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A Magazine | The School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Issue 9, 2015
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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MCB
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UMBRELLA OPPORTUNITIES:
G R A D U AT E P R O G R A M G I V E S S T U D E N T S C H A N C E T O E X P L O R E
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
L E T T E R F R O M T H E D I R E C TO R
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
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It was a beautiful fall in Champaign Illinois, reminiscent of what was typical before
the last couple of years of early snow. Matching the sunny weather is the warm glow
reflected by the accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students and alumni that we
are pleased to share with you in this edition of our annual magazine.
Dr. Stephen G. Sligar
In October we celebrated the success of three alumni who were recognized by the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during their homecoming celebration. Tom
Cycyota (B.S. ’80 Biology) received the LAS Humanitarian Award for his
outstanding service as President and CEO of AlloSource. His work to improve the
lives of many through the use of donated human tissue is legendary. At the same
event, an LAS Alumni Achievement Award was bestowed upon David Kranz
(M.S. ’80, Ph.D ’82 Microbiology), Phillip A. Sharp Professor in the Department
of Biochemistry on the Urbana campus, for his entrepreneurial spirit exemplified
by the successful move of two start-up companies to commercialization by the
pharmaceutical industry. Guy Padbury (MS ’85, Ph.D. ’88 Biochemistry), Senior
Vice President of Merck, also received the LAS Alumni Achievement Award for
his leadership in several major corporate efforts to bring new therapeutics to the
marketplace.
As a Professor in MCB, I am often asked what I consider the most rewarding
aspect of my chosen profession. My response certainly credits the thrill of
scientific discovery and the joy of teaching. But the most important is observing
the success of our students as they progress through their careers. I had the
pleasure of serving as Guy Padbury’s Ph.D. advisor nearly three decades ago! The
graduate students in our four MCB departments continue to impress, across a
wide range of career paths. In this edition of the MCB magazine you will learn
further details of these accomplishments.
A final word must be mentioned regarding the financial situation facing the State
of Illinois, as most are aware from the news. The budget impasse, reflected in a
partisan chasm between the legislature and Governor’s office has left the
University without a budget until spring. This has created trepidation among
faculty, staff and alumni. The School of Molecular and Cellular Biology remains
one of the crown jewels of the University. We have one of the largest majors on
campus and garner external research funds, which on a per-faculty basis, is one of
the highest across the entire University.
That said, the future success of state public institutions in the dual mission of
education and research is challenged. We are increasingly dependent on external
sources of revenue to support the infrastructure and the recruitment and retention
of the best faculty and staff. We sincerely thank our alumni and friends for their
continued support and guidance in these endeavors.
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Umbrella Opportunities
Graduate Program Gives Students Chance to Explore
Heart and Splicy Development
The Kalsotra Lab
Targeting Cancer with T Cells
David Kranz, PhD ’82, Microbiology
First in Class
Guy Padbury, MS ’85, PhD ’88, Biochemistry
Gene taranis Key to Regeneration of Fruit Fly Epithelial Tissues
Smith-Bolton Lab
An Interview with Ann Carpenter
PhD ’03, Cell and Developmental Biology
CDB Tunji Toogun Memorial Graduate Fellowship Fund
Sacred Gifts
Tom Cycyota, BS ’80, Biology
Pleurobranchaea, a simple creature leading to complex discoveries
The Lab of Rhanor Gillette, Professor Emeritus
MIP Welcomes Dr. Phyllis Wise to Faculty
Drs. Benita S. Katzenellenbogen and John A. Katzenellenbogen have been awarded the
Fred Conrad Koch Lifetime Achievement Award by the Endocrine Society.
MIP Professor Emeritus: Arthur DeVries
Science and Outreach in Dr. Lori Raetzman’s Lab
The Microbial Man
For 62 Years, Ralph Wolfe Has Explored the Microbial Universe
Nutritional Immunity: Using Hunger to Fight Infection
Kehl-Fie Lab
Striking Gold
U of I Alum Uses Humble Yeast in Battle Against Parkinson’s and Other Diseases
Helicobacter pylori Gastric Infection Impairs Cognitive Performance in Rats
The Blanke Lab
Microbiology Welcomes Dr. Christopher Brooke to the Faculty
Milestones in Excellence
Mentors of Success
A Growing Alumni Mentoring Program in MCB is Helping Students Map Their Careers
List of Recent Graduates
MCB is published by the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology
MCB Director
Development
MCB Communications Office
Stephen G. Sligar
Angela Lucas
Joan Tousey
Sean D. Williams
393 Morrill Hall, MC-119
505 South Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Photography
phone | 217.265.6594
fax | 217.265.6595
Managing Editor
Steph Adams
I wish you all a happy new year!
Additional Editing
Judith Lateer
Graphic Design
Steve Sligar
Director
Pat Mayer
Kurt Bielema
Steph Adams
L. Brian Stauffer
Joseph Storch
mcbcommunications@illinois.edu
www.mcb.illinois.edu
Produced by the MCB Communications Office for
the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The University of Illinois is an equal opportunity,
affirmative action institution.
Printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink. 12.038
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Umbrella Opportunities:
Graduate Program Gives Students Chance to Explore
By Brian Wallheimer
When looking for a graduate school program,
it would have been easy for Pooja Agashe to
narrow her focus and zero in on microbiology.
That would be continuing along a path she
started with a bachelor’s degree in the field and
led to four years working in industry after
graduation.
Agashe chose Illinois’ School of Molecular
and Cellular Biology knowing she might
continue down the microbiology path, but
knowing the structure of the graduate program
could lead her down another road altogether.
“It’s very easy to get pigeonholed in science.
You work so narrowly on one piece of research,”
says Agashe, a first-year student in the fall of
2015. “Because I spent time in industry, I did
have some ideas about what I wanted to do, but
I realized there is so much research going on in
the university.”
Agashe is one of the hundreds of students
who have enrolled in the school since its
transition to an umbrella approach to admitting
graduate students, which allows new students to
explore laboratories in each of the school’s
departments. Students do three rotations of five
weeks each to get a feel for the type of research
happening in the lab and how they might fit in
that lab’s environment. At the end of the fall
semester, students request labs and departments
based on their experiences.
“This approach makes sense because the
traditional interdisciplinary boundaries have
long since blurred. Most of us cross these
boundaries constantly,” says Jim Imlay, professor
of microbiology and associate director of the
MCB graduate program. “It would be artificial
and constraining for incoming students to have
access to only a subset of MCB labs. And it
would be a poor idea to make them choose a
focus before they have had a good look at all the
possibilities.”
THE RIGHT FIT
Imlay likes to do an informal survey every
year once students are assigned to their labs. He
wants to know how many students find
themselves in the lab that would have been their
top choice before they began the rotations.
“The answer is only about 25 percent,” Imlay
says. “I see that as a marker that what we’re
doing makes sense.”
Nick Hess, a fourth-year student studying
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microbiology, did undergraduate research in
physiology. He thought he might end up in Cell
and Developmental Biology or Molecular and
Integrative Physiology. He decided to explore
the school and was intrigued by a microbiology
rotation. He was hooked.
“Some people come in and are really
focused to do one thing,” Hess says. “I came in
with a different attitude. I followed what
“Some people come in
and are really focused to
do one thing. I came in
with a different attitude.
I followed what interested
me during the rotations.”
interested me during the rotations.”
Besides the research focus of the lab, students
also need to be the right fit for the lab’s
environment. Spending five weeks amongst the
other students and seeing how the principal
investigator operates can be invaluable.
“The chemistry between you and your future
advisor is so important,” says Jie Chen, head of
the Department of Cell and Developmental
Biology. “The opportunity to look at where
personalities will match is helpful. Every lab has
other students and other post-docs. They have
to fit into that lab.”
Based on her undergraduate work, Whitney
Edwards, a third-year student, expected to land
in Biochemistry. She enjoyed her time in her
two biochemistry lab rotations but didn’t feel
like either of the labs was the right fit. Instead,
she felt at home in Molecular and Integrative
Physiology, mostly because she believed the lab
she chose, which is small and close-knit, would
help her reach her goals.
“I wanted a PI who was more of a mentor
and would take the time to develop me as a
student,” Edwards says. “Having a small lab
environment allows a lot of one-on-one with the
professor to talk about science. That was really
positive for me.Your mentor and your PI are
going to be a huge factor in your success.”
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Like many international students, Amrute
Bhate was nervous about coming to a graduate
program in a country on which she had never
set foot. She did not have the opportunity to
meet with prospective advisors in person or tour
their labs to get a feel for the environment that
she would be working in prior to coming to the
U.S.
“American students choose a university. They
get to come to campus for an interview. They
get to tour the campus and meet the faculty
members,” says Bhate, who is from Mumbai,
India. “I didn’t have that opportunity.”
But under the umbrella structure, Bhate was
able to set many of those concerns aside.
“These rotations really help us because while
we can look up lab pages on the Internet, we
can’t get a feel for them,” says Bhate, who is in
Biochemistry. “You get in touch with all the
students who have been in the program, and
they can help and guide you. Your social network
definitely widens.”
Lori Raetzman, associate professor of
molecular and integrative physiology, says that
can significantly decrease the possibility an
international student will have a bad experience
in graduate school.
“Instead of coming to a country and pinning
their futures on the relationships in one lab, they
have the opportunity to meet a lot of different
people and have different experiences,”
Raetzman says.
HELPING FACULTY
While ensuring a good student experience is
key, the other side of the coin is making sure
faculty are getting students that will help them
meet their research goals.
Raetzman says students who come into a lab
from a different background have different
approaches and ask questions that otherwise
might not be raised.
“They definitely challenge me to look at
things in different ways,” Raetzman says. “We all
have our processes. Getting your eyes opened
listening to your students is so valuable.”
Joanna Shisler, an associate professor of
microbiology, says better student-lab matches
also improve the likelihood students will be
enthusiastic about their work.
“Whenever you have people who work for
you who are excited and motivated, you’re going
to get a better environment and better
experience,” Shisler says.
Chen has students who come from different
science backgrounds and approach questions
much differently than she is used to. That would
not be likely without the school’s umbrella
approach.
“They push me. They definitely make my
research program better,” Chen says.
STRONGER SCHOOL
The school used the direct-admit approach,
in which the four departments separately
admitted students into their programs, before
transitioning to the umbrella structure around
10 years ago. Chen says that approach worked
well before the school was organized and there
were fewer students, but now the program has
expanded and has multiple students in more
than 80 laboratories.
