This site will provide research opportunities to students interested in genetics and cellular and molecular biology. A team of mentors, mostly from the Biochemistry & Cell and Molecular Biology department, will guide students through projects that explore signal transduction mechanisms in a variety of organisms. Students will study interactions between organisms and their environment, cell-to-cell communications, and mechanisms of signal transduction. Projects will be available using a variety of organisms, including bacteria, yeast, plants, mice, and human cells. In addition to learning basic molecular, biochemical, and cell biology methods such as cloning, genetic analysis, and microbial cultivation, students will have an opportunity to use state-of-the-art techniques, including single-molecule and live-cell fluorescence microscopy, intra-cranial injection of viral vectors, computational analysis of genomic datasets, and flow cytometry.
Program dates: May 26 – August 2, 2024
Application close: March 31, 2024, but early applications are strongly encouraged.
Application review: We will review applications as they are received.
Award Notification: Awardees will be notified no later than April 15, 2024
How to apply: Applications will be accepted through the NSF ETAP system.
- A resume (Your resume must include your current GPA, expected graduation date, college year, and major)
- A personal statement describing why you are a good fit for this particular program, how you will benefit from it, and your previous research experience if any (previous research experience is appreciated but not required)
- Official transcripts from all universities and colleges you have attended;
- Two letters of recommendation on school letterhead to Elena Shpak at email@example.com (Letters of recommendation should be emailed directly by the referee from the official university email address)
- 10-week research training opportunity in genetics and molecular and cellular biology
- Individual research projects mentored by one of 13 faculty laboratories
- Weekly academic programs and professional development training
- A workshop about unique challenges and opportunities in STEM careers for D/hh individuals
- Weekly social activities
- $6,000 stipend
- Travel costs reimbursed
- Housing provided
Who should apply?
The goals of the program are to provide research experiences for Deaf and hard of hearing (D/hh) students, to improve awareness of Deaf culture, and to provide training in deaf education practices to the scientific community. Hearing students who know American Sign Language (ASL) or are interested in learning more about the Deaf culture are encouraged to apply too.
- Highly motivated Deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduate students majoring in Biology, Chemistry, or other major in the Physical Sciences who are interested in molecular and cellular biological research and a career in STEM.
- Highly motivated hearing undergraduate students majoring in Biology, Chemistry, Physical Sciences, and/or Deaf Studies/Education who are interested in biological research and a career in STEM, as well as developing or refining skills in American Sign Language (ASL).
- No prior research experience is required. However, priority will be given to students who have completed at least one course in biology and/or chemistry.
- Undergraduates who will be attending a college or university in fall 2024 to work toward the Bachelor’s degree. (Graduating seniors are not eligible)
- United States citizens or permanent residents (required by NSF guidelines).
- Underrepresented groups or those who are the first generation in their families to attend college, are especially encouraged to apply.
For more information, please direct inquiries to:
Faculty Mentors and Research Projects
Gladys Alexandre, Professor — “Bacterial chemotaxis signal transduction in beneficial plant-microbes associations”
(Microbiology/Genetics) REU students will investigate the role of motility, sensing, and signaling during the association of beneficial bacteria (Azospirillum or Rhizobium) with the roots of plants. The students will conduct research projects that will use microbial physiology, microscopy, molecular biology, and plant inoculation experiments. Students will contribute to elucidating the molecular mechanisms that couple sensing of cues into behavioral responses that promote bacterial colonization of plant roots.
Fran Barrera, Associate Professor – “Membrane signaling by receptor kinases in mammalian cells”
(Biochemistry/Cell Biology) The research of the Barrera group focuses on the study of membrane receptors. This critical group of membrane proteins is in charge of surveying the extracellular medium of cells and detecting environmental changes. As a result of the sensing event, membrane receptor activation occurs in the form of a signaling cascade that starts at the cytoplasm, and later reaches the nucleus, with the result of changes in gene expression. We use biochemical, biophysical, and cell biology methods to study the activation and regulation of different membrane receptors, including receptor tyrosine kinases and the T cell receptor. The students will participate in mentored studies to determine the impact of signaling lipids, such as cholesterol and phosphorylated phosphoinositides on the ROR1 tyrosine kinase receptor. These studies will involve Western blot studies of receptor phosphorylation and downstream activity assays.
