Highlights:

BMB faculty and staff accepted as Inclusive Excellence Fellows

Two groups of BMB faculty and staff were accepted as Inclusive Excellence (IE) Fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year. This fellowship supports faculty and staff leaders in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) to implement projects that foster the inclusion of all undergraduate students in CNS.

A group of lecturers from three CNS departments, including BMB, will use this fellowship to gain a deeper understanding of growth mindset and its relationship to diversity and equity in higher education. Their goal is to develop an introductory class module on addressing misconceptions surrounding fixed notions of intelligence that can be shared with instructors throughout CNS to increase a sense of student belonging and support student success.

The BMB Advising Team will use this fellowship to help grow a student mentoring program aimed at addressing feelings of disconnect and imposter syndrome among students in the major, as well as providing support for students’ academic concerns. This program will not only increase support for first and second year students, but will also provide mentoring experience for third and fourth year students and increase connections among students who have had a predominantly virtual college experience.

Amy Springer receives Normanly Award for Outstanding Service

Amy Springer, BMB Lecturer and Chief Undergraduate Advisor, has been named this year’s recipient of the Normanly Award for Outstanding Service. This award recognizes her outstanding undergraduate advising and her leadership in developing, proposing and overseeing academic policies that are geared toward timely graduation from a rigorous undergraduate program that is accredited by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The Normanly Award for Outstanding Service was established in 2017 to recognize exemplary teaching and service by BMB faculty.

Cheung Lab publishes pollination research in Science

Researchers from the Cheung lab just had their research published in Science. The paper, titled “Pollen PCP-B peptides unlock a stigma peptide-receptor kinase gating mechanism for pollination”, describes the role that POLLEN COAT PROTEIN B-class peptides play in the pollination process. Over the years, the Cheung lab has teased apart molecular mechanisms underlying the communications between the pollen and pistil; this research provides another piece of the puzzle. The paper was built upon foundational work carried out by a BMB alum and MS student, David Vyshedsky, a coauthor of the paper, and later completed in collaboration with a former postdoc, Chao Li, and students in her own laboratory. David is now finishing up medical school; Chao is a professor in China.

Vista Sohrab (BMB Class of 2021) has undergraduate thesis research published in the journal Genes

Vista Sohrab, a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major and member of the Commonwealth Honors College, recently had her undergraduate thesis research published in the journal Genes. The paper explores TEfinder, a bioinformatics tool is developed to detect novel transposon insertions in a genome using Nextgen sequence data. Transposons are DNA sequences that can jump from one genomic location to another. Identifying transposable element insertions in the genome is critical for understanding genome dynamics, genome evolution, and organism adaptation. Vista’s research was funded in part by a Commonwealth Honors College research grant, as well as NIH and NSF funds available through Dr. Li-Jun Ma’s lab.

Emily Agnello (BMB Class of 2018) wins $100,000 student loan award

BMB Alumna Emily Agnello '18 received a $100,000 student loan award from First Aid Beauty (FAB) as part of their FAB AID innitiative. She says, "As an out-of-state student (originally from upstate NY), I had accrued about $120,000 in student loans from UMass Amherst. I felt it was worth it to take out these loans because UMass offered everything I needed in order to be successful, but it's obviously impacted every aspect of my life. I'm currently a Ph.D. student at UMass Medical School, and I feel so fortunate to have gotten here (with the support of many of the awesome BMB faculty, especially Meg Stratton whose lab I was in as an undergrad!), but the pay isn't even enough to cover my monthly interest. So I applied to FAB AID, thinking there was no chance I'd actually get it, and then was informed in early December that I was 1 of 24 winners through a zoom call with the company's CEO. This award will be life-changing and allow me to focus on building a life and career for myself without having to base my decisions on a crippling student debt burden."

Alice Cheung and James Staros named 2020 Fellows of the AAAS

BMB Professor Alice Cheung and BMB Professor Emeritus James Staros have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Cheung is recognized “for contributions to understanding the molecular and cellular biology of fertilization and polarized cell growth in plants”, and Dr. Staros “for distinguished contributions in cell biology on the mechanisms by which binding of polypeptide hormones to their surface receptors are transduced into signals". This is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers to recognize their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Allyson Rosati (BMB Class of 2019) publishes environmental epigenetics breakthrough

BMB alumna Allyson Rosati '19 recently had her thesis research published in the journal Human Reproduction. Allyson completed her thesis in Dr. Richard Pilser's lab, where her research team identified a biomarker in sperm DNA that may predict male reproductive health and refine the diagnosis of male infertility. She graduated last spring from the one-year Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program and is now on the job market, poised to carry out more research that can advance human health.

Jedy Chilufya receives International Fellowship from American Association of University Women

Jedaidah Chilufya, a Ph.D. students in Dr. Dong Wang's lab, has received a 2020-21 International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The farming practices in Zambia inspired Jedy’s research interest in sustainable agriculture using legume farming to contribute to eradicating hunger. Her goal is to boost the production of legumes grown by local farmers in Massachusetts and to later replicate these studies back home in Zambia.

Li-Jun Ma receives Joint Genome Institute Award for fungi research

BMB Professor Li-Jun Ma 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. Dr. Ma hopes to find ways to prevent the Fusaria fungus from killing plants, specifically plant-based biofuel feedstocks.

Alejandro Heuck receives NIH Small Business Technology Transfer Award

BMB Associate Professor Alejandro Heuck, 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.

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