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April 26, 2012 | Issue 2, Volume 1



Dr. Robert FittsOur first newsletter, published last fall, was accessed by more than 1000 alumni and was a great success. The featured stories on “Our History” and “Faculty: Current and Past” were particularly popular. In this issue, we will continue the “Our History” feature with a commentary on the University highlights in the 1940’s. The faculty column highlights Dr. William F. Millington a plant biologist in the department from 1959-1987, and Dr. Gail Waring, a cell biologist who joined the department in 1978, and currently directs our Summer Undergraduate Research Program. We are also excited to announce the addition of Dr. Lisa Petrella, who will join the department in August, and recognize the undergraduates and graduate students who recently received college and department awards.

Finally, with this issue we launch a Department Facebook page- we hope you will all “Like” it. We think Facebook will be a great venue for staying in contact and sharing experiences with each other.



New faculty member

This fall, we welcome the newest member of our faculty, assistant professor Lisa Petrella. Dr. Petrella earned her Ph.D. in genetics from Yale University, and has just completed a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California-Santa Cruz. In her research, Dr. Petrella examines how developmental programs in C. Elegans vary with changing environmental factors. Organisms that cannot regulate their own body temperatures, like the nematode C. Elegans, need to have mechanisms in place to make sure that gene expression and chromatin states happen properly during development at a range of temperatures. She uses genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology to determine the molecular mechanisms that allow successful development in differing temperatures. Dr. Petrella will be teaching general biology in the fall.

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Summer undergraduate research

This year the biological sciences department will again offer a summer undergraduate research program under the direction of Dr. Gail Waring. This will be Dr. Waring’s last year directing the program; next summer the torch will be passed to Dr. Edward Blumenthal. Eleven students representing 8 universities from across the country will be joining us for 10 weeks to conduct independent, faculty mentored research in eleven different labs. The NSF funded portion of the program targets students who are members of minorities currently underrepresented in the sciences, and students from colleges or universities with limited research opportunities. To fund Marquette students, we have established an endowment. To learn more about the endowment and to support the program see: Biology Student Research Endowment Fund.


Advisory board

The Department's Advisory Board added two new members with Dr. Joan Bathon (MU Alumni 1974), Director of the Division of Rheumatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Ms. Clair Ruzicka (MU Alumni 1982), a life science professional in marketing and sales, who currently heads Ruzicka Consulting Services in Milwaukee. The Advisory Board meets biannually (fall/spring), and provides advice and guidance on our undergraduate and graduate programs. For example, the board was instrumental in helping us develop a new accelerated Masters Program (see the Fall 2011 Newsletter for a description) that will be submitted to the University for approval this summer.



Dr. Edward Blumenthal on Sabbatical

BlumenthalDuring the 2011-12 academic year, Dr. Edward Blumenthal is spending a sabbatical leave at KU Leuven, the oldest university in Belgium. He is partly supported during the sabbatical by a fellowship from the host university. Dr. Blumenthal is spending the year in the laboratory of Professor Jozef Vanden Broeck, an expert on insect physiology, and is continuing his current research on a gene in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster called drop-dead. This gene appears to be important for the proper development of epithelial tissues in the fly, and Dr. Blumenthal is using the sabbatical to identify other genes that interact with drop-dead and to understand more fully how drop-dead affects fly development and structure. He is also using the sabbatical leave to write and submit several manuscripts, prepare grant proposals, and develop important contacts and collaborations with colleagues in Europe.


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Departmental Undergraduate Awards Announced

Biological Sciences Academic Achievement Award

Tayler SheahanThe Biological Sciences Academic Achievement Award recognizes the outstanding academic achievement in the Biological Sciences Department by a senior majoring in Biological Sciences, Physiological Sciences, or Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. The award committee selects the winner based on a cumulative GPA of 3.50 and above, the student’s sciences GPA, and a letter of recommendation from a faculty member. A plaque listing former recipients’ names is on permanent display in the Biological Sciences Department. A separate plaque is presented to the student together with a monetary award of $500 from the Department of Biological Sciences.

This year’s recipient is Ms. Tayler Sheahan, a Physiological Sciences major with a GPA of 4.00. Tayler is also in the Honor’s Program. Her physiological sciences academic adviser is Dr. Gail Waring.


Catherine Welsh Smith Award in Biological Sciences

Tyler HarveyThe Catherine Welsh Smith Award in Biological Sciences recognizes outstanding achievement in biological research by a junior or senior majoring in Biological Sciences. The award committee selects the winner from nominations from faculty of students who have displayed talent for research, including initiative, independence, and the ability to design and carry out experiments. A plaque listing former recipients’ names is on permanent display in the Biological Sciences Department. A separate plaque is presented to the student together with a monetary award of $500.00.

This year’s recipient is Mr. Tyler Harvey, a senior biological science major. He conducted his research in the laboratory of Dr. Gail Waring.


Department of Biological Sciences Research Award in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Alexis OnderakNadia Hallaj

The Department of Biological Sciences Research Award in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recognizes outstanding achievement in research by a junior or senior majoring in the Biological Sciences Department. The award committee selects the winner from nominations from faculty of students who have displayed talent for research, including initiative,independence, and the ability to design and carry out experiments on their own, and from an abstract submitted by the student. A plaque listing former recipients’ names is on permanent display in the Biological Sciences Department. A separate plaque is presented to the student together with a monetary award of $200.00.

This year the department has corecipient. Ms. Alexis Onderak, a senior, who conducted her research with Dr. James Anderson, and Ms. Nadia Hallaj, a senior, who conducted her research with Dr. Krassimira Hristova.


