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20 people standing in front of fuilding holding a large check from ARCS.

San Diego ARCS Chapter presenting a check to President Adela de la Torre.

ARCS® Foundation is a nationally recognized organization run entirely by women philanthropists. Their mission is boosting American leadership and advancement in science and technology by providing funding to help the country’s most brilliant students create knowledge and innovative technologies.

In 2020 the San Diego ARCS Chapter celebrated its 35th anniversary. It has given 1,400 awards totaling over $10 million, supporting SDSU students with more than $3.1 million in scholarships since 1989. Annual awards are unrestricted and merit-based, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the San Diego ARCS Chapter has generously awarded a total of $420,000 to 46 scholars.

 

Achievement Rewards for College Scientists 2020–2021
Mariel Cardenas,  Molly Clemens, Lucas LunaNicholas Williams. ++ (UPDATING)

2020-2021 Scholars

Amanda Therese Alker

Ph.D. Biology (candidate)
Cell and Molecular Biology; Environmental Microbiology
Joint SDSU / UC San Diego

B.A. in Biology
Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University

Amanda Alker closeup

About Amanda

Many bottom-dwelling marine animals, like corals and tubeworms, release their babies into the water column, where they swim in search of an environmental cue that indicates a suitable place to settle onto the seafloor and develop. Certain bacteria coating submerged surfaces can serve as this environmental cue. Amanda’s research investigates a single probiotic marine bacterium and demonstrates that it can produce multiple different cues that influence the babies to settle down. Harnessing these bacteria as “environmental probiotics” may allow scientists to restore threatened ecosystems (like coral reefs) in the future.

 

Personal Interests

Academic: Mentoring students and enhancing scientific communication | Personal: Live music – the funkier the better; surfing; backcountry camping; SCUBA.

My ARCS Award

To me, the ARCS Foundation award signifies recognition of both my accomplishments and my potential in academia. I am particularly honored to be recognized by the ARCS Foundation because of its history with female leadership. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of strong independent women, which makes the support from the ARCS Foundation even more impactful to me. Furthermore, I appreciate the financial support and the investment in my future because they allow me to continue my doctoral research and reach for higher impact projects. The supplementary funds make my salary more sustainable as a graduate student with real-world financial responsibilities.

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

My doctoral research has identified that a single beneficial marine bacterium, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea, is capable of producing two previously described metamorphosis- inducing cues. One is a halogenated chemical called tetrabromopyrrole that can induce coral metamorphosis. The other is a proteinaceous complex called Metamorphosis-Associated Contractile structures that facilitates tubeworm metamorphosis.

Using a combination of approaches including comparative genomics, bacterial genetics, and biochemistry, my research is the first to directly compare the effects of both cues on different model animals in the laboratory. We edited the bacterial genome and generated mutant strains lacking genes necessary to produce the chemical and protein cues independently. We then exposed larvae of model organisms (tubeworms and hydra) to the manipulated bacteria in metamorphosis assays and counted the number of larvae that metamorphosed in response to each bacterial treatment.

Interestingly, a previous study found that P. luteoviolacea is capable of inducing coral metamorphosis, but neither the chemical nor the protein structure identified previously was offered as an explanation for this phenomenon. We have constructed a library of tetrabromopyrrole mutant bacteria that will be used to probe the effect of the mutant strains of bacteria on coral larvae.

Publications & Posters

Alker, A.T.; Delherbe, N.; Purdy, T.N.; Moore, B.S.; Shikuma, N.J. Genetic examination of the marine bacterium Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea and effects of its metamorphosis-inducing factors. Environmental Microbiology, August 2020. [https://doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.15211]

Cavalcanti, G.S.; Alker, A.T.; Delherbe, N.; Malter, K.; Shikuma, N.J. The influence of bacteria on animal metamorphosis. Annual Reviews of Microbiology, 2020, 74:1, 137-158. [DOI: 10.1146/annurev-micro-011320-012753]

Rojas,* M.I.; Cavalcanti,* G.S.; McNair, K.; Benler, S.; Alker, A.T.; Cobián-Güemes, A.G.; Giluso, M.; Levi, K.; Rohwer, F.L.; Bailey, B.A.; Beyhan, S.; Edwards, R.A.; Shikuma, N.J. A distinct contractile injection system found in a majority of adult human microbiomes. mSystems, 2020, 5 (4) e00648-20. [https://doi.org/10.1128/ MSYSTEMS.00648-20]