“We realized we weren’t that competitive. The
really strong research programs in biology were
all umbrella programs, and we weren’t
competing,” Chen says. “It wasn’t something we
could ignore.”
While the direct-admit process lets students
start their research sooner, having a rotation
semester allows students to take several schoolwide classes, form relationships with each other
that would not have happened in another
system, and understand their choices before
making a commitment.
“The education you get working in those
rotations outweighs the benefits [of starting
research sooner],” Raetzman says. “You’re
meeting new people, learning new things. It
makes you a more well-rounded person.”
And that’s important, says Hess, because even
at 23 years old it’s difficult to say with absolute
certainty what you want to do for the rest of
your life.
“When you’re that young, you don’t
understand how big the world is or the diversity
of choices you have,” Hess says. “I really enjoyed
the opportunity to try out each department
under the MCB umbrella.”
“When you’re that young, you
don’t understand how big the
world is or the diversity of
choices you have. I really
enjoyed the opportunity to try
out each department under the
MCB umbrella.”
S C HOO L OF MOLEC ULA R AN D C ELLULA R B I O LO GY
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Targeting Cancer with T Cells
The Kalsotra Lab
David Kranz, PhD ’82, Microbiology
By Kevin Yum
By Doug Peterson
The child reflection of the aging man symbolizes
the pathology of myotonic dystrophy type 1,
where CUG repeats containing RNA forms
ribonuclear foci resulting in adult-to-embryonic
remodeling of the transcriptome. In the
background, Peter Pan is shown leading children
to Never Land, which implies that the man at the
lake retains his child-like characteristics despite
his aging appearance. The fish in the lake are
HeLa cells that were probed for CUG repeat RNA
(red), and co-stained with DAPI (blue) and
MBNL1 protein (green)
Illustration: Maddie Rose Maranto, University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Class of 2016,
College of Fine + Applied Arts, Graphic Design.
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The role of RNA was once thought to be only in protein synthesis. However, the
paradigm shifted when the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was award to a group of
scientists who discovered the catalytic properties of RNA. Since this groundbreaking
discovery, many researchers have investigated both the structural and physiological
relevance of RNA-dependent processes in biology. Despite continuing efforts by scientists
to uncover diverse functions of this essential macromolecule, processing and modification
of RNA and its impact on higher organisms remain elusive and under-investigated.
Dr. Auinash Kalsotra, an assistant professor of Biochemistry
and Medical Biochemistry, is one of the scientists on campus who
studies the effects of RNA processing in mammals. He received a
PhD from the University of Texas Health Science Center. He
completed his postdoctoral training at Baylor College of Medicine
at Houston, where he was awarded a four-year, nationally
competitive Scientist Development Grant from the American
Heart Association. This funding supported his cardiovascular
research on Myotonic Dystrophy type 1 (DM1), an RNAmediated neuromuscular disorder that affects 1 in 8,000
individuals worldwide.
“This was the period when I became fascinated by RNA because it was clear that
DM1 is caused by a mutation in the non-coding region of the gene,” Kalsotra said. “What
it means is that the mutation only affects RNA but not the protein that is encoded by the
gene. This was a new way of thinking about human disease as most other studies focused
on proteins. This was an exciting period for RNA research. The advent of next-generation
sequencing methods made it possible for many laboratories, including ours, to take a close
peek at the whole transcriptome for the first time. The results were unexpected and
revealed the diversity, complexity and importance of RNA processing in many aspects of
human health and disease.”
In November of 2012, Kalsotra became a faculty member at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign and started his independent research group. “UIUC was a great
place to begin my academic career not only because of its excellence in research but also of
its unparalleled collaborative environment. I believe that all cutting edge areas in biomedical
research are being investigated at our school or university,” he said.
Kalsotra’s research group specializes in studying post-transcriptional regulatory
mechanisms of RNA splicing and polyadenylation in heart and liver tissue. They utilize a
combination of biochemical, genetics, molecular, and computational techniques to study
the function and regulation of such RNA-networks in tissue development and maturation.
His laboratory has recently discovered a set of previously unknown RNA-binding
proteins (RBPs) that seem to drive many of the pathological changes seen in the heart
under stress. He believes these RBPs are master regulators, which modify and guide various
RNA molecules to perform specific functions in a cell including production of right
proteins at the right time and location. Altered activity of these RBPs in disease changes
this dynamic and thus “wreaks havoc on the cell,” Kalsotra said.
“The current focus of my group is to determine the underlying mechanisms affecting
functions of these RBPs so therapeutic approaches to correct them can be developed in the
future.” The National Institutes of Health, March of Dimes, and Roy J. Carver Trust
support the current projects in his laboratory.
Outside work, Kalsotra spends his time with family and likes to attend the kids’
sporting events. “I am fortunate to have my spouse (Dr. Sayee Anakk, a faculty member in
the department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at UIUC) and my two sons who
understand the value of science. Having a supportive family makes everything easier both
at home and at work,” says Kalsotra.
When David Kranz was growing up in the
Chicago suburbs, his parents would pack their
six children into the station wagon and head up
to Wisconsin. There, he and his identical twin
brother tracked down snakes and turtles, and
went swimming and fishing.
These trips fostered a love for biology. Kranz
still travels to Wisconsin to go fishing, but his
love of biology also led to a career that has
involved fishing expeditions of a different sort—
microscopic fishing expeditions. He co-created a
technology that makes it possible to fish through
millions of mutant molecules in the hopes of
finding one that can combat disease, and he has
found ways to mobilize the body’s immune
system to battle cancer.
Kranz, a Phillip A. Sharp professor of
biochemistry at the University of Illinois, focuses
on therapies that make use of the body’s T cell
receptors—a critical player in the immune
system’s response to foreign invaders. His lab
was the first to engineer T cell receptors with a
therapeutic potential, and two highly successful
start-up companies resulted from this and other
work.
For his strong record as both a researcher and
an entrepreneur, Kranz is one of the 2015 LAS
Alumni Achievement Award winners.
After being paired with his identical twin
throughout grade school and high school, Kranz
and his brother Robert decided it would be
healthy to attend different universities. Robert
went to Northern Illinois University, while
David went to Illinois State, where he received
bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology.
However, the twins were together again when
David received his PhD from Illinois in
microbiology in 1982, and Robert got a PhD at
the U of I in biochemistry. (Today, his twin
brother is a biology professor at Washington
University in St. Louis.)
Kranz was drawn to the U of I for his PhD in
order to work with immunologist Ed Voss. After
graduating from Illinois, he did postdoctoral
work at MIT, which in the ‘80s was known as
“the mecca for molecular biology,” he says.
At MIT, Kranz trained under Susumu
Tonegawa, a 1987 Nobel Prize winner for his
work in immunology. His most influential
mentor was another world famous
immunologist, Herman Eisen.
“Herman Eisen’s influence was not just
scientific,” Kranz says. “He also taught me to
view science as a noble pursuit. He didn’t believe
in hyping research—just let the science talk for
you.”
After finishing his postdoctoral work at MIT,
Kranz returned to Illinois as a professor. His first
10 years of research focused on studying
precisely how T cell receptors worked.
“T cells are absolutely critical in your
immune system’s defense against viruses,
bacteria, and cancer cells—almost any infectious
agent,” he says. “AIDS is the perfect example of
what happens when you don’t have T cells.”
T cells have many types of receptors—
molecules that bind to or “recognize,” various
foreign agents in the body. When a T cell
recognizes an invader, the immune system takes
over and the few T cells that bind to the foreign
agent will rapidly expand to millions, taking care
of the infection. This process creates “memory T
cells,” which remember the foreign agent and
respond even faster the next time an infection
occurs.
Kranz has brought in over $20 million in
grants to support his research. He is also a keen
collaborator, teaming up with former U of I
professor of chemical engineering, Dane
Wittrup, who did research on antibodies,
another key part of the immune system. Kranz
and Wittrup worked together on a yeast display
system which made it possible to display an
entire “library” of antibody and T cell receptor
mutants contained in a test tube.
This display allowed scientists to run mutants
through a high-speed cell sorter, which fished
through the antibodies and T cell receptors
looking for one that could be used as a possible
drug candidate. A high-speed cell sorter can go
through a million cells in 100 seconds, searching
for the needle in a haystack that will combat a
specific disease.
In 1998, Wittrup and Kranz founded
BioDisplay Technologies, a start-up company
that featured this technology. It immediately
drew interest from biotech companies.
“It’s a rare thing to start a company and get
other companies interested in it in a matter of
months,” Kranz says. That is precisely what
happened with BioDisplay Technologies. Several
years later Abbott Laboratories acquired the
Photo by Lou McClellan
Heart and Splicy Development
company. Kranz and Wittrup continued as
consultants.
In the 1990s, Kranz says the technology was
used more for engineering antibodies to combat
disease because more work was being done
worldwide on antibodies than on T cell receptors.
In the 2000s, research on T cell receptors as
therapeutic drugs began to catch up.
Kranz founded his second company,
ImmuVen, built on his research showing T cell
receptors could be engineered to target specific
cancer cells.
“The goal is to use the receptors as a drug that
would recruit all of the T cells in the body to fight
against the cancer,” he says. This technology is
still a few years away from clinical use.
A multinational pharmaceutical company
purchased ImmuVen in December of 2014;
however, the details have yet to be officially
released.
Josef Lakonishok, CEO and founding partner
of LSV Asset Management, says, “Dave was able
to navigate ImmuVen through the trials and
difficulties that typically plague a biotech startup,
while maintaining a highly productive academic
research portfolio on top of his teaching
responsibilities.”
As Lakonishok puts it, this is “no small feat.”
S CHO OL O F MO LE CULAR A ND CE LLULAR B I O LO GY
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Photo by Lou McClellan
First in Class
Guy Padbury, MS ’85, PhD ’88, Biochemistry
By Doug Peterson
in-class means it uses a unique new mechanism to treat a medical
Guy Padbury’s work for the Upjohn pharmaceutical company hit
problem.)
closer to home than he ever expected when his father was diagnosed with
“For it to be a first-in-class antibiotic is pretty exciting stuff to be
Type 2 diabetes.
associated with,” he says.
