August 2017

New Postdoctoral Researchers Join LaMontagne Center LabsLCIDPostdocs2017

Rachel Ames, Ph. D. - Ehrlich Lab

Dr. Ames, originally from New Hampshire, earned her Ph. D. at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx working in the Department of Pathology with Dr. Fernando Macian. There, her research focused on the role of the transcription factor NFAT1 in regulating the decrease in CD4+ T cell function that occurs following chronic stimulation or infection, known as T cell exhaustion.

As a new postdoctoral researcher in the Ehrlich Lab, Dr. Ames will be characterizing cellular and molecular interactions between T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and its surrounding microenvironment that enable these cells to survive. Her research is focused mainly on the interactions between T-ALL and myeloid cells, studying an aggressive T-ALL subset as well as T-ALL that recurs following chemotherapy treatment.

“This project is really interesting to me as it allows me to investigate specific mechanisms that drive the complex biological system that is the tumor microenvironment, but with a clear focus on trying to improve options for the treatment of cancer by identifying new possible targets for intervention. “

Minhye Shin, Ph.D. - Payne Lab

Dr. Shin earned her master’s degree in South Korea, then came to Austin to work in the lab of Dean Appling. She earned her Ph. D. in Biochemistry in December last year with a thesis entitled "Characterization of the role of the one-carbon metabolism during embryonic development," which focused on characterization of an important enzyme involved in embryonic development, MTHFD2L.

Dr. Shin joined the Payne Lab in January, and she is now working on characterization of the iron-transport protein complex FeoABC in Vibrio cholerae. Iron is an essential nutrient for most living organisms, and bacteria have evolved various types of iron transport systems to maintain iron at appropriate levels. Feo, the major ferrous iron transport system in V. cholerae, is most effective in conditions that are encountered in the mammalian digestive tract. Despite its important role, the Feo system is not understood well.

“Understanding the Feo system is very important because it's widely distributed among bacteria and crucial for their virulence in humans. However, the Feo system is not understood well. Especially, FeoB in the complex is a transmembrane protein, which is hard to purify and identify its properties. It's challenging, but also I am excited to explore the Feo :)”

Tom Smith, Ph. D. – Moran Lab

Dr. Smith completed his undergraduate studies in Biochemistry and Plant Biology at The University of Minnesota and then earned a Ph. D. in Medicinal Chemistry from University of Utah under the mentorship of Dr. Eric Schmidt.

His graduate thesis work in the Schmidt Lab focused on the isolation of anti-HIV small molecules - natural products - from marine invertebrates, and engineering E. coli to biosynthesize these molecules, typically produced by symbiotic bacteria and not their animal hosts host. This work piqued Dr. Smith’s interest in symbiosis and attracted him to the research lab of Dr. Nancy Moran here at UT-Austin.

Dr. Smith’s current work in the Moran Lab involves identifying and characterizing mechanisms of host-symbiont interaction within the aphid-Buchnera model system. 

"In particular, I am interested in how the host regulates the size of its Buchnera population, balancing the cost and benefit of harboring symbiotic bacteria. Given how widespread symbioses between animals and microbes are, understanding the biology and chemistry underlying these interactions is sure to benefit future drug and antibiotic design."

Kerri Coon, Ph. D. – Moran Lab

Dr. Coon is originally from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and she earned her Ph. D. at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. There she worked in the Department of Entomology with advisor and mentor, Dr. Michael Strand, on project focused on the diversity and function of gut bacteria in mosquitoes. She identified a novel role for bacterial respiration in regulating mosquito development.

As a member of the Moran Lab she will focus on identifying the genetic mechanisms underlying how beneficial gut bacterial strains colonize specific host species, primarily using the model system of the honey bee and its gut microbiota.

"Most animals including humans harbor specialized gut bacterial communities that play important roles in their health. Disruption, or dysbiosis, of this gut microbiota is often associated with disease. My research at UT will contribute to our understanding of the molecular processes governing assembly of gut bacterial communities and provide insights into how we can manipulate them to benefit host health."