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

Public Engagement Project Announces 2021 Faculty Fellows

photo of Dong Wang

The Public Engagement Project (PEP) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced the 2021 Public Engagement Faculty Fellows. Seven UMass faculty members from across seven departments and six colleges will draw on their substantial research records to impact policy, the work of practitioners and public debates.

Faculty fellows receive a stipend and technical training in communicating with non-academic audiences. The PEP Fellows Program facilitates connections between fellows and lawmakers on Beacon Hill and in the U.S. Congress, journalists, practitioners and others to share their research beyond the walls of academia. This is the eighth cohort of Public Engagement Faculty Fellows. 

The 2021 PEP Faculty Fellows include Dong Wang, associate professor, biochemistry and molecular biology. Wang studies how plants use beneficial bacteria (aka good germs). During the Public Engagement Fellowship, Wang will develop blogs and publications to encourage people to grow their own food locally, year-round, guided by his expert research on what plants like. Read more

UMass Amherst Researchers Gain Insight Into the Biology of a Deadly Fungus

photo of Lillian Fritz-Laylin

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have gained new insight into the biological processes of a chytrid fungus responsible for a deadly skin infection devastating frog populations worldwide.

Led by cell biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin, the team describes in a paper published Feb. 8 in Current Biology how the actin networks of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) also serve as an “evolutionary Rosetta Stone,” revealing the loss of cytoskeletal complexity in the fungal kingdom. 

“Fungi and animals seem so different, but they are actually pretty closely related,” says Fritz-Laylin, whose lab studies how cells move, which is a central activity in the progression and prevention of many human diseases. “This project, the work of Sarah Prostak in my lab, shows that during early fungal evolution, fungi probably had cells that looked something like our cells, and which could crawl around like our cells do.” Read more

Hazen Named to Dr. Constantine J. Gilgut Professorship in Plant Biology Professorship

photo of Sam Hazen

Samuel P. Hazen, biology, was awarded the Dr. Constantine J. Gilgut Professorship in Plant Biology for a term of three years following approval by the Board of Trustees at its Thursday, Dec. 10 meeting.

The conditions of the Gilgut Professorship specify that the recipient will be a full professor in the biology department and act as the director of the plant biology program. The incumbent of the Gilgut Professorship will be an outstanding, active scholar in the field who can lead by the example of his or her teaching as well as scholarship and administrative skills.

Hazen’s area of research is the thickening of the secondary cell wall and the regulation of this process in the grass Brachypodium distachyon and a variety of other plants. He has received substantial external funding to support his research from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. He also received several awards to support small business innovation and community science projects. Hazen has published 47 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and his work has been cited over 5,200 times according to Google Scholar. Read more

Kiserian Jackson Awarded CBI Traineeship

photo of Kiserian Jackson

Kiserian Jackson (Siegrist lab) received a prestigious NIH-funded traineeship from the Chemistry-Biology Interface program! The CBI program trains students with diverse scientific backgrounds for productive research at the interface between chemistry and biology. Science at the chemistry-biology interface brings the synthetic, mechanistic and analytical powers of chemistry to bear on new and exciting areas of biology. CBI Trainees take part in courses, seminars, discussions and research at the forefront of this emerging, interdisciplinary field. Trainee selection criteria include progress in the PhD program (grades and research productivity), and in the CBI Program (requirements satisfied, event participation). Past performance, such as undergraduate GPA, is also taken into account. CBI students must be nominated by CBI Training Faculty in spring of their first or second year of graduate study to be considered for traineeships. Congratulations, Kiserian! 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