Brad Binder, Professor — “The Molecular Basis of Ethylene Signal Transduction: From Bacteria to Plants”
(Plant Biology/Microbiology/ Molecular Biology) Research in the Binder lab focuses on ethylene signal transduction with a major focus on understanding the roles and functions of ethylene receptors in plants and bacteria. We combine imaging techniques with biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics to unravel the complexities of ethylene signaling. We recently discovered that transient ethylene treatment of dark-grown seedlings results in profound increases in growth and stress tolerance that last for the lifetime of the plant. The projects available to REU students are to explore the molecular basis of these responses.
Heidi Goodrich-Blair, Professor– “Investigating molecular mechanisms of microbe-host interactions using entomopathogenic nematodes and bacteria”
(Microbiology/Genetics) Students will use bacterial genetics, genomics, microscopy, and molecular and biochemical approaches to investigate the symbiotic interactions of the bacterium Xenorhabdus with its animal hosts. Xenorhabdus is a mutualist of Steinernema nematodes and a pathogen of a wide range of insects. In evolutionary, ecological, and physiological contexts, students will explore the molecular mechanisms by which symbiotic partners sense and respond to each other. Current projects include how bacteria-produced molecules induce changes in animal behavior and development, and the molecular signaling between host and bacterium that results in species- and strain-specificity in associations.
Matthew Cooper, Professor – “The neurochemical signals associated with stress resilience”
(Behavioral Neuroscience) The research in my laboratory is focused on the neural circuits and cellular mechanisms controlling susceptibility and resilience to traumatic stress. We use a multidisciplinary approach and a variety of laboratory techniques including inter-cranial microinjections, viral-mediated gene transfer, chemogenetics, in vivo calcium imaging, and rodent behavioral testing. REU students will join an ongoing project using in vivo calcium imaging to investigate the neurochemical signals in the medial prefrontal cortex associated with proactive coping strategies during social stress. Students will gain research experience with viral vectors, behavioral quantification, immunofluorescence, computational approaches for extracting calcium signals, and data analysis.
Amit S. Joshi, Assistant Professor – “Investigating cellular signals that regulate lipid droplet biogenesis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae”
(Cell biology/Genetics/Imaging) Understanding how cells generate different organelles that display characteristic morphologies remains one of the central problems in cell biology. Some organelles, like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria, are self-generating whereas other organelles such as peroxisomes and lipid droplets (LDs) can be generated de novo from specialized subdomains in the ER membrane. Peroxisomes and LDs are metabolically active organelles that respond to the nutritional status of the cell. Remarkably little is known about the cellular signals that regulate peroxisome and lipid droplet biogenesis. We utilize a combination of cell biological, genetic, and biochemical approaches to investigate the biogenesis of organelles in normal and pathological conditions. The REU student would investigate organelle biogenesis in yeast using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy.
Keerthi Krishnan, Assistant Professor – “Deciphering synaptic plasticity in a mouse model for neurodevelopmental disorders”
(Molecular, Cellular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Imaging, Deep Learning) Synaptic plasticity depends on signaling processes within neurons and is a key mechanism by which the brain adapts and learns from experiences by modifying the strength of synaptic connections. Rett Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in MECP2, an X-linked gene. This syndromic disorder is characterized by sustained sensory, cognitive, and motor deficits after an early postnatal period of normal development in girls. Our approaches, which the REU students will be working on, allow us to connect the dots between changes in MECP2 protein in the nucleus with cellular and behavioral phenotypes. REU students will investigate how post-translational modifications of MECP2 protein specifically impact nuclear gene regulation in particular neurons, which are important for regulating decision-making, in the mouse brain. REU students will be introduced to concepts, research methods, and data analysis in modern molecular neuroscience.
Rajan Lamichhane, Assistant Professor – “Single-molecule view of dynamics and activation mechanisms of G protein-coupled receptors“
(Biochemistry/Biophysics) G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) carry out diverse and important functions and are the target of many therapeutic drugs. The Lamichhane lab combines single-molecule fluorescence microscopy with other biochemical and biophysical approaches to understand the dynamics and activation mechanism of GPCRs. Understanding how the dynamic interactions of GPCRs control their signaling pathway will help us to predict potential defects in such processes caused by different diseases. Detailed information on biomolecular assembly and dynamics will ultimately guide us toward the design and development of therapeutics targeting each step of assembly. Recently, we illustrated a critical intermediate conformational state that has been missing in the currently available structures of the human A2A adenosine receptor. Students will use single-molecule microscopy and biophysical assays to study the dynamics of GPCRs. They will express, purify, and label GPCRs to perform dynamic studies in the presence of various ligands targeting these receptors.
