Dr. Michael Sanderson
Program Director

Pennie Liebig
Program Coordinator

IGERT Program in Genomics
University of Arizona
Biosciences West. 328
1041 E. Lowell Street
Tucson, AZ 85721-0088
Tel: 520-626-0988
Fax: 520-621-9190

IGERT Recruitment Program



2012-2013 Cohort

Anam Arik
Entomology and Insect Science

M.S. Entomology, University of Arizona, 2008
B.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, University of Arizona, 2007

I am interested in using aspects of genomics to explore how signaling pathways influence diverse physiologies, including reproduction, aging and innate immunity, in disease vectors. I have engineered transgenic lines of mosquitoes with increased insulin signaling in various tissues and I’m trying to identify the molecular basis of how insulin signaling is involved in the regulation of several key physiological processes like lifespan and reproduction.

Anthony Baniaga
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Biological Sciences, California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, 2010

I am interested in researching mechanisms and processes that contribute to land plant diversity. Specifically, I am interested in applying genomic and bioinformatic tools to evaluate the ecological and evolutionary effects of plant hybridization via polyploidy. My study system is a basal group of land plants Selaginella, whom have a center of species diversity in the Sonoran desert and adjacent southwest region.

Noëlle Bittner
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.A. Biological Sciences, Smith College, 2009

I am broadly interested in evolutionary genetics and am currently working on a project to understand the genetic basis of reproductive isolation in two lineages of Mus. To do this, I am sequencing genes involved in genome stability and meiotic sex chromosome inactivation and searching for signatures of selection in wild individuals of house mice. In the future, I will begin work to understand the genes underlying adaptive phenotypes in wild populations of mammals.

Daniel DeBlasio
Computer Science

M.S. Computer Science, University of Central Florida, 2009
B.S. Computer Science, University of Central Florida, 2007

My research interests fall into computational approaches to mainly structure based issues. I am interested in modeling biological problems as graphs or trees, then applying computational algorithms to this. I have some background in RNA-Seq assembly and analysis.

Ivan Dimitrov
Molecular and Cellular Biology

BS/MS Biomedical Engineering, Washington University, 2008

Barley is the fourth highest produced cereal crop after rice, wheat and corn. Barley is relatively more tolerant to drought and cold stress than other cereals. The majority of barley is classified as “lowland barley” and is used as animal feed and in brewing. “Highland barley” is grown at the high elevations found in the highlands of China and on the Tibetan plateau. The harsher environments found in these regions have made highland barley more resistant to drought, cold and UV stresses. Three possibilities exist to explain the increased stress tolerance in highland barley: 1) evolution of a new stress response network that increases tolerance; 2) evolution of new genes that generate increased stress tolerance; or 3)accumulation of mutations in existing stress-responsive genes that have increased ability to respond to stress. These three possibilities could be quickly distinguished with the use of RNA-Seq. Based on my preliminary sequencing data, I have seen that highland barley genes have not diverged greatly from their lowland counterparts, therefore the first two possibilities are less likely. However, studying stress responsive genes in highland barley offers a simple system to see what changes in genes or gene regulation can result in a more stress-resistant organism. This information would be valuable in altering existing strains of lowland barley, as well as serve to guide breeding and genetic engineering in wheat.

Cole Eskridge
Entomology and Insect Science

B.S. Biology, University of Mary Washington, 2012

It’s my goal to study the genomic underpinnings directing these unique and diverse morphologies. Specifically, I will be focusing on the evolutionary development of highly-derived antennal morphs of beetles in the tribe Paussini (some of which can be seen illustrated here). I will be investigating: 1) The expression patterns of genes relevant to antennal development in Paussines using Metrius contractus, 2) The genomes of related Paussine beetles and the structure of their homeotic complexes, 3) The similarities in antennal gene structure and composition between related Paussines.

Evan Forsythe
Arizona Biological and Biomedical Sciences

B.A. Biology, St. John's University, 2011

I am a first year PhD student from Minnesota. My biology background is in Genetics and Evolutionary biology. I am interested in combining evolutionary, comparative genomic, and biochemical concepts to identify and characterize functionally relevant loci. The evolution of telomerase within the Brassicaceae plant family presents a scenario in which a combinatorial approach will be particularly useful. I am scouring the genomes of several Brassicaceae species in search of functional components of the telomerase enzyme that are either novel to plants, or remain uncharacterized in other taxa.

Ariella Gladstein
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Mathematical Biology and Russian, Beloit College, 2011

I am interested in using a combination of computational genomic and linguistic approaches to study human population demographic histories (e.g. founder effect, admixture, population divergence, migration histories). Two populations I am interested in studying are Jewish and Caucasian. These populations are interesting because they have unusual histories. Jewish (as well as Romani) populations have a common origin and have maintained a shared identity, but have lived geographically separated for about two thousand years. In contrast, populations living in the Caucasus Mountains, in southern Russia, seem to have stayed in one place, but have developed/maintained separate languages. The Caucasus region is one of the most linguistically dense regions in the world.