Padbury’s team with Upjohn did metabolism research on a molecule
Because the success rate of new drugs is so low, he says, “You can go
licensed to Eli Lily that went on to become the drug, Actof. This was the
an entire career and never be associated with a molecule that ends up
drug that, along with changes in diet and exercise, helped to control his
becoming valuable medicine for patients. But that’s one I was able to see
father’s diabetes. Ironically, Padbury’s sister worked on marketing the drug
go from discovery to registration to use in medical practice.”
for Eli Lily, so their father’s treatment became a family affair.
Padbury and his family moved from Kalamazoo to St. Louis in 2003,
Padbury says this experience changed how he viewed what he did for a
when the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer acquired Pharmacia (which was
living. He saw how the drugs he worked on “were actually touching
Upjohn’s new name after earlier mergers). With
people first hand. And that perspective really
Pfizer, he eventually became senior vice
enriches your motivation.”
“You’re making something
president of worldwide pharmacokinetics,
Over his career, Padbury played a leading role
dynamics,
and metabolism.
in getting a host of therapeutic drugs to market—
that is actually going to
During this period, he also became more
drugs that treat everything from bacterial
responsible for “people development.”
infections, HIV, and heart disease to Parkinson’s,
improve a person’s life and,
“My responsibilities continued to be seeing
osteoporosis, and, in his father’s case, diabetes.
in some cases, prolong their projects move through the pipeline, but I was
For this work, Padbury is a recipient of the 2015
also much more responsible for seeing young
LAS Alumni Achievement Award.
lives. That starts to ground
scientists develop and be successful,” he says.
Padbury was born in London, the son of
you and bring you energy to
Padbury’s ability to package a new drug for
working class parents. His family then moved to
regulatory approval at the FDA significantly
New Zealand before they came to Indianapolis
come into work every day.”
increased the success rate of drugs. In the early
when Padbury was in the second grade. In high
1990s, for every 10 molecules that went into
school, he turned to the sciences, thanks to the
clinical testing, four or five of them failed because of drug metabolism
influence of his first chemistry teacher, and he majored in chemistry at
issues. But within a decade, his company was able to improve the success
Butler University.
rate so only one out of 20 failed for metabolism issues.
“I was the first of my family to graduate with the equivalent of a high
Always seeking a new challenge, Padbury decided to move into the
school degree, let alone go to a university, so I am the classic American
biotechnology industry in 2009, becoming the vice president of
Dream come true,” he says.
pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism for the biotech company Amgen
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Butler in 1981,
in California.
Padbury spent three years at Dow Pharmaceuticals before his boss, a
“I like to feel a little intimidated,” he says. “I like to put myself where
former Marine sergeant, strongly encouraged him to go back to school for
I’m forced to learn, and I like to be around young scientists that know so
an advanced degree. This brought him to the University of Illinois, where
much it scares you. It’s an invigorating environment.”
he received his master’s in 1985 and PhD in 1988, both in biochemistry.
Most recently, he says he thought it was time to make another change
Padbury’s specialty became pharmacokinetics, or drug metabolism.
and “scare myself a little bit more,” so he joined Merck & Company this
While pharmacology understands how a drug affects human biology,
past July as senior vice president of preclinical development. His
pharmacokinetics is the reverse—understanding how human biology
responsibilities have expanded beyond drug metabolism, and he is in
affects the drugs once they are administered.
charge of the pharmaceutical sciences formulation development group, as
How long it takes the drug to move through your gastrointestinal tract
well as the groups responsible for preclinical safety assessments.
and into circulation, and then how long it lasts in circulation, dictates how
Padbury says, like many researchers, he began his career with a pure
often you need to take it, he says. Pharmacokinetics also affects how you
passion for science, but as he saw the impact of these drugs, he became
take a drug, such as determining whether it must be taken with food.
more driven by the effect they had on people’s lives.
Padbury started doing metabolism research for the Upjohn Company
“You still have your passion for science, but the mission of the industry
in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1987, working his way up the ranks to
really starts to captivate you,” he points out. “You’re making something
director of drug metabolism research for North America by 1998, and
that is actually going to improve a person’s life and, in some cases, prolong
then senior director for global drug metabolism research by 2000.
their lives. That starts to ground you and bring you energy to come into
Zyvox was a good example of the kinds of drugs they developed at
work every day.”
Upjohn—and one of the most significant. Zyvox was a first-in-class
As he puts it, “That’s been my lightning rod.”
drug—the first antibiotic to be classed that way in several decades. (First-
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Gene taranis Key to Regeneration
of Fruit Fly Epithelial Tissues
Smith-Bolton Lab
By Kevin Yum
The fruit fly, also known as Drosophila, is a
useful organism for studying many biological
processes, most notably in genetics and
development biology. Scientists at the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have identified
a gene that regulates cell fate changes during the
wound response using this simple but versatile
organism capable of regeneration.
“Drosophila imaginal discs are an excellent
model tissue for studying regeneration due to
their remarkable regenerative capacity and
simple epithelial structure. While significant
discoveries have been made identifying early
development genes, how cells recognize and
adapt to damage, and maintain appropriate cell
fates during regeneration still remains elusive,”
said Rachel Smith-Bolton, an assistant professor
in Cell and Developmental Biology.
“Using the power of genetics, we can ablate
the wing primordium and screen for mutations
that impair wound healing and regeneration in
Drosophila,” she said. “We discovered that
mutations in the gene taranis caused posteriorto-anterior cell-fate transformations in
regenerated wings while having no effect on
undamaged tissue.”
Smith-Bolton, with lead author PhD student
Keaton Schuster, recently published their
findings in the journal Developmental Cell, one
of the most highly cited journals in the field of
cell and developmental biology.
“While tara is dispensable in the wing during
normal development, it is responsible for
controlling the deleterious side effects of the
signaling that drives wound healing and
regeneration. We demonstrated that without
sufficient Taranis protein, regenerating tissue
fails to repattern with proper cell identities.”
It was often thought that regeneration closely
resembled development, therefore previous
research focused on identifying developmental
genes that regulate regeneration in metazoans.
However, Smith-Bolton’s group findings left the
door open for studying genes unique to
regeneration, which adds complexity to
understanding the mechanisms of regeneration.
“Our next goal is to identify additional genes
that are responsible for ensuring proper
patterning and cell fate during regeneration. It is
becoming increasingly clear that unwanted side
effects of regeneration can occur, which should
be taken into account when engineering
Top: Assistant Professor of Cell and
Developmental Biology Dr. Rachel SmithBolton and PhD student Keaton Schuster
Bottom: Aberrant cell fate changes during
regeneration of the Drosophila wing
imaginal disc (or Drosophila wing
primordium)
Credit: Keaton Schuster
regeneration for medical purposes. We hope our
identification of these protective factors will aid
the induction of regeneration in more complex
organisms including humans.”
S CHO OL OF M OLE C ULA R AN D C ELLULA R BI OLO GY
9
An Interview with Ann Carpenter
Cell images from Ann Carpenter’s time at
UIUC (formerly Ann Carpenter Nye)
PhD ’03, Cell and Developmental Biology
1. Who or what at the University of Illinois
has had the most impact on you?
My advisor, Andy Belmont, certainly had the
most influence on my development as a scientist.
His lab is very open to technology development
in pursuit of biological questions. I am usually
more interested in figuring out how to answer a
particular biological question than in learning
the actual answer! I also picked up a lot of his
scientific style: a careful and serious approach –
impeccably conscientious – concerned with
getting things right rather than gunning for
flashy results.
2. How did you balance your personal time
with the graduate school?
I had an unusual routine for a graduate student:
I worked diligently and intensely weekdays from
8 to 5 and was largely off-duty outside of that. I
volunteered through my church and through my
neighborhood group, not to mention fixing up
my own house and actual hobbies. There were
certainly many times when I had to go the extra
mile to monitor equipment, read papers, or push
through difficult experiments, but I tried to stick
to a limited work schedule. That is how I am
most productive: working really intensely but for
a constrained period. Studies confirm that most
peoples’ productivity drops off steeply above 50
hours/week. Some students seemed to be always
in the lab but I think it is too difficult to stay
focused. I figured, if it takes working 80
hours/week to succeed in science then I should
pick something else.
A side benefit of having established this
pattern early on in my career is that it was not a
crisis when I had a family. In a single five-year
period, I became a stepmother to three children
and gave birth to two more. Of course, now I
“work” around the clock, but at least half the
time it’s for my family! If I had been relying on
extreme work hours, this would have been a very
difficult transition.
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3. What part of your work fuels your
passion?
I love quantifying images and I’m fascinated by
the fact that beautiful images of cells can be
converted into quantitative, statistically solid
numerical data. I am also passionate about
making a difference in the world, whether it’s
through my group’s open-source software,
working on drug discovery projects,
volunteering, or raising my children. As a
stereotypical Midwestern girl, I am hardwired to
be helpful, and that is where my passions align.
4. What current research topic(s) are you
and your group currently focusing on?
My laboratory here at the Broad Institute of
Harvard and MIT is dedicated to extracting rich
information from biological images. To do this,
we advance and support our open-source
software, CellProfiler, which is used by
thousands of biologists worldwide. We work
closely with collaborators in the Boston area and
around the world doing high-throughput
imaging projects, helping to devise image
processing pipelines that enable them to quickly
identify samples that will be most interesting to
follow up on, whether it’s for drug discovery or
identifying novel genetic regulators of a
biological process. Outside of this, my pet
project is high-risk/high-reward: we are
attempting to use images as a very unbiased
source of data about cell state in response to
perturbation. After more than five years of
energy invested into that, it is starting to bear
fruit and will likely have a major impact on how
chemical compounds are prioritized for drug
testing and how disease-associated alleles are
pursued, to name a few applications. Thank
goodness for startup funds; the traditional NIH
system would never have funded that work (we
tried!).
5. What was unique about the University of
Illinois and the department of Cell and
Developmental Biology?
I could have gone to an Ivy League school for
my PhD but was “stuck” in Illinois for family
reasons. When I arrived in Boston for my
postdoc, after finishing my PhD at UIUC, the
contrast was stark: most graduate students
training at Harvard and MIT rarely saw the
professor running the lab. They certainly did not
learn much directly from them but instead
postdocs taught graduate students and graduate
students taught undergraduates. Postdocs were
on their own, to sink or swim! I became aware of
how lucky I was to have been trained in Andy
Belmont’s lab at UIUC. My PI actually taught
me how to do science, hands-on. From setting
up the microscope appropriately to formulating
scientific questions I am very grateful to have
actually been trained by a successful senior
scientist. This was true even for PIs in the labs
where I rotated my first year, including Benita
Katzenellenbogen, Chris Doe, and Stan Maloy.
