News & Announcements

How Cells Keep Growing Even When Under Attack

In an unexpected new finding, biochemists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report observing that a damage-containment system in stressed bacteria can become overrun and blocked, but that this leads to cells responding by turning on very different pathways to make sure that normal growth continues.

Rilee Zeinert, a recent alumnus of the Molecular and Cell Biology Program and his advisor, professor Peter Chien, report on their recent experiments and discovery about how bacteria switch gears to respond to different stresses but still maintain normal cell functions like DNA replication in the recent issue of the Cell journal, Molecular Cell. Other contributing authors include Benjamin Tu and Hamid Baniasadi at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Read more

UMass Amherst Biologists Zero in on Cells’ Environmental Sensing Mechanism

R. Craig Albertson

Evolutionary and developmental biologist Craig Albertson and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that they have identified a molecular mechanism that allows an organism to change the way it looks depending on the environment it is exposed to, a process known as phenotypic plasticity.

In addition to lead investigators Albertson and Rolf Karlstrom, the team includes recently graduated doctoral students Dina Navon and Ira Male, current Ph.D. candidate Emily Tetrault and undergraduate Benjamin Aaronson. Their paper appears now in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more

A New Role for a Tiny Linker in Transmembrane Ion Channels

photo of Jianhan Chen

In the molecular-level world of ion channels – passageways through membranes that carry signals in a cell’s environment and allow it to respond – researchers have debated about the role of a small piece of the channel called a linker, says computational biophysicist Jianhan Chen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The linker communicates between the pore and its environment-sensing apparatus, and knowing its function – whether it’s inert or plays an active sensing role – has been unclear. But it might lead to a new target for drugs and treatment in conditions such as hypertension, autism, epilepsy, stroke and asthma, he adds. Now, Chen and colleagues at Washington University report in eLife that their experiments have revealed “the first direct example of how non-specific membrane interactions of a covalent linker can regulate the activation of a biological ion channel.” Read more

UMass Amherst Team Makes Artificial Energy Source for Muscle

Image of Myosin with azoTP and ATP in its active site

Kinesiologist and lead author Ned Debold and chemist Dhandapani Venkataraman, “DV,” began talking on their bus commute to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and discovered their mutual interest in how energy is converted from one form to another – for Debold, in muscle tissue and for DV, in solar cells. Debold told the chemist how researchers have been seeking an alternative energy source to replace the body’s usual one, a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Such a source could control muscle activity, and might lead to new muscle spasm-calming treatments in cerebral palsy, for example, or activate or enhance skeletal muscle function in MS, ALS and chronic heart failure.

The two soon saw that they would need someone to model interactions between the molecules DV was making and the myosin molecules Debold was using to test them. They invited computational chemist Jianhan Chen. This month, the researchers report in the Biophysical Journal that they have made a series of synthetic compounds to serve as alternative energy sources for the muscle protein myosin, and that myosin can use this new energy source to generate force and velocity. Read more


Two MCB Alumnae Receive Byron Prize for Best Dissertation

photo of Kathy Sanidad and Alex Wells

Congratulations to Kathy Sanidad and Alex Wells on receiving the 2020 Byron Prize for Best Dissertation! Kathy and Alex both earned PhD degrees from MCB in 2019.

While at UMass, Kathy worked in Guodong Zhang's lab, and did her dissertation project on "Environmental Risk Factors for Inflammatory Bowel Disease:  Triclosan and Other Consumer Antimicrobials." Dr. Sanidad is currently a postdoc in Melody Zeng’s lab in Weill Cornell Medicine, working on two projects focused on host-gut microbiome interactions in the context of human health and disease.

Alex worked in the Pobezinsky lab at UMass, and wrote her dissertation on "Let-7 MiRNAs Program The Fate Of CD8 T Cells." Dr. Wells is currently a postdoc in Yasmine Belkaid’s lab at NIAID/NIH, where they aim to understand the mechanisms controlling host microbe interactions at barrier sites such as the skin and the gut, two sites that represent the first portal of pathogen exposure and are major anatomical sites for development of inflammatory disorders.

Save the Date:  Alex and Kathy will be presenting about their research for an MCB seminar on Tuesday, September 22, 2020, from 4-5pm! 

MCB Faculty Receive CNS Outstanding Achievement Awards

Dean Tricia Serio of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) recently announced this year’s recipients of the college’s Outstanding Achievement Awards, which recognize faculty, staff and students who have made important contributions to their discipline, department, college and university. The following MCB faculty were recognized with these awards:

Randall Phillis, associate professor, biology 

Lila Gierasch, distinguished professor, biochemistry and molecular biology 
Li-Jun Ma, associate professor, biochemistry and molecular biology 

Janice Telfer, professor, veterinary and animal sciences 

Congratulations to all of the award winners! Read more

Pobezinsky Receives NIH Grant to Investigate RNA and T-cells

photo of Leonid Pobezinsky

Immunologist Leonid Pobezinsky, veterinary and animal sciences, recently received a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study specialized microRNA and T-cells. He and his colleagues plan to take a very specific and narrow approach to exploring the possible role of the small non-coding ribonucleic acid (RNA) known as let-7 microRNA in fine-tuning the immune system’s balance of T-cell survival and function.

Pobezinsky will collaborate with his wife, research assistant professor Elena Pobezinskaya, associate professor Eric Strieter, chemistry, an expert in protein homeostasis, and assistant professor of biology Courtney Babbitt, an expert in quantitative biology and big data analysis. Together they will explore the molecular mechanisms of let-7 mediated regulation of the immune responses. Read more

MCB Alumnus Receives Society of Toxicology Awards

photo of Archit Rastogi

Recent MCB PhD alumnus Archit Rastogi claimed top prizes at the Society of Toxicology’s (SOT) annual meeting held virtually this past spring. The awards were given by the Mechanisms Specialty Section, which represents a diverse group of SOT members who have common interests and expertise in elucidating the cellular, biochemical and molecular mechanisms of action of toxic substances. Archit worked in the lab of associate professor of environmental health sciences Alicia Timme-Laragy and received two awards: the Sheldon D. Murphy Student Travel Award and third place for the Carl C. Smith Student Mechanisms Award. These awards were given for Rastogi’s research on modulating glutathione in the developing zebrafish. Read more

Study Underway to Estimate Coronavirus Exposure in the Campus Community

A team of researchers has launched a study to explore the rate of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) exposure in the UMass Amherst campus community, inviting faculty, staff and students to voluntarily participate. “The goal of our study is to increase understanding of coronavirus exposures with the UMass community and statewide,” says infectious-disease epidemiologist Andrew Lover, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who is heading up the study. In his lab, Dominique Alfandari, professor of developmental biology in the Veterinary and Animal Sciences Institute, will conduct the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect novel coronavirus antibodies in the blood samples. Read more

Four MCB Students Awarded NIH BTP Traineeships

UMass BTP image

Emily Lopes (Fissore lab), Jessica McGory (Maresca lab), Justyne Ogdahl (Chien lab) and Madeline Tompach (Timmy-Laragy lab) received highly competitive Biotechnology Training Program Traineeships! BTP students are trained in an interdisciplinary fashion that expands career opportunities and sharpens professional skills. The UMass BTP emphasizes industrial partnerships, such as internships that provide hands-on access to cutting-edge biotechnology research, industrial seminars, and other industrial activities. Traineeships are typically awarded to students to support their 2nd and 3rd years of study, and trainee selection criteria include past performance (undergraduate institution and GPA, GRE scores), progress in the PhD program (grades and research productivity), and commitment to the BTP Program. Congratulations to Emily, Jessica, Justyne and Madeline on their awards! Read more