2012 Gold Medal Award Recipients

Gold Medal WinnersThe Klingler College of Arts and Sciences is proud to announce that four students will receive Gold Medal Awards at the College Graduation Ceremony, Sunday, May 20, 2012.

The Gold Medal Award is given to the graduating senior or seniors with the highest cumulative grade point average.  Of the many awards recognizing academic achievement by students in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, none speaks so clearly of the recipient’s intelligence, commitment to studies, academic discipline and extraordinary passion to learn. The Biological Sciences Department is proud to announce that three of the four students receiving this award are majors in our department.

The three students from the Biological Sciences Department receiving the 2012 Gold Medal Award are Ms. Anna Luetmer, Ms. Alexis Onderak, Ms. Tayler Sheahan. 

Anna Luetmer, from Wausau, Wisconsin, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Spanish for the Health Professions.  Anna has served as a University tour guide, and is a member of Global Medical Brigades.  She plans to attend Medical School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after graduation.

Alexis Onderak, from South Beloit, Illinois, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a minor in Criminology and Law Studies.  She enjoys participating in intramural sports at MU and is a loyal member of the MU Fanatics.  After graduation, Alexis will attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Biochemistry.


Tayler Sheahan, from Orland Hills, Illinois, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Physiological Sciences and a minor in German.  She plans to attend graduate school in the fall, to earn her Ph.D. in Neuroscience.  Tayler is Vice President for the Running Club and is a member of the Honors Program and Delta Phi Alpha, the German Honor Society.


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Recent Graduates

Two students graduated this past December with their doctoral degrees in Biological Sciences. Anjali Gupta and Priyanka Sivadas both studied under Dr. Pinfin Yang. Dr. Gupta is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Albert Einstein Medical School, and Dr. Sivadas is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California.

John Brenner, a student of Dr. Alison Abbott, has just successfully defended his doctoral thesis entitled: “Genetic Identification of developmental Pathways Regulated by Conserved microRNAs in Caenorhabditis elegans”, and is graduating with his Ph.D. in May. Brenner will start his Postdoctoral Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis this summer.


Graduate Award Recipients


Andrew KarlsThe Department of Biological Sciences is grateful to announce that Andrew Karls is the first recipient of the Dr. Catherine Grotelueschen Scholarship, given by Dr. Catherine Grotelueschen and her husband Mr. James Grotelueschen. Dr. Grotelueschen is an alumnus of our Biological Sciences Department, earning her Master’s degree in 1975. The endowment will provide scholarship support towards the summer stipend for a graduate student in the Biological Sciences Department. Andrew Karls’ research examines different ways that neurons regulate voltage-gated calcium channels. In neurons, the concentration of intracellular calcium is much lower when compared to extracellular concentrations.  Thus, entry of calcium ions can serve as a switch, turning on or off a variety of cellular processes.  One potential way these calcium channels are regulated is by G-protein coupled receptors, such as the GABAB receptor.  While much is known about how these receptors can inhibit calcium channels, Andrew’s work specifically focuses on how GABAB receptor activation leads to calcium current enhancement.   This summer, Andrew will begin experiments designed to provide detailed information about the particular calcium channel isoform involved in calcium current enhancement, as well as describe kinetic and physiological differences between these specific isoforms.  This work has implications in how seizure disorders such as epilepsy are treated early in life.    



Adam LietzanThe Department of Biological Sciences periodically receives funding from the Denis J. O’Brien Fellowship Fund for financial assistance in the form of a summer stipend. This year’s winner is Adam Lietzan.

Adam’s research project uses protein X-ray crystallography and steady-state kinetic analyses to detail the poorly characterized mechanism of coordination between the two remote active sites in Pyruvate carboxylase (PC), a multi-site biotin-dependent enzyme. His structural studies have revealed features that promote the efficient coordination of catalysis between distinct active sites and have unveiled potentially important roles for previously unrecognized residues in each of the enzyme active sites.

Pyruvate carboxylase serves as a paradigm for catalysis in multi-enzyme systems. PC transfers a carboxybiotin intermediate generated in the biotin carboxylase (BC) domain to a pyruvate acceptor substrate in the carboxyl transferase (CT) domain. This summer, Adam’s research goals consist of kinetically characterizing mutant forms of PC in order to demonstrate the contribution of various amino acids to forming the biotin-binding pocket in the CT domain. Enzymatic assays will be utilized to describe alterations in the catalytic and coupling efficiency between the two distinct active sites. These experiments will provide a detailed description of plasticity in the CT domain during catalysis while presenting insights into a mechanism for coordinating distinct active sites in a model multi-enzyme system.


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Alumnus receives NSF Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Award

Corey NemecCorey Nemec (Biochemistry, 2010) has just been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. In 2010, Corey was the recipient of the Biological Sciences’ Department Research Award in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Nemec is currently a second year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry at UW-Madison.  He works in the lab of Dr. Aseem Ansari where they aim to understand regulatory mechanisms of RNA polymerase II and to design artificial transcription factors capable of targeting specific genes for activation or repression.  Ansari’s lab not only designs protein-based transcription factors, but also small-molecule regulators with the goal of reprogramming cell-fate and potentially developing transcription-based therapeutics.  Currently, Corey is studying the unstructured carboxyl-terminal domain (CTD) of the largest subunit of RNA polymerase II.  This domain consists of repeating heptapeptide units that can be reversibly phosphorylated.  Such phosphorylations recruit factors involved in the 5’ capping of mRNA, pre-mRNA splicing, and termination.  Corey is determining the biological role two previously uncharacterized CTD modifications through chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by deep sequencing (ChIP-Seq), immunofluorescence, and chemical-genetic approaches.

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Biological Sciences Department

Marquette University, Wehr Life Sciences
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P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7355