At a place like UIUC, you get more attention
and training from your principal investigators.
6. Tell us about your current position in
your institute.
As the Director of the Imaging Platform at the
Broad, I lead a group of approximately eight
computer scientists, software engineers, and
computational biologists. My lab is similar to
faculty labs at Harvard and MIT except that
the Broad has an unusual structure where
Platform Directors are focused on technology
development in collaboration with biology labs.
As such, I am 100% focused on research; I have
no teaching responsibilities.
7. What was your first impression as a new
graduate student in CDB?
During the first week of graduate school I
remember being really intimidated by my
classmates. My impression was that everyone
was smarter and had more experience than me.
In the end, each person has a mixture of
personal characteristics and experiences that
influences their path; what I love about science is
there’s a tremendous variety in how to
approach a scientific question, and you get to
see individuals attack things differently.
A mantra my classmate taught me was,
“Don’t compare other people’s outsides to your
insides.” He would remind me that I am
intimidating, too. When that still wasn’t cutting
through the insecurity, I would go through my
folder of every award I’d ever won and that
would usually cheer me up! I have almost
completely outgrown my imposter syndrome
by now; building up a history of success helped
a lot. It also helped to have role models in
science at UIUC: as an undergraduate, being
caught not knowing something is embarrassing,
but I saw mature scientists readily admitting
what is outside their sphere of knowledge; I
think becoming comfortable with this is crucial
for interdisciplinary work especially because
you’re constantly nudging yourself outside your
comfort zone.
My first impression of Andy Belmont was
that he was so knowledgeable and insistent on
logical and well-supported data, that he would
be a tough advisor— thought he was the
toughest advisor in the department. I decided I
wanted to train in his lab because I figured if I
survived, my research project (and I) would be
able to withstand any amount of external
scrutiny. It was a great choice – the training I
received at UIUC was rigorous and I was well
prepared for my time at MIT and Harvard.
8. Do you believe your education and/or
training at UIUC has adequately prepared
you for a successful career in your field?
Certainly. In addition to the scientific training,
the seminars and courses in the soft skills were
helpful; heading a successful laboratory in
academia requires far more than just scientific
skills and talent. For example, I took a
one semester “Certificate in Business
Administration for Life Scientists” that gave me
many useful management-related skills.
CDB Tunji Toogun
Memorial Graduate
Fellowship Fund
The Department of Cell and Developmental
Biology is pleased to announce the first
recipients of the Tunji Toogun Award: Nimish
Khanna, now a postdoctoral fellow in the
Department of Biological Sciences, UCSD; and
Frank Echtenkamp, now a postdoctoral fellow
at Technishche Universität München, Germany.
Both graduated with PhDs in 2015.
This award was created in memory of a PhD
student who tragically passed away in 2007. He
was an energetic and dedicated graduate
student, and this award will recognize students
who reflect the spirit of Tunji Toogun.
Tunji Toogun, a Cell and Developmental
Biology Ph.D. student at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, died August 3,
2007 at the age of 26 after falling into Lake Shelbyville and drowning. Within his career,
Tunji was best known for his hard work and boundless enthusiasm for research and
learning.
Born in Nigeria on October 15, 1981, Toogun studied at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign receiving his B.S. in 2001 and a posthumous Ph.D. in 2007. Tunji first
arrived to UIUC as an incoming freshman in 1997 at the age of sixteen to begin a long and
fruitful academic career. He left an immediate impact on those around him with his strong
Nigerian accent and his always friendly and persistent demeanor.
Friends and teachers of Tunji characterized him as a bright, kind, and enthusiastic
individual who was also a great friend.
A year after Tunji’s death, a fund was established in his memory, with contributions from
Tunji’s friends, classmates, and faculty. The Department of Cell and Developmental
Biology has decided to use this fund to recognize and support outstanding graduate
students in our program in the form of awards and fellowships. The CDB Tunji Toogun
Memorial Graduate Fellowship Fund
will be offered annually to a CDB graduate student at any stage of the graduate program
for his or her outstanding research accomplishments.
To donate towards the CDB Tunji Toogun Memorial Graduate Fellowship Fund
please visit: https://mcb.illinois.edu/giving/
S C HOO L OF MO LE C ULA R A N D C E LLULAR B I O LO GY
11
Photo by Lou McClellan
Sacred Gifts
Tom Cycyota, BS ’80, Biology
By Doug Peterson
A teenage girl named Kacey survived the
horrific shooting at Columbine High School in
1999, when 12 students and one teacher were
massacred. However, a single shotgun blast had
badly damaged her right hand, arm, and
shoulder. In cases such as hers, most victims lose
their arm to amputation, but because of donated
human tissue from AlloSource in Centennial,
Colorado, this woman—now 35-years-old—tells
people she has two arms to hug her four
children.
“That’s the power of what AlloSource is all
about,” says Thomas Cycyota, president and
CEO of the Colorado company. AlloSource is
one of the largest tissue banks in the country,
preserving human tissue from generous donors
and using it to create approximately 250,000
transplantable allografts each year. (An allograft
is a human-to-human transplant.)
For his work in tissue donation and
transplantation, Cycyota is the 2015 recipient of
the LAS Alumni Humanitarian Award.
“Everybody understands organ donation
because a heart or kidney saves somebody’s life,”
Cycyota says. “But with tissue donation, a donor
who has passed away can affect hundreds of
people, making it possible for those without
cartilage in their knees to be active again or those
who have been severely burned to heal.
“We deal with a sacred gift because the donor
is somebody’s loved one,” Cycyota adds.
“Donors all have a story, and they are all being
mourned by a family while the surgeons do the
amazing things they do.”
Another one of the stories that touched
everyone at AlloSource was that of Cameron, a
22-year-old who had just graduated from
Eastern Illinois University when he was killed in
a bus accident. He was an organ and tissue
donor, and his tissue helped countless people.
“I had the honor of meeting and getting to
know Cameron’s mom and dad,” Cycyota says.
“Because Cameron was the same age as our
oldest son at the time of his death, you can
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imagine how he impacted my life, and this family
has become close personal friends. They lost a
child in a split second, and it changed their life,
and it changed everybody’s life around them.”
Cycyota was first inspired to enter the medical
field when an influential physiology teacher at
Proviso West High School in the Chicago area
took the class to Northwestern University to hear
a talk by famed heart surgeon, Michael DeBakey.
Inspired to become a doctor, Cycyota came to
the University of Illinois in 1976, but two
introductory biology classes “clobbered me,” as
he puts it. Although he was a straight-A student
in high school, the two C’s he received in biology
drove him to also focus on business, while still
getting a science-based education. His bachelor’s
degree in 1980 was in biology.
“Even though I didn’t become a doctor, I have
still been able to help people through the
altruistic things I wanted to do, and that’s worked
out wonderfully for me,” Cycyota says.
Serving at AlloSource also brought him full
circle to the day he heard Dr. DeBakey talk
about heart transplants because he was now in
charge of a company that specialized in tissue
transplants.
It was a winding road to get there. After
graduating from Illinois, he sold medical devices
for the Kendall Company from 1981 to 1991,
picking up his MBA from Loyola University
along the way. He then transitioned to wound
care management at New Dimensions in
Medicine, an Ohio company, before going to
Johnson & Johnson in 1996 and becoming the
worldwide director for wound management.
He was hired as President and CEO of
AlloSource in 2000, when the company had
fewer than 200 employees. Today, AlloSource
employs more than 500 people in Colorado and
throughout the country, and has grown into one
of the largest and most respected organizations
of its kind.
AlloSource’s products offer life-saving and
life-enhancing healing possibilities in many
forms. For example, they provide large
segmental bones for people who have bone
cancer or have suffered trauma, as well as skin
for burns or chronic wounds.
AlloSource tissue can also help those with torn
ligaments or tendons, as well as patients (such as
injured soldiers) undergoing repair of spine
conditions or traumatic injuries. One of the
company’s most innovative products is
AlloStem® Cellular Bone Allograft, in which
they combine donated stem cells from the donor
with bone from the same donor to provide a
bone substitute that helps in hard-to-heal
orthopedic cases.
The company even provides a layer of tissue,
from placentas donated by voluntary C-sections,
for surgeons to use as a biologic barrier following
surgery. Wrapping nerves in amnion tissue can
reduce phantom nerve pain when a leg is
amputated, and it can also prevent the swelling,
scarring, and pain that can occur when a tumor
is removed.
Cycyota is awed by the technology developed
from donated human tissue, but what inspires
him most are the stories of people like Kevin, a
mechanic who was burned over 80 percent of his
body when his truck exploded. Donated skin
saved his life. Then there was a young adult
named Manuel who was burned in a high
voltage accident in South Carolina. He lost all
four limbs, but donated tissue and bone made it
possible for surgeons to create a partial limb at
his shoulder. In turn, this made it possible for
him to use crutches, move with prosthetic legs,
and do something as simple as scratch his nose.
Patients like Manuel say although the tissue
donation didn’t necessarily save their lives, “it still
saved their life,” Cycyota says. “People who get
donated tissue believe it is a life-changing event.”
“That’s why I use words like ‘sacred’ and
‘miracle,’” he adds. “The tissue we transplant
becomes the recipient’s own tissue, so the body
can heal itself. And that’s a miracle in its own
right.”
Pleurobranchaea californica: Every time it encounters another animal, the blind
sea slugmust decide whether to risk trying to eat it; credit Tracy Clark
Pleurobranchaea: a simple creature
leading to complex discoveries:
The Lab of Rhanor Gillette, Professor Emeritus
By Megan Patton
To most, sea slugs might invoke thoughts of primitiveness, but to Rhanor
Gillette, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative
Physiology, the predatory Pleurobranchaea californica serves as an optimal model
of learning and decision-making.
“They seem a simple animal,” remarked Gillette, “but their nervous system
reflects the ancient structure and function of the common ancestor of the
vertebrates and insects.”
The abilities to learn and make decisions in foraging are based on their
learning and motivational state. Their decisions are not based simply on sensory
information per se, but essentially on how information makes them feel, much
like ourselves.
