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Graduate Student Directory

Ashley Ball
PhD Student
Research Lab: Berges
Research Description: I am studying horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in S. aureus biofilms. S. aureus is constantly developing resistance to antibiotics, making it increasingly harder to treat these infections. I wanted to look further into the mechanism by which S. aureus acquires resistance by studying how DNA content in the biofilm affects the rate of HGT.
Email: dashleyb2016@yahoo.com
David Bates
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Johnson
Research Description: I study chromatin architecture by looking at nucleosome positioning and its relation to the underlying DNA sequence in the genome.
Alexander Benedict
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Griffitts
Research Description: Sinorhizobium meliloti is a species of bacteria that is best known for its ability to engage in a symbiotic relationship with legume plant hosts. It also has a remarkable metabolic capacity that enables it to thrive in nutrient-limited soils. My research is focused generally on learning which genes contribute most to the fitness of this organism and, more specifically, on a subset of bacterial genes called peptidases that have the potential to modulate symbiotic outcome.
Email: Alexbbenedict@gmail.com
Tyler Brown
PhD Student
Research Lab: Wilson
Research Description: My research is centered on Staphylococcus aureus' ability to survive in a host that employs various nutritional immunity factors. We are especially interested in iron utilization and how Staph accesses sequestered host iron sources.
Email: browntyler55@gmail.com
Timothy Call
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Masters Student
Research Lab: Berges
Research Description: My research involves the study of Staphylococcus aureus and its accompanying virulence factors. Currently, I am researching S. aureus biofilm mechanisms and characteristics by investigating the genes and proteins involved in biofilm synthesis. By studying S. aureus biofilms, I hope to find novel disruptors that could be used to treat infections.
Email: timcall90@gmail.com
Diana Calvopina
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Griffitts
Research Description: I am studying a molecular machine that makes the antimicrobial peptide Micrococcin. This molecular machine is made of 3 proteins, and we call it the IJN machine. We want to understand more about the IJN complex, so we can use it to make alternative peptides with biological properties, and potential medical applications such as antibiotics.
Email: dianagabriela31@hotmail.com

John Carter
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Johnson
Research Description: I study chromatin architecture by looking at nucleosome positioning and its relation to the underlying DNA sequence in the genome.
Email: jlawcar@gmail.com
Jacob Fairholm
Masters Student
Research Lab: Berges
Research Description: I study how different mutations in a protein produced by HIV affect the virus's ability to cause AIDS. This is done by measuring how T cells die both in cell culture and in vivo. To test in vivo, we inject mice with human immune stem-cells in order to create "humanized" mice.
Email: jacob.fairholm1@gmail.com
Jonatan Fierro Nieves
Masters Student
Research Lab: Berges
Research Description: My research is focusing on analyzing the response to chikungunya virus infection in a mouse model that harbors a reconstituted human immune system (Humanized mice). We are trying to identify the participation of human cellular components in the progression of the disease from the acute phase to the chronic phase.

Email: jonatan.fini@gmail.com
Jessica Hawkins
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PhD Student
Research Lab: McCleary
Research Description: I am interested in studying how PhoE-dependent phages interact with their hosts. PhoE is an outer membrane porin that allows for phosphate to be transferred across the inner membrane of E. coli and has been shown to be a receptor for a few known phages. Little, however, is known regarding which PhoE sites are necessary for phage attachment and which phage genes encode for the receptor binding protein. We also want to analyze the impact phage receptor binding proteins have had on their evolution. Better understanding how phages attach to their hosts, and what tactics they use to evolve, could aid in the development of more advanced phage therapeutics.
Email: hawkinsj919@gmail.com
Jacob Herring
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Tessem
Research Description: Diabetes is characterized by a decrease in functional β-cell mass. Nuclear hormone receptor 4a1 plays a role in the regulation of functional β-cell mass. My research focuses on the mechanism of Nr4a1 in the β-cell.
Email: herrin06@gmail.com
Taalin Hoj
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Robison
Research Description: It has been estimated at 70% of bacterial infections are resistant to at least one commonly prescribed antibiotic, prompting CDC to announce that humanity has entered the “post-antibiotic era.” Among the most serious of these infections are caused by carbapenem-resistant Enterobactericeae (CRE), bacteria resistant to even last-line antibiotics. I study mechanisms of resistance in CREs, the stability and evolution of carbapenem resistance, and methods of treating septicemia caused by CREs.
Email:
taalinrasmussen@gmail.com
Weston Hutchison
PhD Student
Research Lab: Erickson
Research Description: Bovine mastitis is the infection of a cow's udder with bacteria or other infectious materials. Most of these are caused by E. coli. In order to cause mastitis, bacteria must evade the immune system and adhere to the cells in the udder. I study the way that certain strains of E. coli isolated from severe cases of mastitis adhere to and invade epithelial cells.

