Melissa Rolls, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has been named the Paul Berg Professor of Biochemistry. The professorship was created in 1995 by an anonymous donor in honor of Paul Berg, a 1948 Penn State graduate who was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1974 and earned the Nobel Prize in 1980 for developing a method to map the structure and function of DNA. Rolls is also co-director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences Center for Cellular Dynamics (CCD), chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Biosciences (MCIBS) Graduate Program, and associate director of the College of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).
Rolls studies how neurons generate axons, which send neuronal information, and dendrites, which receive information, and how these structures maintain function over an animal’s lifetime. She also studies the organization of microtubules in neurons, used for long-range transport of molecules, proteins, and other cellular material, and how neurons recover from injury. Rolls applies genetics and live-imaging techniques to fruit flies to better understand the basic cell biology of neurons, to sea anemones to understand how neurons evolved, and to zebrafish to answer specific questions about microtubule organization and injury responses.
Rolls has been honored at Penn State on multiple occasions, including with the Eberly College of Science Dean’s Climate and Diversity Award in 2017, a Shaffer Career Development Professorship in Science in 2016, and an Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in 2012. She also received a Junior Career Award from the American Society for Cell Biology in 2011, a Pew Scholar Award in the Biomedical Sciences in 2009, an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant in 2008, a March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Award in 2008, and a Young Investigator Award from the Mental Health Research Association in 2006. She is a member of the scientific advisory board of the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation.
Rolls joined the faculty at Penn State in 2007 and helped found the Center for Cellular Dynamics. She was promoted to associate professor in 2013 and to professor in 2018. Rolls was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oregon from 2001 to 2007 and earned a doctoral degree in biological and biomedical sciences at Harvard University in 2001 and a bachelor's degree in biology at Yale University in 1995.