As a graduate student Gillette switched from working with mammals to sea
slugs because of the extremely high data rates possible in working with their
accessible nervous systems. In a recently published review, Gillette and his
former PhD student Jeff Brown showed how the neuronal circuitry mediating
the approach/avoidance decisions of foraging paralleled in point-for-point
fashion the structure and functions of the mammalian brain, but without the
more derived complexity acquired in mammalian evolution.
The analogies may well reflect the deep common origins of motivational and
action selection mechanisms of the simpler and more complex beings. For
Gillette and his team of researchers, understanding Pleurobranchaea circuitry is
just the first step in elucidating the complex landscape of neural evolution.
MIP Welcomes
Dr. Phyllis Wise to
the Faculty
Dr. Phyllis Wise, eminent neuroscientist
and endocrinologist who served as the
chancellor of the University of Illinois at
Urbana–Champaign from 2011-2015, has
joined the faculty of the Department of MIP.
Her research interests include endocrine and
neurochemical mechanisms regulating neural
plasticity during aging, and neuroprotective
actions of estrogen after injury and during
aging.
She has received two MERIT (Method to
Extend Research in Time) awards from the
National Institutes of Health, from 1986 to
1996 and again from 2001 to 2010. Dr. Wise is
a member of the Institute of Medicine of the
National Academy of Sciences, and the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In
2004, she received the Roy O. Greep Award
for outstanding contributions to research in
endocrinology and the Women in
Endocrinology Mentor Award in 2003.
In her role as an educator, she will engage as
an instructor in the MCB Honors Discussion
course and the Discovery course in Human
Reproduction.
S C HOOL O F MOL E C ULAR A N D C E LLULAR B I O LOGY
13
Drs. Benita S. Katzenellenbogen and John A.
Katzenellenbogen have been awarded the Fred
Conrad Koch Lifetime Achievement Award by the
Endocrine Society.
Credit L. Brian Stauffer
The Society’s highest honor, this annual award
recognizes lifetime achievements and exceptional
contributions to the field of endocrinology. Dr. Benita
Katzenellenbogen is currently the Swanlund Chaired
Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, and
Dr. John Katzenellenbogen is the Swanlund Chaired
Professor of Chemistry. This is the first time the award
has honored two scientists who collaborate both at
work and at home as a married couple.
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Their enormous contributions to the field of
endocrinology—spanning more than four
decades—have greatly advanced our
understanding of the broad actions of steroid
hormones and their receptors in diverse target
tissues in health and disease. Their pioneering
work on estrogens and estrogen receptors has
defined the multifaceted modes by which these
receptors are regulated and act in distinctive and
biomedically significant ways. These seminal
contributions have also highlighted novel
approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of
hormone-responsive cancers and beneficial
modes of tissue-selective estrogen action for
managing various disorders including
endometriosis and multiple sclerosis.
"John and Benita Katzenellenbogen represent
the best that is Illinois. As outstanding
contributors to the research an educational
mission of the institution, they are some of our
most valued faculty. Importantly, they represent a
Arthur L. DeVries
“bridge” between Colleges on this campus,”
said Dr. Stephen Sligar, director of the School
of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “As a
member of the College of Medicine on the
Urbana-Champaign campus, Benita
exemplified the value of a model where the
most productive tenured research faculty are
engaged in the education of medical, graduate
and undergraduate students. Without the
College of Medicine, we on this campus would
not have benefited from having both John and
Benita as colleagues. The Katzenellenbogens
represent the importance of this connection in
understanding the fundamental mechanisms of
biological function. It is wonderful that they
have been recognized for their long-term
contributions to the University of Illinois.”
“Drs. Benita and John Katzenellenbogen
embody the uniqueness of the University of
Illinois. As scientists of the highest caliber, they
have been instrumental in training our talented
Medical Scholars at College of Medicine at
Urbana-Champaign,” said Dean Michele
Mariscalco. “Benita Katzenellenbogen, as one
of our first faculty, has been a highly successful
and valued educator. Training medical students
who will impact the care of patients for
generations to come is a unique opportunity,
and both Drs. Katzenellenbogen have
embraced this mission.”
In addition to their highly productive
collaborations joining biology and chemistry,
they have each led extremely distinguished,
independent scientific careers. Dr. Benita
Katzenellenbogen’s work has elucidated
fundamental aspects of structure-function
relationships and mechanisms of action of
ERα and ERβ, and demonstrated the
remarkably broad spectrum of estrogen actions
on gene expression and cell signaling networks.
Her extensive research has provided the
framework for our current understanding of
the basis for the actions of selective estrogen
receptor modulators (SERMs) such as
tamoxifen and raloxifene, and for the
development of anti-hormonal therapies used
in breast cancer treatment and prevention.
Dr. John Katzenellenbogen has studied
important aspects of diverse estrogen ligands in
various analytical and biomedical applications.
He synthesized and characterized many
estrogens with novel structures and biological
activities, including the most selective agonists
and antagonists for ERα and ERβ, and
selective regulators of the non-genomic actions
of ER. John’s laboratory has also been a world
leader in the development of agents for
imaging steroid receptors in endocrineresponsive cancers by positron emission
tomography (PET), including [18F]FES and
[18F]FDHT, for breast and prostate cancer.
Both have been role models in service to their
professions, and in training over 250 graduate
students and postdoctoral and MD fellows.
On the home front, the Katzenellenbogens are
the parents of two daughters and they have
four grandchildren.
“John and Benita Katzenellenbogen are
research pioneers who have made important
contributions to chemical and medical
sciences, especially in the area of steroid
hormones, as this most recent award attests,”
said Dr. Gregory Girolami, head of the
Department of Chemistry. “They have
illuminated the fundamental molecular aspects
of estrogen action and have developed
innovative techniques for the imaging of breast
and prostate cancers. In addition, they are
wonderful colleagues who, through their
teaching and their leadership, have contributed
in many less visible but equally important ways
to the University of Illinois. We are incredibly
fortunate to have both John and Benita as
members of our faculty, and it is gratifying to
see that they have been recognized in this
way.”
The Endocrine Society’s Koch Lifetime
Achievement Award honors practicing
physicians and academics worldwide who have
greatly advanced the field of endocrinology
and contributed to the diagnosis, treatment,
and understanding of diseases involving the
human endocrine system. The award includes
a $25,000 honorarium and further recognition
at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in
Boston in April 2016.
The Department of
Molecular and Integrative
Physiology would like to
recognize the career
achievements of Dr. Arthur
(Art) DeVries. Dr. DeVries
pioneered unique and
exciting research in the antifreeze mechanisms
that operate in Antarctic fishes. He discovered
the antifreeze glycoproteins, which impart the
antifreeze properties to the fish blood. During
his long career as a comparative physiologist and
his numerous field trips to Antarctica, Dr.
DeVries studied the physiology, biochemistry
and molecular biology of these antifreeze
glycoproteins, which brought international fame
and recognition to his research program at the
university and established him as a world leader
in this field of biology.
Dr. DeVries is a Professor Emeritus in the
Department of Molecular and Integrative
Physiology and Animal Biology. He received his
PhD from Stanford (1968), and during this
period, he discovered antifreeze glycoproteins
(AFGPs) in Antarctic notothenioid fishes.
Dr. DeVries then spent next three years at
U California, Davis continuing to characterize
the structure of AFGPs as a NIH postdoctoral
fellow and later as an Assistant Research
Biochemist before starting his own laboratory in
1971 at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
In 1976, he joined UIUC as an assistant
professor in the Department of Physiology and
Biophysics and became a full professor in 1985.
He has remained in the department ever since.
He is currently a leader in the field of Antarctic
and Arctic fish biology and has won numerous
awards, including the Italian National Antarctic
Programme and the Accademia Nazionale dei
Linceie Premio Internazionale 'Felice Ippolito'
international prize. He has over 160 publications
including seven Science and six Nature papers,
and is best known not only for his studies in fish
AFGPs but also his contributions to knowledge
of the biology of Antarctic fishes.
In 2011, Dr. DeVries was the first recipient of
the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1st
International Ice-Binding Protein Conference
held in Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario,
Canada.
S CHO OL OF M OL EC ULA R AN D C E LLULA R B I O LOGY
15
Science and Outreach in Dr. Lori
Raetzman’s Lab, Molecular and
Integrative Physiology
By Megan Patton
With as much passion as
she exudes for her work, it is
hard to believe that Lori
Raetzman, an associate
professor in Molecular and
Integrative Physiology, was
not attuned to science since
the beginning.
“My dad worked in a
factory and my mom was a
stay-at-home mom, so I definitely didn’t have
science in the genes,” she said. It was not until
she took a summer research opportunity at the
Mayo Clinic that Raetzman uncovered her love
for developmental neurobiology.
She pursued developmental neuroscience
throughout her graduate training, after which
she accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the
lab of Dr. Sally Camper at the University of
Michigan. It was here that she began studies on
[the developmental origins of] the pituitary
gland, which led her to Illinois in 2005.
In line with her previous work, Raetzman’s
lab currently focuses on understanding early
development of the pituitary gland and how
environmental signals [cues] are integrated into
this process. She boils this down to a fate
choice.
“You have one stem cell that has to make
five different hormone-producing cells, and we
know a couple of the first steps that happen for
each of those cells. But we don’t know what
makes an undifferentiated cell that could be
anything, go this way versus that way.”
Cutting-edge technology has allowed lab
members to isolate these stem cells, the first
step towards characterizing them in more
detail. Isolated stem cells can be directly
subjected to different hormonal or
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environmental factors, allowing their response
to be further studied. With a variety of
techniques, as well as collaborations across
campus, Raetzman and her students are
making great strides towards understanding
the signals that underlie this fate choice.
“Working for Lori has been more than I
could have ever asked for from a graduate
school PI. Having experienced a number of
different laboratory atmospheres in the past, it
is abundantly clear to me why both Lori and
everyone she has trained to date has been so
successful,” said Matt Biehl, an MD/PhD
student in the Raetzman Lab. “Her passion for
training has been especially beneficial,
considering my background is somewhat
similar to hers. Having no family or friends
with a background as either a PhD or MD (or
any college experience, for that matter), her
guidance has been beneficial not only in my
science, but also in ensuring I am following a
career path that benefits me the most. Now
entering my fourth year of graduate school, I
can’t even begin to quantify how much Lori
has helped me grow as both a graduate and
medical student.”