Erik Hanschen
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Integrated Sciences, University of British Columbia, 2011

I am broadly interested in the evolution of complexity, particularly evolutionary transitions in individuality such as the evolution of multicellularity and eusociality. My research focuses on the evolution of multicellularity using the Volvocine algae as a model system. I use a comparative genomics approach to investigate independent evolution of cellular differentiation as well as the parallel evolution in body plan observed in the Volvocine algae.

Cristina Howard
Molecular and Cellular Biology

B.S./M.S. Biotechnology, Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain), 2011
M.S. thesis completed at Howard Hughes Medical Institute

I am interested in understand the biology of marine phages and their interaction with their hosts and how this complements the ‘-omic’ (genomics, transcriptomics fand proteomics) branch of the Sullivan lab.

Katya Mack
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Anthropology, University of Michigan, 2008

I am broadly interesting in evolutionary genetics and the genetic underpinnings of speciation, particularly in mammals. I am especially interested how changes in gene expression and the rewiring of gene regulatory networks contribute to hybrid sterility.

Brianna McTeague
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.A. Biological Sciences, Barnard College, 2009

My research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of plant invasions. I have worked on yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) a noxioius weed in the western US and am may also work on local desert invaders. I am interested in understanding the genetic changes associated with invasiveness in real invasions and experimental invasions that I will conduct in the Biosphere2, and in elucidating routes of invasion using RAD markers. Furthermore, invasive plants can alter the environment and impact native communities, and I am interested in looking at how native plants evolve in response to novel selective pressures imposed by the invader.

Jennifer Noble
Plant Sciences

B.S. Molecular & Cellular Biology and Plant Sciences, University of Arizona, 2012

I am a first year IGERT student interested in characterizing plant development using molecular and cellular biology. Specifically, I am interested in the signaling pathways involved in gametophyte development and fertilization in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana and how alteration in gene expression can cause sterility or decrease fertilization. Through functional genomics, I intend to focus my research on pollen tube development and regulation of fertilization in Arabidopsis.

Timothy O'Connor
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Integrative Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009

My research background is divided between microbial ecology and insect evolution, and for my dissertation I hope to develop a project at the intersection of these fields. Like all multicellular life, insects harbor a staggering diversity of single-celled symbionts. By probing these symbioses with -omic and meta-omic tools to I hope to elucidate the dynamics of cross-domain interactions, document their history, and test the evolutionary consequences for the symbiotic players.

Aaron Ragsdale
Applied Mathematics

B.S. Mathematics, University of Portland, 2010
M.S. Applied Mathematics, University of Arizona, 2012

My research is focused on the development and analysis of models in population genetics. Specifically, we currently consider models that allow selective pressure to fluctuate temporally, describing phenomena such as hitchhiking events, linked loci, or other continually changing environmental pressures. Personally, I am interested in the numerical analysis of partial differential equations that arise in evolutionary biology, as well as inferring evolutionary histories by fitting these models to population variation data.

Sergei Solonekno
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 2008

I am a third year graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Matt Sullivan. My research interests are focused on the application of metagenomic analysis towards the understanding of diverse communities of marine bacteriophages and their microbial hosts. I am currently working on a project to evaluate the compatibility of data generated by several next generation sequencing technologies. My long term interests lie in studying the effects of bacteriophage community composition on bacterial population dynamics, and the evolutionary consequences of coexistence on bacterial and bacteriophage genomes.

Erin Vaughn

B.S. Conservation Biology, University of New Mexico, 2008

I am interested in utilizing genomic tools to answer wildlife conservation questions. I am working towards establishing a system of DNA methylation markers as indicators of pollutant exposure in fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas.  Due to the highly complex nature of an epigenetic response, the development of a robust marker system requires measuring methylation and gene expression changes on a genome-wide scale.  Concurrently, I am developing a series of microsatellite markers derived from 454 pyrosequencing data for a threatened population of Florida crested caracara.

Jennifer Wisecaver
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

B.S. Biological Sciences, Humboldt State University, 2007

My research interests are in the areas of plastid evolution and algal genomics.  As part of my dissertation, I am using a comparative phylogenomics approach to quantify the genetic contribution of Plantae to the chromalveolate algae and evaluate different hypotheses regarding secondary plastid evolution in these algae.  I am also evaluating kleptoplastidy (sequestration of temporary plastids stolen from prey) as a model for understanding the early events in plastid acquisition.

Jennifer graduated in December 2012 and is currently a post-doc at Vanderbilt University.

August Woerner
Computer Science

M.S. Computer Science, University of Arizona, 2011
B.S. Biochemistry, Marlboro College, 2001

My research interests are in population genomics, bioinformatics and computational biology. In general, I am interested in computation from two opposing lines of inquiry: one is the development of novel algorithms to address questions of biological relevance, and the second is the use of such tools (plus a handful of inferential techniques) to conduct full-genome analyses on populations.

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