MCDB students at every level of training are being recognized for their work.

Two MCDB postdoctoral fellows were recently awarded K99 grants from the National Institutes of Health. These awards are intended to help outstanding postdoctoral researchers complete needed, mentored training and transition  to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions. The program aims to foster a creative, independent research program that will be competitive for subsequent independent funding

Jennifer Landino
Investigating the mechanism of self-organized cortical patterning in an artificial cortex

Jennifer Landino, a postdoctoral fellow in Ann Miller's lab, is researching  the cell cortex, the outermost layer of the cell. It is remodeled to support changes in cell shape, including pinching the cell in two during the final stage of cell division; failure to complete this process is correlated with disease states like cancer. Before these shape changes occur, the cortex is dynamically patterned into waves of signaling and structural proteins. The work proposed here will investigate how and why these patterns form and define the role of cortical patterning in supporting successful cell division. She has developed an artificial cell cortex to study this. See: Miller Lab: researchers create artificial cell cortex, a system to study how cells divide

Daniel Wilinksi
Dynamic RNA modifications that control gene expression in diabetes

Daniel Wilinski is a postdoctoral fellow in Monica Dus's lab, where he is examining the molecular mechanisms that underpin changes in the brain due to a high sugar diet. His grant from the NIH will support his work on role of mRNA modfications in diabetes. Genetic and environmental factors play important roles in the etiology of diabetes. How these factors interact to promote disease remains unclear. N6-methyladenosine (m6A) is a dynamic mRNA modification that can specify splicing fate, destabilize, and promote translation of mRNAs. Wilinski will dissect how m6A contributes to gene expression in insulin-producing cells through the incorporation of cellular signals and nutritional information. He aims to define the role of m6A in the etiology of diabetes. Ultimiately, this could help identify new molecular targets for therapy and prevention of diabetes and other metabolic disorders.


Two graduate students have been awarded Predoctoral Fellowships for 2022-23, considered one of the most prestigious awards from the Rackham Graduate School. The fellowship supports the students for three terms as they "work toward completion of an outstanding dissertation." Maria Ahmed is a graduate student in the Clowney Lab. Jessy Martinez is conducting his research in the Aton Lab. Following are the abstracts for the Rackhma awards.

Maria Ahmed
Generation of Sparse, Combinatorial Wiring in Sensory Coding

"We experience countless sensory cues on a day-to-day basis. How does the brain cope with this diversity with a limited set of neurons? To do this, neurons in sensory perception and learning regions receive information about cues in combinations. However, the role for sparse, combinatorial connectivity patterns in sensory coding has not been tested experimentally. Using the numerically simpler perceptual and learning center in the fruit fly brain called the mushroom body (MB), my project aims to test this relationship between circuit architecture and function. Within the MB, Kenyon cells (KCs) receive divergent inputs from projection neurons (PNs) that bring in odor information. Using molecular and chemical methods, I aim to change the connectivity density between PNs and KCs. Subsequently, by observing KC odor responses and learning behavior in these flies, I will be able to functionally test the significance of sparse wiring in sensory coding."

Jessy Martinez
Investigating the Role of Sleep in Neurodevelopment, Synaptic Plasticity, and Memory Processing

"Sleep is thought to be a critical regulator for the refinement of neural circuitry during neurodevelopment. Under conditions where postnatal neurodevelopment is modified by altered sensory experience, or in the case of genetic mutation-induced neurodevelopmental disorders, sleep is commonly altered or disrupted. However, while sleep plays a role in promoting brain plasticity, it is unclear whether normalizing sleep could help normalize brain functions in atypical neurodevelopment. My thesis work addresses this gap by measuring how sleep loss affects recovery of disrupted visual cortex function in a mouse model of amblyopia (a developmental condition leading to vision loss) and testing how normalizing sleep behavior affects memory disruptions in a model of Fragile X syndrome (a genetic disorder). Through electrophysiological, behavioral, and molecular techniques, my studies suggest that sleep not only is critical for recovery mechanisms in disrupted neurodevelopment, but is a potential target for therapeutic intervention."


Mark Lewis, an undergraduate researcher in the Clowney Lab, has been awarded a McKnight Pecot Fellowship from the McKnight Foundation. His mentor, Vanessa Punal, describes it as “a super competitive and prestigious.”