded Dr. Yasu Morita a grant to advance research to identify a protein involved in the production of glycolipids that can be targeted by new drugs. The project funded by this grant aims to prove that Spe2 is essential for the growth of TB bacteria and that it is located within the surface of the cell wall, making it an ideal drug target. Read more

Martin Lab Lands Major Massachusetts Tech Transfer Award

photo of Craig Martin

The Craig Martin Lab in chemistry recently received an Acorn Award from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC), one of 13 innovation seed-funding $15,000 grants given statewide intended “to support the demonstration of the viability of a technology developed at Massachusetts research universities.”

Martin and colleagues will work to advance what he calls “a wide variety of new RNA therapeutics that are on the horizon today,” such as mRNA-based therapeutics, RNA-guided technologies such as CRISPR and RNA “logic gate” smart therapeutics.

MTTC Acorn Awards are funded by the Commonwealth to enable public and private research universities and medical centers in the state “to lead the nation in translating basic research to the market, creating jobs and spurring economic development,” the organization states. Read more