Email: westondhutchison@gmail.com
Kyson Jensen
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Griffitts
Research Description: The ability of microorganisms to adapt to environmental stressors is the key to their ability to occupy different ecological niches. No one microorganism can specialize to cope with every possible environmental stressor. This principle accounts for much of the diversity and niche specialization we commonly see in bacteria. The overall objective of my project is to understand the mechanism by which microorganisms adapt to environmental stressors, specifically towards toxic heavy metals. We have previously isolated closely related bacterial strains of the genus Mesorhizobium from both regular soils and heavy metal (serpentine) soils in northern California. While isolated strains are closely related, those from serpentine soils are significantly more tolerant to Ni. The aim of this project is to examine and identify molecular contributors to metal tolerance and evaluate how these tolerance mechanisms influence fitness in the absence of metal stress. This work will enhance our understanding of mechanisms of heavy metal tolerance and may provide clues about evolutionary pathways giving rise to this trait.
Email: kysonjensen@gmail.com
Andrea Kokkonen
Masters Student
Research Lab: Evans
Research Description: I am looking at the evolutionary history of 9 subspecies of cutthroat trout. These fish are a popular native fish of western North America and their relationships to each other are still unresolved despite years of studies. I am looking to delineate these subspecies, specifically those in the Great Basin interior, by using RNA-seq to both examine expressed gene sequences and create a phylogenetic tree that finally resolves a centuries-long debate.

Email: andrealeenak@gmail.com
John Krapohl
Masters Student
Research Lab: Pickett
Research Description: Orthohantavirus (hantavirus) is a genus of potentially deadly zoonotic pathogens that can be passed from rodents to humans. Depending on the species of virus, humans can develop HFRS (hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome) or HPS (hantavirus pulmonary syndrome),or have no disease at all. My goal is to characterize hantavirus infection through host transcriptional response, so that we might better understand how hantavirus causes disease in humans.
Email: jlkrapohl@gmail.com
Ashley Miller
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Masters Student
Research Lab: Nielsen
Research Description: Did you know that we can inoculate plants against abiotic stressors like salt? I study an incredible interaction between alfalfa plants and select salt-loving bacteria called halophiles. Alfalfa (like most crop plants) is salt-sensitive. However, when salty soil with alfalfa seedlings is inoculated with special halophiles like H. Elongata 1H9 the alfalfa grows an average of 8X more plant mass than plants grown in salty soil without bacterial inoculation. In our lab we seek to find out how this interaction leads to increased growth. I am particularly interested in how 1H9 (bacteria) + salt influences gene expression within alfalfa root and shoot tissues. I hope that our research will be instrumental in improving agriculture productivity in the increasingly salty soils around the world.
Email: miller.ashley.kay@gmail.com
Carlos Moreno
Masters Student
Research Lab: Weber
Research Description: CD5 is a co-receptor on T cells that is currently being investigated as a potential target for cancer therapies and inflammatory disease. Our lab has recently discovered that CD5 inhibits T cell metabolism. One of my projects focuses on how CD5 inhibits T cell metabolism and the expression of metabolite transporters and metabolic enzymes, thus affecting T cell function and survivability. My hypothesis is that targeting CD5 improves T cell antitumor activity by enhancing the metabolic profile of T cells in tumor microenvironments. Within tumor microenvironments, tumor cells can inhibit the function of immune cells by hoarding nutrients and creating a nutrient scarce environment. If CD5 inhibits T cell metabolism, then blocking CD5 may enhance T cell metabolism and give these immune cells a fighting chance to survive and kill tumor cells in those nutrient scarce environments. Understanding how CD5 regulates T cell metabolism and function can provide important insight into immunotherapies. I’m also working on a project in which we are investigating whether CD5 is a good target to reduce inflammation in periodontal disease, a disease that affects 20-50% of people worldwide. Understanding how CD5 affects inflammation in periodontal disease may very well help with the treatment of this shockingly prevalent disease.

