Faculty Members and Research

capelluto

Daniel Capelluto
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Biochemistry and structural biology of protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions; protein domains engaged in Wnt signaling, protein domains that control blood clotting, multimodular proteins that control inflammation processes, lipid-binding proteins that mediate entry of oomycetes in plant cells

Jing Chen

Jing Chen
Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

We build mathematical models to study cell biology, especially how spatial, temporal and mechanical regulations couple with biochemical signals to control cellular functions. We typically work in close collaboration with experimental groups. Current research projects in the lab include: Circadian gene expression, bacterial motility, and pattern formation in bacterial colony

Daniela Cimini

Daniela Cimini
Professor of Biological Sciences

The role of mechanics and dynamics of mitotic apparatus components in ensuring  accurate chromosome segregation during cell division; causes and consequences of aneuploidy (abnormal chromosome numbers) in normal and cancer cells.

     

Finkielstein

Carla Finkielstein
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Cell, molecular, and structural biology, regulation of cell division process, molecular basis for breast cancer incidence; circadian control of cell proliferation, tumor resistance to radiation therapies, regulation of gene expression by circadian proteins, control of metastatic processes

Michael Fos

Michael Fox
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences / VTCRI / VTCSOM; Director, Center for Developmental and Translational Neurobiology

Synapses are sites that allow information to be passed between neurons and are essential for brain function. Their importance is highlighted by the fact that even minor synaptic abnormalities, caused by disease or neurotrauma, result in devastating neurological conditions. Understanding how CNS synapses are targeted, assembled, and maintained (or eliminated) is therefore essential to our understanding of neurological disorders. Our lab is specifically interested in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive the initial targeting of synaptic partners to each other and the subsequent differentiation of these partners into functional synapses.

Friedlander

Michael Friedlander
Founding Executive Director, VTCRI; Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology, VT; Senior Dean for Research, VTCSOM; Professor of Biological Sciences, VT

My research program is directed at understanding the processes that regulate alterations in synaptic efficiency between neurons within the cerebral cortex—synaptic plasticity—and how these cellular processes are affected during brain development, after experience including learning and in response to brain injury.

Hauf

Silke Hauf
Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

The more complex a machine is - the more likely it is to break, simply because there are more potential breaking points. Yet, cells are highly complex entities and are extremely robust. We want to understand the underlying basis: what makes biological systems reliable? Which design principles are used? Do they resemble the principles that humans use in engineering?  To study these questions, we look at cell division, a process that is essential for life. When cells divide, a multitude of changes need to happen in a very short timeframe, and any error can be fatal. Hence, reliability is crucial. We use fission yeast in our experiments to identify general principles that have made cells successful in populating the earth for the past 3.5 billion years. 

Kelly

Deb Kelly
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences / VTCRI / VTCSOM

My research focuses on developing innovative methodologies to study complex biological machinery. In particular, I am interested in using a combination of structural and functional tools to understand how signaling pathways influence human development and disease. Cryo-Electron Microscopy (EM) is an ideal technique to visualize macromolecular assemblies, such as ribosomes, at sub-nanometer resolution. Still, a major obstacle in the field is that many active cellular complexes are too labile or in too low abundance for conventional purification schemes. To address this issue, we developed the monolayer purification method and the functionalized Affinity Grid, that make it possible to rapidly purify complexes from crude cell lysates directly onto an EM Grid. These novel techniques provide a powerful approach for gathering structural information and allow us to view biological processes in a completely new fashion. We are now applying this technology to examine signaling complexes that regulate stem cell development in both normal and cancerous tissues. The knowledge gained from this line of research will shed light on the early events of stem cell commitment and cancer formation.

Shihoko Kojima

Shihoko Kojima
Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Circadian rhythmicity is a fundamental aspect of temporal organization in essentially every cell in the body, and modulates much of physiology, biochemistry, and behavior. In order to maintain daily cycles, cell-autonomous circadian oscillators drive rhythmic expression of approximately 5-10% of mRNAs to ultimately drive a wide range of rhythmic biological processes. We are interested in understanding 1) how the circadian clock regulates the rhythms of thousands of mRNAs and proteins to regulate rhythmic physiology and behavior. We use the mouse as an animal model system and integrate diverse approaches - genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, neuroscience, and molecular/cellular biology - to answer these questions.

Lazar

Iulia Lazar
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Cancer is a disease of the cell cycle that results in uncontrolled proliferation of cells. In our laboratory, we explore the molecular mechanisms of breast cancer cell cycle regulation by using holistic, mass spectrometry-based systems biology approaches. We develop proteomic technologies for investigating the pathways that enable cancer cells to bypass tightly regulated molecular checkpoints, proliferate in an unrestrained manner, metastasize and hijack normal biological function. Further, we capitalize on the power of our proteomic data to identify novel therapeutic drug-targets, and to develop microfluidic architectures for targeted detection of biomarkers indicative of disease.

