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Graduate Students

Zainab Afzal

The Hox cluster of genes play important roles during development by assigning anterior-posterior identity to developing cells and organs along the embryonic axis. Recent research has indicated another layer of complexity for Hox complexes. It involves the presence of a large number of non-coding RNA transcripts that are embedded within and adjacent to clusters of the Hox genes. These lncRNAs have been mapped to specific positions, are expressed at high levels which correlate with the timing of expression of Hox coding regions, and are often associated with epigenetic changes in chromatin states in the Hox clusters. My research project involves the functional characterization of some lncRNA transcripts that our lab has identified within the Hox clusters."

Brittany Jack

Brittany Jack

Cilia are microtubule projections that extend from the plasma membrane and are found on the surface of nearly all mammalian cells. Defects in the structure of this sensory organelle result in a variety of diseases, collectively termed ciliopathies. Flagella of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii are evolutionary conserved and nearly identical to the cilia found on mammalian cells, providing a unique model system to study the assembly of this structure. Prevailing knowledge states the microtubule cytoskeleton is responsible for the behavior and trafficking of flagellar proteins needed for assembly and maintenance of this structure. However, recent data from our lab demonstrates several roles for actin in ciliogenesis. My project focuses on trafficking of flagellar proteins, complexes, and membrane from the site of synthesis to the base of the flagella.


Matthew Kavanaugh

The primary cilium is a microtubule-based organelle that extends from the plasma of most mammalian cells. It is currently understood to be a sensory organelle, transducing a multitude of signals, both mechanical and chemical. Defects in the sensory, transducing, or structural elements of the primary cilium can produce a variety of pathologies. My current work involves analysis and characterization of signaling pathways implicated in Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), a disease that has come to be understood as a ciliopathy in recent decades, as well as seeking to identify a pathogenic mechanism for the condition. There are multiple competing theories in the field, further complicated by the body of information discovered about other ciliopathies, which often have overlapping phenotypes, but whose existences may have seemingly incongruent explanations.

Stephen Shannon

I first became interested in neural crest cells in learning how a mutation in a gene, such as Tcof1, can give rise to a complex phenotype like TreacherCollins. My project in the lab focusses on identifying the localization of the treacle phosphoprotein in mouse embryos from e7.5 to e11.5.

Ruonan Zhao

Ruonan Zhao

Neural crest cells (NCC) are an embryonic progenitor cell population that gives rise to various cell types and tissues in vertebrates. One important feature of NCC development is the delamination of pre-migratory NCC from the neural tube through a mechanism called epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Following delamination, NCC migrate throughout the embryo and undergo differentiation to form craniofacial cartilage and bone, neurons and glia of peripheral nervous system and pigment cells in the skin. Interestingly, developmental EMT utilizes similar mechanisms to malignant cells that delaminate from primary epithelial tumors. This highlights the significance of studying the mechanisms underlying NCC EMT, which can provide insight into understanding the errors that lead to a metastatic pathological state. Previous studies of NCC development have identified a few cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate NCC EMT. However, how specific signaling cascades contribute to these mechanisms remains unknown. The goal of my project is to decipher the cellular states and gene regulatory dynamics of neural crest EMT by studying pre-migratory and early migratory cranial neural crest populations through single cell RNA sequencing.

Last modified: Sep 09, 2020