Rachel Patton McCord, Associate Professor – “Sensing and Signaling through 3D Genome Structure”
(Experimental and Computational Cellular Systems Biology) The DNA inside the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell is usually considered only for its role in information storage. But, in fact, the genome folds into a complex 3D structure that influences the way signals and disruptions from the environment translate into changes in gene expression in different cell types. Our lab’s goal is to understand the properties and function of this 3D genome structure. We investigate how the 3D genome structure senses and responds to physical deformations of the cell and DNA damaging agents, how the 3D genome structure affects gene regulation, and how the physical properties of the 3D genome structure affect the behavior of the whole cell during processes like cell migration. We use a combination of live-cell fluorescence imaging, molecular biology, and high-throughput sequencing-based techniques to link visible changes in nuclear structure to alterations in genome folding, communication, and gene regulation. Summer UG research students could take on a variety of aspects of these projects, such as quantitative imaging of changes in fluorescently labeled nuclei during different physical stresses or cell migration, and, if there is interest, computational analysis of genomic datasets.
Andreas Nebenfuehr, Professor – “Effect of the growth hormone auxin on actin filament organization and organelle movement in Arabidopsis thaliana”
(Cell biology/ Plant Biology) Cytoplasmic streaming in plant cells is characterized by the rapid movement of organelles along actin filaments. Research from our lab and others has demonstrated that these myosin-driven movements support growth and lead to larger cell sizes. Similarly, the growth hormone auxin also stimulates growth, although it is not known whether the action of auxin involves the actin cytoskeleton and/or organelle movements. The goal of this project is to test whether the external application of auxin to plant seedlings alters organelle mobility and/or organization of the actin cytoskeleton, and which of the known auxin signaling pathways are involved in this response. REU students will treat plant seedlings expressing various fluorescent markers with auxin and/or signaling inhibitors and observe the effect of these interventions by live-cell microscopy.
Sarah Shelby, Assistant Professor – “Immune Receptor Signaling Under the Microscope”
(Biophysics/Cell Biology/Imaging) Research in the Shelby lab focuses on how immune signaling is initiated in B cells and T cells, which are responsible for the body’s adaptive defense against pathogens. These immune responses begin when a foreign antigen engages an immune receptor on the cell plasma membrane. We use quantitative fluorescence microscopy to visualize dynamic receptor interactions with signaling molecules in the membrane, in order to understand how signaling complexes form and function to activate cellular responses. These molecular details have the potential to inform new therapies for infectious disease, autoimmune disorders, and cancer immunotherapy. Opportunities for REU students include developing novel strategies to fluorescently label receptors for microscopy experiments, as well as investigating immune signal transduction using calcium imaging and biochemical assays.
Elena Shpak, Professor – “Regulation of plant development by receptor kinases”
(Development/Genetics/Plant biology) The formation of different tissues and organs requires precise signaling between cells to ensure proper patterning. We study a signaling pathway that coordinates cell behavior and enables the formation of plant organs of specific shapes and sizes. Plant cells secrete small EPFL proteins that are sensed by plasma membrane-localized ERf receptor kinases. The signal transduced by a MAP kinase cascade leads to changes in the activity of transcription factors. By activating this cascade for a short period and analyzing changes in transcriptome, we identified several potential downstream targets. REU students will test the function of these genes in a model plant Arabidopsis. They will identify higher-order mutants using genotyping and then compare the phenotype of mutants to the wild type.
Albrecht von Arnim, Professor — “Sensing and Signaling Regulate Protein Synthesis in the Plant Stress Response”
(Plant Biology/Molecular Biology). Research in this lab focuses on the role of two protein kinases that regulate gene expression in Arabidopsis thaliana by targeting specific components of the cytosolic translation machinery. REU students will conduct experiments to learn how the translation apparatus responds to environmental and plant-internal signals. Students will use mutant strains with defects in the signaling architecture. They will learn techniques to measure the status of the translation apparatus using cell fractionation, polymerase chain reaction or reporter gene expression assays, mining of translatome data, and other bioanalytical techniques. This work helps to understand how plants grow and develop in the face of environmental stress.