Liwu Li

Liwu Li
Professor of Biological Sciences

Molecular pathways controlling innate immunity and inflammation; dynamic programming of innate immune leukocytes; pathogenesis of acute chronic inflammatory diseases such as sepsis and atherosclerosis

Konark Mukherjee

Konark Mukherjee
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences / VTCRI / VTCSOM

The role of MAGUK (Membrane Associated Guanylate Kinase) proteins in neurodevelopment. Neurodevelopment proceeds through a series of events culminating into formation of productive neuronal network. One of the key final steps in neurodevelopment is refinement of transient connections i.e. strengthening and weakening/elimination of transient synapses, which depends on their individual activity. These highly plastic changes in transient synapses require activity-dependent signaling. Proteins involved in synaptic plasticity are obvious effector molecules involved in synaptic pruning or refinement. MAGUKs are a class of multi-domain scaffolding proteins present in both pre- and post-synaptic compartment. They play a crucial role in various forms of synaptic plasticity. Mutations in MAGUKs like CASK and SAP102 are often linked with neurodevelopmental disorders like X-linked mental retardation. The goal of our laboratory is to investigate the role of MAGUKs like CASK in neurodevelopment. 

Florian Schubot

Florian Schubot
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Structural and biophysical basis for virulence mechanisms in bacterial pathogens; regulation of the type III secretion system and biofilm formation in Pseudomonas aeruginosa; structural studies of chlamydial Inc proteins and their role in host invasion

Smyth

Jamie Smyth
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences / VTCRI / VTCSOM

The heart sets the pace.  If it's too quick or two slow, it's catastrophic for the rest of the body. Our lab is researching heart failure and the development of effective anti-arrhythmic treatments.

Tholl

Dorothea Tholl
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

The Tholl Lab employs biochemical, molecular, and genomic tools to study the biosynthesis of plant chemical defenses, especially volatile compounds, and explores their physiology and ecological significance in above- and below-ground plant tissues. Current research includes: 1) Biochemistry and molecular biology of volatile compounds as messengers in above-ground plant-organism interactions; 2) Metabolic organization and function of chemical defenses in plant roots.

James Tokuhisa

Jim Tokuhisa
Assistant Professor of Practice, Biological Sciences

My lab focuses on two chemical defense systems that protect plants from attack by generalist herbivores.  Crucifer plants produce glucosinolates, nontoxic glycosides, that are bioactivated when herbivores attack the plant.  We humans recognize these bioactivated compounds as the sharp flavor components of arugula, horseradish , mustard, and wasabi.  The bioactivating agent is an enzyme that is heavily modified after it has been synthesized in the plant.  We are investigating how these unusual post-translational modifications contribute to plant fitness in plant-herbivore interactions.  Plants of the Solanum genus produce steroidal glycoalkaloids as defense compounds against generalist herbivores.  These compounds are the bitter flavors we associate with unripe tomatoes and the jackets of red potato tubers.  The production of these compounds requires increased metabolic flux through the terpenoid biosynthetic pathway.  The enzyme squalene synthase is a critical enzyme of this pathway and in potato is encoded by an unusually large gene family.  We are looking at the individual members of the gene family to identify biochemical and molecular features that contribute to the biosynthesis of the steroidal defense compounds.

John Tyson

John Tyson
University Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences

Cell cycle regulation in budding yeast; estrogen responsiveness in breast cancer cells; innate immune responses; stochastic modeling of protein regulatory networks; cell division control in alpha-proteobacteria

Greg Valdez

Greg Valdez
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences / VTCRI / VTCSOM

We are interested in identifying molecules that protect synapses from the ravages of aging and age-related neurological diseases. Synapses are the sites where information is received and transmitted throughout the central nervous system and between motor neurons and muscles. They are also a primary site of entry for growth factors and other molecules that neurons and muscles need to properly function and survive. In much of our work, we study the motor neuron and muscle synapse, the neuromuscular junction. This is a large and readily accessible synapse that is significantly affected by normal aging and the progression of diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In parallel, we probe structural and molecular changes in the spinal cord and select brain synapses.

Brenda S. J. Winkel

Brenda S.J. Winkel
Department Head and Professor of Biological Sciences

Characterization of the architecture and localization of the Arabidopsis flavonoid enzyme complex using a variety of molecular, biochemical, and cell biological techniques