Alker, A.T.; Delherbe, N.; Purdy, T.N.; Little, M; Rohwer, F.L.; Wegley-Kelly, L.; Moore, B.S.; Shikuma, N.J. A marine bacterium produces three distinct factors that stimulate animal metamorphosis. Ocean Sciences Meeting. 18 Feb 2020. San Diego, CA

Awards & Honors

ARCS Foundation, Inc. – San Diego Scholar 2020-2021; International Coral Reef Society Student Travel Award, May 2020; National Science Foundation – Graduate Research Internship Award, January 2020; NSF – Graduate Research Fellowship 2017-2022

Benefits to Science and Society

Amanda’s research develops the potential of the marine bacterium Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea as a tool for understanding the underlying cellular mechanisms that influence metamorphosis in diverse animals. Harnessing settlement-inducing bacteria and their specific cues could pave the way for the production of coral settlement products and could be used in aquaculture to increase settlement efficacy. Furthermore, understanding the specific cues that facilitate metamorphosis in diverse animals can help us understand how to control biofouling on the hulls of ships.

Theresa Leigh Ute Burnham

Ph.D. Biology (candidate)
Ecology; Marine Fisheries Ecology and Management
Joint SDSU / UC Davis

B.S. in Biology
Northeastern University

Theresa Burnham headshot

About Theresa Leigh

Around the world, marine fisheries are threatened by increasing demand for seafood and warming oceans. Theresa’s research focuses on improving management of the lucrative, but vulnerable, spiny lobster fishery in Southern California and Mexico. By gathering fishing data, biological characteristics, and genetic signatures from lobsters along the Pacific coast, Theresa aims to create modern, climate-ready solutions for the environmental problems faced by small-scale fisheries and the coastal communities that rely on them.

Personal Interests

I spend my free time hiking and biking in nature, cooking and baking at home, or volunteering for political campaigns.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation award is meaningful to me in many ways, chiefly in celebrating my research goals and accomplishments. Outside validation is extremely rewarding, and being welcomed into the ARCS community provides a new network of hard-working scientists to collaborate with and entrepreneurial women that I admire. Further, the financial component of the award helps ease the stress and inflexibility that come with pursuing a doctoral degree while living in poverty. The ARCS Foundation award will provide valuable flexibility as I advance in my career and aid me in reaching my full potential as a professional scientist.

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

Motivated by a deep appreciation for the inherent value of our oceans and coastal community members, my research aims to enhance the sustainability of the California spiny lobster fishery in the face of global change.

My dissertation work is focused on three components of the fishery: (1) management, (2) population structure, and (3) impacts of climate change. To address the management aspect, I am developing a predictive simulation model that compares the effectiveness of different management procedures in various scenarios (e.g. future climate states). I am working with California Department of Fish & Wildlife to create a model that can be implemented directly into management.

For my second chapter, I am using next-generation sequencing techniques to determine the genetic signatures of lobsters over 800 miles of their range. Identifying genetic differences between subpopulations may help managers develop more effective, spatially-explicit conservation methods.

Finally, I am analyzing the relationship between the lobster fishery and increasingly frequent marine heat waves to understand how climate change may impact California’s fifth most valuable marine fishery. This component will be useful to fishers as they plan future fishing seasons under new climate norms.

Publications & Posters

Burnham, T.L.U.; Dunn, R.P.; O’Rourke, S.; Miller, M.; Hovel, K.A. Implications of spatially variable demography and fishing behavior of a binational fishery. 6th Annual International Marine Conservation Congress. 18 August 2020, Virtual

Knight, C.J.; Burnham, T.L.U.; Mansfield, E.J.; Crowder, L.B.; Micheli, F. COVID-19 reveals vulnerability of small-scale fisheries to global market systems. Lancet Planet. Health. 2020; 4:e219

Burnham, T.L.U.; Miller, M.; O’Rourke, S.; Hovel, K.A. Clarifying population structure of the California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus). 100th Annual Western Society of Naturalists Meeting. 3 November 2019, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Saley, A.M.; Smart, A.C.; Bezerra, M.F.; Burnham, T.L.U.; Capece, L.R.; Lima, L.F.O.; Carsh, A.C.; Williams, S.L.; Morgan, S.G. Microplastic accumulation and biomagnification in a coastal marine reserve situated in a sparsely populated area. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 2019; 146:54-59