Email: carlosmoreno943@gmail.com
Melinda Moss
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Griffitts (MMBIO) & Taylor (NDFS)
Research Description: Lactose is a by-product of cheese and whey protein manufacturing that is generally considered a low-value ingredient in the food industry. Rare sugars on the other hand are highly valued due to their low-glycemic index and reduced calories, and in recent years a lot of work has been done to find and understand the enzymes that can convert abundant sugars like fructose to rare sugars. The goal of my project is to optimize the conversion of dairy lactose to rare sugars by cloning and expressing the enzymes required to hydrolyze the lactose and subsequently convert the resulting glucose and galactose into the rare sugars allulose and tagatose respectively.
Email: melinda_moss@hotmail.com

Colleen Newey
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Masters Student
Research Lab: Grose
Research Description: My research is investigating the role of the protein PAS Kinase in the development of stress granules, which are involved in a variety of diseases included ALS and cancer. I hope to better understand this pathway so it could be used as a target against these diseases.
Email: colleennewey@gmail.com
Elizabeth Porter
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Masters Student
Research Lab: Robison
Research Description: I am interested in how Yersinia pestis has evolved over time and space. I study the nucleotide variances of Y. pestis in specific regions within a period of time looking at how these changes vary in different regions of the world. I have employed Illumina as well as bioinformatic tools to parse through and evaluate the genetic evolution of the bacterial genomes.
Email: elizabethporter10@gmail.com
Khin Zar Win Pyae
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Masters Student
Research Lab: Griffitts
Research Description: For my MS project, I am interested in learning the mechanisms of stress adaptation in soil bacteria. And how specific genes can result in higher tolerance to heavy metal stress. To answer that question, I imposed heavy metal (Nickel) stress to bacteria, and then I employed next generation sequencing to hunt for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) and other genetic variations in the stress-tolerant mutants.
Email: khinzarwinpyae615@gmail.com
Abraham Quaye
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Poole
Research Description: Hemorrhagic enteritis is a viral disease of turkeys characterized by bloody diarrhea and immunosuppression caused by turkey hemorrhagic enteritis virus (THEV). An avirulent THEV strain called VAS that does not cause the disease in turkeys but retains some immunosuppressive ability is currently used as a live vaccine. Due to the immunosuppressive traits of VAS, vaccinated turkeys are more susceptible to secondary bacterial infections than unvaccinated cohorts, leading to substantial economic losses. My research focuses on identifying the VAS genes mediating its immunosuppressive traits and studying the mechanism of action of such genes. Ultimately, we hope to engineer a novel THEV strain with no immunosuppressive characteristics to be used as an improved vaccine.
Email: quayeabraham29@gmail.com
David Redd
Masters Student
Research Lab: Poole
Research Description: Vaccine hesitancy is an issue of great concern for public health officials and medical professionals. In order to better understand what factors affect vaccine hesitancy, I am crafting and distributing a series of surveys assessing history, attitudes, and knowledge of vaccination. Understanding what factors affect vaccine hesitancy will improve educational efforts and allow clinicians to better address concerns. Currently I am researching parental attitudes and other factors that influence adolescent HPV vaccine uptake.

Email: dsr.1991@gmail.com
Naomi Sharman
PhD Student
Research Lab: Pickett
Research Description: Balanced inflammation is a crucial process for protecting our bodies against threats. However, when inflammation becomes dysregulated, illnesses such as cancers and autoimmune diseases can develop. I'm using bioinformatics to compare gene expression in cancer and autoimmune disease to gain more insights about inflammation, and hopefully improve current treatments. In addition to a broad transcriptomic survey of inflammation, I'm specifically investigating anti-inflammatory lifestyle modification as a potential cancer-prevention treatment.

Email: naomi.rapier.sharman@gmail.com
Daniel Thompson
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Grose
Research Description: I am a third year PhD student currently researching phage biology. I received my undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology. I am interested in antibiotic resistant and spore forming bacteria, phage therapy and microbiome replacement research. I am currently working on novel treatments to improve Honey Bee health.
Email: d.william.thompson@gmail.com
Edwin Velazquez
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PhD Student
Research Lab: O'Neill
Research Description: I work developing new cell adoptive therapies for cancer immunotherapy and doing tumor target discovery. My work consists of genetically engineering human immune system cells with tumor targeting receptors to selectively eliminate tumor cells.
Email: edwinvelazquezes@gmail.com
Kiara Whitley
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PhD Student
Research Lab: Weber
Research Description: My research focuses on studying T cells. One project focuses on studying how altered peptides affect helper T cell activation in response to L. monocytogenes, a common food-borne pathogen. My other project focuses on the role of CD5, an inhibitory T cell co-receptor, in regulating T cell metabolism.
Email: kvwhitley17@gmail.com
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