Whitney Edwards, a second-year PhD
student in the lab, describes with excitement
the atmosphere in their field right now. Much
like Raetzman, Edwards
entered her undergraduate career with no
intention of pursuing
science.
“I went into
undergrad as a theatre
major, actually. I took a
basic science course and
absolutely fell in love
with it, and things kind of just progressed from
there,” she said. Edwards also takes her passion
for science outside of the lab, where she is
involved in promoting the presence of
underrepresented minorities in the sciences.
One organization to which she dedicates a
great deal of time, STEMfem, seeks to form an
alliance between women in the sciences.
Raetzman’s position as an associate
professor also extends far beyond the lab, and
plays a significant role in contributing to the
positive atmosphere at Illinois. As a member of
the Endocrine Society, she has been able to
collaborate with “a remarkable group of
physicians and scientists” in order to provide
training and outreach to the next generation of
scientists.
“That really has solidified my love of
endocrinology and dedication to the field,” she
said. The goal of promoting and supporting
women in the sciences is also important to
Raetzman. Since her days as a PhD student in
Ruth Siegel’s lab, she has sought out female
role models who embody strength and
persistence in an environment still dominated
by males. Now, as someone who epitomizes a
successful female in the field, she serves as a
role model to students across campus.
The Microbial Man
For 62 Years, Ralph Wolfe Has Explored the Microbial Universe
By Doug Peterson
Ralph Wolfe was on his way to Philadelphia to help celebrate his fatherin-law’s 90th birthday in 1977, when the graduate students in his laboratory
at the University of Illinois started receiving angry phone calls.
A press release sponsored by NASA and the National Science
Foundation had announced Wolfe’s Illinois colleague, Carl Woese, had
discovered a third form of life, and mentioned Wolfe’s involvement.
Newspapers ran wild with the news release, making all sorts of pseudoscientific sensational claims and outraging the scientific community, Wolfe
says. He did not see the release until it had generated headlines around the
world.
“People thought we were out of our minds,” Wolfe says. In fact, one
Nobel Prize winner called him up and advised him to disassociate himself
from Woese’s research or risk destroying his career.
Wolfe says that despite the PR problems caused by the news release, he
defended the data from Woese’s studies, which showed that methanoarchaea
organisms were completely separate from bacteria. This discovery led Woese
to propose that archaea formed an entirely new branch on the tree of life—a
third kingdom in addition to eukaryotes (which include animals and plants)
and bacteria.
Woese’s theory did not prune the traditional tree of life recognized by
scientists; it yanked the old tree out by the roots and planted a new one.
The outrage over the sensational headlines in 1977 may have delayed
acceptance of Woese’s ideas by 10 years, Wolfe says. However, acceptance
did come, and Woese went on to receive a host of awards for his discovery,
including the coveted Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of
Sciences.
It all started with research happening in Wolfe’s Burrill Hall laboratory,
where a simple technique for cultivating methanogens was laboriously
developed over a period of 10 years. Although Wolfe was not directly
involved in Woese’s work, his laboratory collaborated in the experiment that
triggered the landmark discovery.
For Wolfe, growing up in a small town of 1,500 in the Shenandoah Valley
of Virginia, and he says he had no idea what he wanted to do in life.
However, as a youth, being a researcher in microbiology was not something
he saw coming.
“In college, I found that I could get better grades with the least effort in
biology courses, so I figured maybe I should concentrate on it,” he says with
a sly smile.
Wolfe majored in biology at Bridgewater College, where his father taught
philosophy and religion. He received his master’s in 1949 and his PhD in
1953 in bacteriology, both at the University of Pennsylvania. He decided to
get an advanced degree because his original goal was to teach at a small
college. He says that is when his professors “scientifically seduced him.”
“They kept telling me that a PhD is a research degree,” so he became a
reluctant researcher—at least in the beginning. He soon embraced the work
and came to the University of Illinois as an instructor 1953.
Wolfe had a passion for studying microbial diversity, but he did not move
into his life’s work on methanogens until 1961. While on sabbatical in
England, he conducted research on methanogenic bacteria, which produce
vast quantities of methane and are found in anoxic environments such as
sediment, the rumen of cows, the cecum of horses, and the alimentary canal
of all animals, including humans.
“Most people think of anoxic conditions as being the absence of
oxygen,” Wolfe says, “but that’s not enough for these creatures. For them to
grow, they have to a have a reduction potential of minus 330 millivolts,
which is quite negative.”
These qualities made it extremely difficult to isolate methanogens, which
was why few people in the 1960s studied them. As he puts it, “At that time
you had to stand on your head and wiggle your hands and your ears in
order to get these conditions.”
Throughout the ‘60s, Wolfe found ways to mass culture methanogenic
organisms, and his lab became the world leader on the metabolism of these
microbes. His lab also began finding clues that methanogens were different
from anything else in the world. In the early 1970s, his lab discovered a new
coenzyme unique to these creatures—a major discovery.
“This coenzyme was something entirely new,” he says. “Then we found
another one and another one and another one.”
In all, his lab discovered six new coenzymes behind the metabolism of
methanogens. Meanwhile, Carl Woese, in a lab down the hall, had been
working out a technique for analyzing the 16S ribosomal RNA of different
microbial species. Woese had already compared the 16S rRNA in about 60
microbes, when he proposed that Wolfe collaborate on an experiment to use
methanogens in his assay. Woese ran the rRNA assays on Wolfe’s
methanogens, and was shocked to discover these organisms were
completely different from any other bacteria.
“He told me methanogens weren’t bacteria, and I said of course they’re
bacteria,” Wolfe recalls. “They looked like bacteria under the microscope.”
Woese ran his tests on all seven methanogens known at the time and the
same result came in. Based on the ribosomal RNA tests, these organisms
clearly belonged in the same group, but they were not bacteria.
Wolfe and Woese co-authored an article that appeared in the proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, and as the years passed Woese’s
theory was vindicated. Additional evidence had poured in demonstrating
that methanogens were just part of a larger archaea kingdom.
As for Wolfe, he remained in the world of methanogens, working out the
pathway for how they reduce carbon dioxide to methane. Over 20 years, his
lab figured out the enzymes and coenzymes involved, for which he credits
his sensational team of graduate students.
Wolfe retired in 1991, but kept his lab open for another 15 years. He still
comes into the office every day to read literature and follow his
microbiology hobbies, such as studying magnetotactic bacteria. On the top
shelf in his office sits a large funnel, which he once used with students to
demonstrate how methane, trapped underwater in sediment, could become
“combustible air.”
He recalls how his students would wade out into Urbana’s Crystal Lake,
stir up the sediment, and collect the gas in an inverted plastic funnel. As one
student pulled out the stopper at the end of the funnel, another student
would hold a match near the opening. The result would be a massive fireball
of ignited methane. This experiment originated in the 1600s when the
Italian scientist Alessandro Volta (for whom the volt is named) first
conducted it.
On one wall of Wolfe’s office is the replica of a pistola, the device Volta
used to fire off a mixture of swamp gas and air. Just below it is one of
Wolfe’s favorite sayings from the poet Robert Service: “It isn’t the gold that
I’m wanting so much as just finding the gold.”
“That’s what drives me,” Wolfe says, after looking back on his 62-year
career. “It’s not about the gold. It’s all about making the discovery.”
S CHO OL OF MOL E CULAR A ND CE LLULAR B I O LO GY
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Kehl-Fie Lab, Microbiology
Striking Gold
U of I Alum Uses Humble Yeast in Battle
Against Parkinson’s and Other Diseases
By Doug Peterson
By Kevin Yum
“A major challenge to studying
how bacteria respond to nutritional
immunity is mimicking the
starvation that bacteria experience
during infection in culture.”
According to a recent Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more
than 2 million people become infected with
drug-resistant bacteria each year in the United
States alone. First-line treatments are no longer
effective against these “superbugs” and their
emergence is a global concern due to the limited
therapeutic options for dealing with them. One
pathogen of particular concern is methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Previously MRSA infections were largely
confined to hospitals; however, in recent years an
increasing number of these infections are
beginning in the community at large. This
dissemination has led the CDC to state S. aureus
and other antibiotic resistant pathogens pose a
serious threat to human health and call for the
development of new therapeutic options.
During infection, bacteria must obtain all of
their nutrients from the host. In response to
these invaders, our body takes advantage of this
Achilles’ heel and sequesters many essential
nutrients upon infection, a process known as
nutritional immunity. Dr. Thomas Kehl-Fie, an
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assistant professor of microbiology, is actively
studying the impact of host-imposed metal
starvation on pathogens, in particular S. aureus.
“Transition metals play a large role in many
living organisms, as they are essential for crucial
biological processes. In fact, an estimated 30
percent of all proteins require a metal co-factor
and loss of the ability to impose metal starvation
results in higher susceptibility to infection,”
Kehl-Fie said.
“We know that hosts, us, starve bacteria for
essential nutrients including transition metals.
Despite this, S. aureus still kills tens of thousands
of people every year in the United States alone.
To cause disease, S. aureus must adapt to this
nutrient limitation. Our thinking is that if we can
understand the adaptations that allow S. aureus
to survive in this extremely hostile environment,
we can then identify new targets for therapeutic
development.”
A critical component of nutritional immunity
is the manganese and zinc binding protein
calprotectin. Dr. Kehl-Fie’s group utilizes the
ability of calprotectin to bind metals to
determine how bacteria respond to metal
starvation.
“A major challenge to studying how bacteria
respond to nutritional immunity is mimicking
the starvation that bacteria experience during
infection in culture. The ability to impose metal
starvation in culture using calprotectin allows us
to harness the power of molecular genetics to
elucidate the factors that enable S. aureus and
other pathogens to overcome nutritional
immunity. Then using wild type mice and mice
which have defects in metal sequestration, we
can evaluate if the bacterial factors identified in
culture contribute to infection and resisting
nutritional immunity.”
“Coming to the lab is not work for me. I love
science and it is my passion. One of the
fortunate things about doing research is that you
get to interact with people who are very
passionate about what they are doing. This
includes faculty, graduate students, and
undergraduate students at the University of
Illinois.”
The power of yeast has brought us beer and
bread for hundreds of years. Now these simple
cells are bringing us fresh insights and possible
treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such
as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
“I love dogs, but I think yeast is man’s best
friend,” says Susan Lindquist, a University of
Illinois microbiology alum and professor of
biology at MIT. She should know, for Lindquist
uses yeast cells as “living test tubes” as her
laboratory uncovers promising new compounds
to treat diseases.
