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BMMB Graduate Program
Meet our Students

The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) Department is fortunate to have a multitude of graduate students within its Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Program dedicated to developing their research and teaching skills.  Our students are making discoveries and generating independent knowledge through their research within our labs.  Read more about our outstanding students below.

Meet our Graduate Students

Image of Stephanie Collins

Stephanie’s research focuses on how the gut microbiome influences the detoxification and removal of pharmaceuticals, environmental toxicants, and other chemicals from the body.  She is investigating how gut microbiomes interact with a human transcription factor called the Pregnane X Receptor (PXR). 

Stephanie takes her role as a woman in science very seriously and feels that it is incredibly important for underrepresented groups to involve themselves in STEM to increase the diverse representation and experience of scientists around the world.  “Being a woman in STEM makes me feel excited and hopeful,” says Stephanie.

Read more about Stephanie

Image of Mitchell Godin

Utilizing cutting edge sequencing technologies, such as Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Mitchell’s research within the laboratory analyzes genes important for proper infection in each stage of the parasite’s lifecycle.  Mitchell believes that his work can offer insight into what genes are essential for the proper transmission of malaria and could be expanded upon, by using transgenic parasites, to identify what assists and hinders infection.

Outside of the laboratory, you can find Mitchell spending time in his favorite hobbies, running, reading, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

Read more about Mitchell

Image of Kelly Rios

Kelly's research investigates how post- transcriptional gene regulation contributes to malaria parasite transmission.  Her research is integral to understanding the fundamental molecular biology of the parasite in order to exploit weaknesses in transmission biology.

When Kelly’s not in the laboratory, you can find her either on the hiking trial or pursuing her passion for art. 

Read more about Kelly

Image of Molly Rathbun

Molly's research specifically focuses on the evolution of Herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1.  In collaboration with Dr. Christine Johnston at the University of Washington, Molly is sampling virus from patients throughout the course of their infection.

Outside of her research, Molly enjoys spending her time participating in service and outreach activities and is an avid runner.

Read more about Molly

Image of Dwhani Patel

Dhwani plans to focus her future research on the discovery of cytokine or chemokine encoding genes regulated by AHR.   She believes that by understanding how AHR regulates the expression of such cytokine genes she can discover one of the molecular mechanisms involved in metastasis of Head and Neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), which is regulated by AHR.

Outside of the laboratory, Dhwani enjoys doing yoga.  An explorer at heart, she loves traveling to new countries and experiencing new cultures around the world.

Read more about Dhwani

Image of Jacob Potter at the lab bench pipetting solution into a test tube

Jacob's research focuses on the study of bacteria, specifically a group of proteins referred to as Globin Coupled Sensors (GCS).  These proteins are capable of sensing oxygen in the air and are thought to control how many bacteria respond to a change in conditions.  Additionally, they have also been implicated in their ability to infect a host.

Outside of the laboratory Jacob enjoys exploring new things and expressing his creativity through writing, drawing, playing the guitar, and cooking.

Read more about Jacob

image of Grace Usher pipping a solution into a tube

Grace's research strives to understand the molecular contributions to certain types of diabetes.  The particular protein factor she investigates, Pdx1, is tasked with the increase of production in insulin within the pancreas.  

Outside or her work in the laboratory, Grace also serves as an advocate for the use of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in “humanizing” scientists, and making their research more accessible to the general public. 

Read more about Grace

Image of Samantha Hartmann holding up a stringer of fish she caught

Samantha's research focuses on papillomavirus.  Utilizing a technique called cryogenic electron microscopy, or cryo EM, she's learning about virus structure. Structure allows her to identify a region of the virus that is highly conserved across all types of HPV in the hopes of finding a vaccine target that will protect against infection of all types of HPV.

“I feel that my drive towards science comes more from those who doubted my abilities growing up than from those who actively pushed me towards science,”

Read more about Samantha

Image of Neeraja Marathe in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

Neeraja’s research focuses on understanding why ribosome rescue has evolved to become indispensable for all bacterial species utilizing small molecules known to target the trans-translation pathway.   

Outside of the laboratory Neeraja has a passion for art and enjoys sketching.  For as far back as she can remember she has always loved to dabble and doodle.  “I had a large collection of colors, paints and coloring books as a kid, courtesy of my parent who used to love getting me those.”

Read more about Neejera

Image of TJ Russell holding a Red-Tail Hawk

TJ’s research focuses on the chemical disruption of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum’s gene regulation machinery.  Outside of the laboratory he volunteers at Penn State's Shaver's Creek Environmental Center training animals and leading birds of prey information sessions at the raptor center.

Read more about TJ

Image of Lynnicia Massenburg

Lynnicia’s research focuses on the structure of the cellulose synthase membrane protein and utilizes a technique called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM).  Using cryo-EM, she is mapping the 3D shape of cellulose synthase and interpreting clues towards its overall function. 

“Membrane proteins are quite challenging to study, but I have the resources as a Sloan Scholar and support to take on this project.” - Lynnicia Massenburg

Read more about Lynnicia

Image of Mac Meyer holding up a trout that he recently caught while fly fishing

Mac's research investigate RNA structure in liquid-liquid phase separations, trying to understand the origins of life, as well as develop high-throughput assays for RNA enzyme (ribozyme) discovery and validation.  

“While my work may seem esoteric, understanding what happens to RNAs inside of phase separations is integral to understanding extant biology, we are just beginning to understand why and how often organisms take advantage of membraneless organelles.” - Mac Meyer

Read more about Mac

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Image of Manyu Du

Manyu's research is focused on the mechanistic dissection of long-distance chromosomal interactions that regulate gene expression.

Read more about Manyu 

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Image of Latisha Franklin

Lastisha’s research uses C. elegans, microscopic worms, as a model organism to study muscle dysfunction associated with the human disease adenylosuccinate lyase deficiency (ASLD).  

Read more about Latisha

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Image of Xiaoran Xin

Xiaoran’s research utilizes biochemical, molecular genetics, and spectroscopic approaches to investigate how plants make cellulose and seeks to provide the scientific foundations for advancements in sustainable energy.

Read more about Xiaoran