With lifespans extending, people have
become more susceptible to the neurodegenerative diseases of old age, such as Parkinson’s
and Alzheimer’s, Lindquist says. She cites
figures showing while deaths from stroke went
down 20 percent and deaths from heart disease
were cut by 13 percent from 2000 to 2008, the
neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer’s went up
by 66 percent.
Behind all neurodegenerative diseases are
mistakes made in the body’s protein-folding
process—a subject that Lindquist has studied
for most of her career beginning with her first
professorship at the University of Chicago in the
1970s.
To explain protein folding, Lindquist
compares the process to creating a musical
instrument, such as a saxophone, from a sheet
of metal.
“When you fold up the sheet of metal to
make a very complex musical instrument and
you do it right, it plays beautiful music,” she
says. “But when you get the folding wrong, the
instrument is not going to play good music and
might even ruin the entire orchestra.”
Like that nondescript sheet of metal used to
make an instrument, proteins start out as long,
linear strings of amino acids; they have to be
folded exactly right for them to do their specific
job in the body. There are 15,000 to 20,000
different types of proteins, which are the
workhorses of the body. If one little thing goes
wrong with a protein’s complex folding process,
the result can be disease, such as cystic fibrosis.
“Misfolded proteins can also go off as
renegades and run amok,” she says. “They are
responsible for most cancers, as mutated
proteins cause cells to grow when they shouldn’t
be growing.”
Lindquist began her career studying gene
regulation and doing basic science on protein
folding, but for the past 12 years she has
focused on using this knowledge to tackle
disease. In much of the work, her lab is doing
their initial research using yeast cells.
When Lindquist first suggested using yeast
cells to study neurodegenerative diseases, many
people thought she was crazy, and she
understands why. These diseases are
“profoundly complicated,” she says, so it
seemed far-fetched that they could study them
in simple yeast cells.
Yeast cells, like all organisms, share the same
protein-folding problems as human cells, but
they are cheap, easy to use, and provide fast
results. Lindquist’s team took certain proteins
linked to neurodegenerative diseases and
inserted them into yeast cells. For instance,
when they put high levels of alpha synuclein (asyn), a protein linked to Parkinson’s, in yeast
cells, the cells became sick in ways that
mimicked what happened in human brain cells.
They screened over 500,000 compounds in
yeast and found about 100 looked promising for
reversing the effects of a-syn. In particular, they
did detailed work on one of those compounds,
NAB. After seeing its impact on yeast cells, they
confirmed that NAB also reversed the negative
effects when it was tested on human neurons
created from stem cells taken from the skin of
patients with Parkinson’s.
The Lindquist Lab is also looking at proteins
and cancer. They are studying heat shock
proteins, which help cells cope under all kinds of
stresses such as heat, lack of oxygen, too much
oxygen, or too little water. The problem is cancer
cells can use this heat shock survival mechanism
“to survive and grow in us and kill us.”
As Lindquist explains, “If we can find an
agent that can stop cancer cells from using the
heat shock survival response, we might be able
to use it to fight cancer.”
A third area of research in the Lindquist Lab
has been the impact of protein folding on the
Dr. Susan Lindquist will speak at the 2016
MCB commencement ceremony.
Photo credit: Christopher Churchill Photography
Nutritional Immunity:
Using Hunger to Fight Infection
evolution of new traits in organisms. For
instance, she is studying how proteins called
prions can set off a chain reaction in cells that
lead to complex new traits in an organism.
Lindquist has won multiple of honors for her
work, and has been elected to the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National
Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of
Medicine. However, she credits Illinois with first
putting her on this track of discovery.
“My experience at the University of Illinois
had a profound effect on my career,” she says.
When she began her undergraduate work at
U of I, she was planning on going to medical
school. After working for a summer in the
laboratory of Jan Drake, professor of
microbiology, her eyes were opened to the joys
of biological exploration.
“Being able to find something that no one
ever knew before…that was extraordinarily
exciting to me,” she says. She went on to receive
her B.S. in microbiology from Illinois in 1971
and her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1976.
As she continues to pursue new discoveries at
MIT, Lindquist compares the screening process
for therapeutic compounds to panning for gold.
“When you’re panning, you have to go
through a lot of sand and gravel before you find
some gold,” she says. “But even when you find
gold, that doesn’t mean much until you can find
the gold again and again in the same stream.
Then you will know you might have hit a vein of
gold or the mother-lode.”
When it comes to their screening process, she
says, “We don’t know for sure yet, but we think
we have started to strike gold.”
S CH O OL O F MOL E C ULA R AN D C ELLULAR B I O LOGY
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Helicobacter pylori
Gastric Infection
Impairs Cognitive
Performance in Rats
From the Blanke Lab,
Microbiology
By Kevin Yum
The human gastrointestinal tract is composed of trillions of
microorganisms whose collective genome (microbiome) contains
more than a hundred times as many genes as are present in the host.
Studies have identified some of these microorganisms play an
important role in metabolism and production of essential vitamins. It
was no surprise when recent studies revealed gut microbiome,
depending on various environmental cues, can control which genes
are turned on and off, thus regulating gene expression in the
digestive system. Additionally, our microbiome is unique and can be
altered based on diet, lifestyle, and exposure to toxins and
antibiotics.
Since our body provides little space for these microorganisms to
grow, all species of microorganisms must be properly balanced to
maintain homeostasis. Potentially innocuous microbes may become
dangerous when they outnumber the beneficial microbes. In the case
Pictured here: MD/PhD student Michael Reno and Dr. Steven
Blanke
Helicobacter pylori: one of the very few organisms capable of
actively colonizing the human stomach induces a robust
inflammatory response which is able to influence health in
tissues beyond the stomach, potentially influencing cognitive
health.
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of Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that colonize the stomach of half of
the world’s human population, it alters the local gastric environment
in ways that can allow a suitable niche to colonize, and in the
process, potentially cause the development of gastric ulcers and
stomach cancer. Since most microorganisms cannot survive in this
harsh gastric environment, H. pylori faces little competition for
resources.
Recently, Dr. Steven Blanke’s research group in the Department
of Microbiology discovered something surprising.
“After infecting rats with H. pylori, Michael Reno, the senior
Ph.D. student who has been spearheading our studies, discovered
that infection can cause inflammation in more than just the stomach
where the bacteria are growing. We knew that H. pylori causes gastric
inflammation but it was not previously known that H. pylori
infection could induce a chronic systemic inflammatory response.
But what really surprised us was finding that chronic infection
induced inflammation within the brain of animals,” said Dr. Blanke.
To further investigate this finding, Dr. Blanke, in collaboration
with Dr. Joshua Gulley’s group in the Department of Psychology,
has actively started evaluating the cognitive performance in the
infected rats. “We have been examining the influence of H. pylori
infection on memory and spatial learning in animals chronically
infected for 6 months as well as animals actively infected but cured
by antibiotic therapy.”
“The preliminary data gathered by the Gulley lab has been
interesting. Even after being cured of H. pylori infection, animals
showed a reduction in their natural exploratory behavior. Rodents
are naturally very inquisitive of their environment, but H. pylori
infection, even after curing, appears to reduce that inquisitiveness.
Additionally, those same animals needed additional time to learn
novel cognitive tasks in comparison to animals that were never
infected. To us, this indicates that the influence of H. pylori induced
inflammation on the brain can persist even after the infection has
been cured.”
“Our next goal is to better understand the mechanism by which
H. pylori infection, which remains specifically localized to the
stomach, is able to induce systemic and brain inflammation. To do
this, we will be looking at how chronic H. pylori infection influences
the populations of immune cells within the infected host. Specific
populations of T cells within the immune system play key roles in
regulating the inflammatory process, both in upregulating and
downregulating, and we are interested in the influence H. pylori
infection may be having on those populations.”
Microbiology Welcomes
Dr. Christopher Brooke to
the Faculty
The Department of Microbiology welcomed Dr. Christopher
Brooke as an assistant professor in September of 2015. Dr. Brooke
received his Ph.D. in Microbiology & Immunology from the
University of North Carolina in 2010, and completed a postdoctoral
fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in 2015. He is extremely
excited to join the Microbiology Department within MCB, and looks
forward to establishing collaborations across the wider UIUC scientific
community. At Illinois, his group uses influenza virus as a model to
better understand the mechanisms that govern viral evolution and
transmission.
Influenza virus continues to pose a global public health threat
because it is remarkably adept at evolving to escape the immunity
generated by vaccination or previous infection. Further, the potential
for zoonotic influenza viruses to evolve to transmit between humans
resulting in another pandemic remains a serious concern.
The Brooke lab combines approaches drawn from molecular
virology, evolutionary biology, viral genomics, and immunology to
better understand how influenza viruses evolve and how they cause
disease. A particular focus of the group is on determining how the
segmented structure of the influenza virus genome promotes viral
evolution and immune escape. Brooke and colleagues recently
demonstrated that the vast majority of influenza virus particles lack a
complete functional set of viral genes, and thus must work together to
generate a productive infection. Upending previous dogma, they
found that viruses that packaged fewer genome segments were actually
better able to replicate and transmit between hosts. These findings
have necessitated a paradigm shift in how we view viral populations,
and have opened up several new areas of study that the lab is currently
pursuing.
Brooke hopes that their work will open the door to designing new
“escape-proof” vaccines and therapeutics, as well as improve our
ability to predict and prepare for future pandemics.
S C HOO L O F M O LEC ULAR AN D C ELLULAR B I O LO GY
21
“This is truly a wonderful, magical place because
of the people here. We’re recognizing some
people here whose names are everywhere in
microbiology. You can’t miss those names
because of their impact. But the culture of
microbiology here is that everyone works
together and moves forward.”
Milestones in Excellence
Illinois Department of Microbiology Receives Rare Honor in Recognition
of its Contributions to Microbiology
By Dave Evense, College of LAS Office of Communications and Marketing
One particularly telling moment at the ceremony highlighting the
naming of U of I as one of the “Milestones in Microbiology” sites
actually occurred after the proceedings were over, as those who
participated in the event were having their picture taken around a plaque
from the American Society for Microbiology.
On the plaque were the images of eight “giants” whose work at Illinois
during the past nearly 150 years played a major role in bringing the
department the status it enjoys today. Thomas Burrill, Carl Woese,
Abigail Salyers, and Nobel laureate Salvador Luria were among them—
and all of them were deceased except for Ralph Wolfe, 94, who was
making a beeline for the exit.
“Ralph!” Someone called. “Come here for a picture!”
He stopped for a moment and surveyed the group. “The photo looks
perfect already,” Wolfe said, and continued on his way. Typically shy of
the spotlight, it was Wolfe’s way of saying he was just one of many who
made the department what it is.
Indeed, a prevailing message at the ceremony was that this honor—
which has been awarded to just 10 universities before Illinois—is the
result of years of collaborative work by faculty, students, and
administrators in the Department of Microbiology.
“This department has had an incredible generosity of spirit for its
entire time,” said John Cronan, who has served as head of the
Department of Microbiology for 18 years, in his comments at the event.
“One of my main jobs has been to not screw it up. Having done this for
18 years you might think I’m a competent administrator, but that’s not
true—I just have a great department. My colleagues are colleagues in the
best sense of the word.”
The American Society for Microbiology, the largest and oldest life
science society in the world, named Illinois one of the Milestones for its
“rich history of major microbiological achievements,” it said in a release.
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MCB
It added that the university has been “home to many outstanding
microbiologists who have made seminal discoveries that significantly
increased biological understanding and advanced the field of
microbiology.”
As of 2015, Illinois is home to six past presidents of the society.
Those past Illinois professors highlighted by the society at the
Milestones event include Burrill (1839-1916), who founded the science
of bacterial plant pathology; Salyers (1942-2013), who pioneered
studies of Bacteroides, a major intestinal bacterium responsible for
breaking down fibrous materials, and whose research enhanced our
understanding of antibiotic resistance among gut bacteria.
Woese (1928-2012) was honored for discovering the archaea, also
referred to as the third domain of life distinct from bacteria and eukarya;
Sol Spiegelman (1914-1983) initiated the study of RNA and the
mechanisms of viral replication; Luria (1912-1991) pioneered the study
of bacterial virus-mediated transfer of DNA; Irwin “Gunny” Gunsalus
(1912-2008) was recognized for his seminal studies in microbial
biochemistry.
Marvin P. Bryant (1925-2000) made fundamental contributions to
rumen bacteriology and fermentation processes; Wolfe (1921)developed
the first archaeal cell-free extract system for methane production, and
also played a lead role in establishing the Woods Hole Microbial Ecology
Course.
A crowd of more than 150 people attended the event and heard
several speakers, including college and university administrators, Robert
Switzer, professor emeritus of biochemistry, William Metcalf, G. William
Arends Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology and professor of
microbiology, Gene Robinson, director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for
Genomic Biology, and others.
“Our Department of Microbiology has a decades-long record of
world-class research and education,” said Feng-Sheng Hu, associate
dean for life and physical sciences at the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences and Ralph E. Grim Professor of Plant Biology and Geology.
“We all know that Carl Woese rewrote biology textbooks with his
discovery of a third domain of life. In addition to Carl, a number of
other luminaries have made profound contributions to the field of
microbiology while serving on our faculty.”
Stanley Maloy, past president of American Society for Microbiology
and a former professor with the Department of Microbiology from
1984-2002, said that the 18 years he spent at Illinois changed his life.
“This is truly a wonderful, magical place because of the people here,”
he said. He added, “We’re recognizing some people here whose names
are everywhere in microbiology. You can’t miss those names because of
their impact. But the culture of microbiology here is that everyone works
together and moves forward.”
Intercepted after the ceremony before he reached the exit, Wolfe
added one other group to the list of those who should be recognized:
students.
“Departments of science really ride on the backs of graduate
students,” Wolfe said. “They do the work.”
He was asked what he was most proud of in his 60-plus years with the
department, as a professor or professor emeritus.
“I think just seeing the department grow and maintain its stature over
the years has been the most important thing,” Wolfe said. “Many
departments go through cycles. They have a cycle of excellence and then
they decay. So far, we’ve been able to maintain our excellence.”
(From left) Stephen Sligar, director of the School of Molecular and
Cellular Biology, Swanlund Endowed Chair, and professor of
biochemistry, chemistry, biophysics and computational biology;
Michele Mariscalco, regional dean of the College of Medicine;
Peter Schiffer, vice chancellor for research and professor of
physics; John Cronan, head of the Department of Microbiology
and professor of biochemistry; Gene Robinson, director of the
Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Swanlund Chair, and
professor of entomology; William W. Metcalf, G. Williams Arend
Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology and professor of
microbiology; Edward Feser, interim provost and vice chancellor
for academic affairs and dean of the College of Fine and Applied
Arts; Feng-Sheng Hu, associate dean for life and physical
sciences at the College of LAS and Ralph E. Grim Professor of
Plant Biology and Geology; Robert L. Switzer, professor emeritus
of biochemistry and honorary microbiologist; and Brenda Wilson,
professor of microbiology, after the ceremony honoring the
University of Illinois as a “Milestones in Microbiology” site. (Photo
by Joseph Storch)
S C HOO L O F M O LE C ULAR A N D C E LLULAR B I O LO GY
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Mentors of Success
A Growing Alumni Mentoring Program in MCB
is Helping Students Map Their Careers
By Dave Evensen, College of LAS Office of Communications and Marketing
A college education opens many doors— sometimes it seems too many.
Joining the program was one of the most important career decisions
As Leah Schmelkin (BS, ’13, molecular and cellular biology; psychology)
Schmelkin made. During mentoring, she shadowed Berkowitz several
might have attested to early in her undergraduate studies at Illinois, she
times as he worked with patients at Community Hospital. When she was
didn’t know what she wanted to do. Then she received notice from the
not at the hospital, she corresponded often with Berkowitz as he offered
School of Molecular and Cellular Biology about a new opportunity to jobher career and academic advice.
shadow a doctor and alumnus named Richard Berkowitz (BS, ’79, biology;
Berkowitz eventually wrote her a recommendation letter that helped
MD, ‘83) as he made his rounds as an anesthesiologist at Community
her get into Mayo. Most importantly, Schmelkin added, the program
Hospital in Munster, Ind.
helped her decide that she wanted to go to medical school. She came to
Schmelkin applied, was accepted, and now, as a medical student at Mayo
that conclusion while trailing Berkowitz about his job.
Medical School in Rochester, Minn., she has the distinction of being one of
“His job is very technical, but when he interacts with people he is able
the first students to go through the MCB’s Pathways to Health Careers
to connect with them on a very human level, and that’s not about science.
Mentorship Program. Within a few short years the program has grown
That’s about comforting them in a time when they’re scared before
from one founding mentor—Berkowitz—
surgery,” Schmelkin said. “And
to dozens of them. They include doctors,
when I saw that really delicate
“The networking piece and the job
pharmacists, dentists, and other Illinois
balance between the science and the
alumni in the health care industry who are
human side of things, I was really
shadowing experience was really so
willing to lend their time and knowledge
excited to do that myself one day.”
important for me. Without having the
to help undergraduate MCB students
Stories such as Schmelkin’s have
map their future.
made
the Pathways program one of
background and those experiences,
Tina Knox, who coordinates
the most well regarded at Illinois.
I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily
undergraduate instruction and advising
The Illinois Academic Advising
for MCB, said last year the program
Committee recognized it as an
been so quick to jump on this pathway.” Outstanding Established Program
matched 33 MCB students with alumni
mentors; some 41 students were matched
and Knox was invited to present it
the year before. There was a dip in
at the National Academic Advising
applications this year, which Knox attributed to timing (the application
Association’s annual conference in October 2014.
deadline came during an exam period), but said feedback on the program
It started when Berkowitz decided he wanted to create a way to help
has been “wonderful.”
students find their direction during their undergrad years. He knew what
Any MCB undergraduate student who seeks this rare opportunity must
it felt like being on your own in college. He was the first in his family to go
submit an essay to apply. Berkowitz goes through the applications and, with
to college for a significant amount of time, and he felt that he had nobody
Knox’s help, matches students with mentors in their field of interest.
to ask for advice about academics or setting a career path.
Response has been strong, according to Knox, with alumni mentors
“I really didn’t have anyone to query to get that information,”
agreeing to bring the student to work for job shadowing. When they are not
Berkowitz recalled. “It worked out for me, but if we can make it easier for
together, mentors are encouraged to keep in touch by phone or email to
these students and teach them what’s expected of them while they’re
provide the student with career advice.
vetting the process out, it goes such a long way.”
“They’re matched for a year,” Knox said. “But most of the mentors have
The first year Berkowitz, the only mentor in the program, mentored
agreed to see the student through graduation if the student chooses.”
three students, including Schmelkin. With help from the School of MCB
24
MCB
and College of LAS Office of Advancement, he began growing the
program by sending emails to other Illinois alumni in the health care
field to enlist their help. Gradually over the next six years, about 50
alumni joined the cause.
“We’d like to do a better job adding mentors, because we’re looking
at about 1,100 MCB majors, and it would be nice for the ones who
do want mentors or guidance to have somebody they can talk to,”
Berkowitz said.
“The time commitment itself is really not that great,” he added. “If
I were an alumnus, I would think it’s very attractive. It’s a way for me
to shape the career of a student and at the same time get re-engaged
in the university.”
To benefit students who do not necessarily want to become doctors
the program has evolved over its lifespan to include mentors from
different aspects of health care. Nicole Raucci (BS, ’12, MCB) who
applied for the Pathways program as a senior, intended to go to
medical school.
After shadowing Berkowitz, however, she started considering an
alternate path. Berkowitz put her in touch with a nurse practitioner
and physician’s assistant at the hospital where he worked and this past
August she began her first job as a registered nurse at Northwestern
Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Her science background has helped
her as she works the general medicine unit and has plans to earn a
doctoral degree as a nurse practitioner.
“The networking piece and the job shadowing experience was
really so important for me,” Raucci said. “Without having the
background and those experiences, I don’t know if I would’ve
necessarily been so quick to jump on this pathway.”
please contact Tina Knox, tmknox@illinois.edu.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING AS A MENTOR,
please contact Sean Williams, sdwilli2@illinois.edu.
FOR DONATIONS OF FINANCIAL SUPPORT TO THIS PROGRAM,
S C HOO L OF MO LEC ULA R AN D C ELLULA R B I O LO GY
25
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