Awards & Honors

Ecological Society of America Policy Section Registration Grant 2020; University of California UC MEXUS Small Grant Award 2018-2019; University Graduate Fellowship, San Diego State University 2017-2019; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Holling’s Scholar 2013-2015

Benefits to Science and Society

My research will enhance our understanding of the biology and ecology of the valuable California spiny lobster, promoting the creation of more effective management strategies. This outcome can benefit fishers and coastal communities that depend on this species for livelihood and recreation. This is important as fisheries face increasing threats due to warming oceans and overexploitation. My findings will also be applicable to other marine fisheries species that occur across national boundaries and experience different environmental conditions throughout their range.

Mariel Manaloto Cardenas

Ph.D. Chemistry (candidate)
Organic Chemistry; Asymmetric Catalysis in Medicinal Chemistry
Joint SDSU / UC San Diego

B.S. in Chemistry
UC San Diego

Mariel Cardeneas

About Mariel

Obtaining ‘large-scale,’ industry-standard quantities of enantiomerically pure (i.e. the correct conformational and stereochemical structure of) drug scaffolds represents a major challenge in drug discovery, as the traditional state of industry currently lacks time and cost- efficient processes. This is likely due to the current lack of catalytic, synthetic, and asymmetric methodologies amenable with medicinal chemistry efforts. Mariel started conducting graduate-level research under Dr. Jeffrey L. Gustafson at SDSU. She has since developed some of the desirable, general strategies to access pharmaceutically relevant scaffolds.

Personal Interests

Mariel still enjoys Harry Potter and frequently rewatches the series with a bowl of ice cream. She also enjoys going to rock concerts (particularly for music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s), and her pastime is walking around San Diego.

My ARCS Award

I strongly think that the ARCS Foundation award has largely benefited me in alleviating financial stressors that are related to graduate student life. It means so much to me as well to know that I am amongst a group of students that can develop science towards the community. It resets my focus that science is to largely “change the world” and advance ourselves and improve the quality of humanity. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been super humbled and grateful to attend ARCS meetings. I’ve gotten to talk with so many people involved, and it’s actually allowed me to become even more determined to shape my research with that goal in mind. With the award, I can really hone in and shape this research without worrying about the burdens in graduate student life (like money-problems, financial setbacks, etc.).

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter / Robin Luby

Current Research

There is renewed interest in leveraging atropisomerism to synthesize more potent and selective N-heterocyclic pharmaceuticals. One unaddressed challenge is the narrow window of synthetic methodologies to directly access these important atropisomeric scaffolds on desired “gram-scale” quantities.

Mariel and her coworkers in the Gustafson group at SDSU have reported an atroposelective nucleophilic aromatic substitution towards a diverse range of these aforementioned compounds in high enantioselectivities and optimal yields.

Mariel selected thiophenols to add into these pharmaceutically relevant N-heterocycles since the resulting product is synthetically and medicinally useful in drug discovery. Examples of N-heterocycles we have directly functionalized with this chemistry include 3-aryl pyrrolopyrimidines (PPYs, a well-studied kinase inhibiting scaffold) and 3-aryl quinolines (which are ubiquitous in many drug and ‘drug’-like compounds).

Currently, Mariel and her colleagues are developing other nucleophilic reactions such as asymmetric Minisci- type chemistries, vicarious nucleophilic substitutions, and enantioselective cyclizations.

Publications & Posters

Cardenas, M.M.; Saputra, M.A.; Sanchez, A.N.; Robinson, C.J.; Valle, E.; Gustafson, J.L. Accessing pharmaceutically relevant 3-arylated N-heterocycles via atroposelective synthetic methodologies. American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Fall 2019. 26 August 2019, 29 August 2019, San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

Cardenas, M.M.; Saputra, M.A.; Sanchez, A.N.; Robinson, C.J.; Valle, E.; Gustafson, J.L. Development of atroposelective syntheses of pharmaceutically relevant N-heterocycles. 46th National Organic Chemistry Symposium. 26 June 2019, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Cardenas, M.M.; Saputra, M.A.; Sanchez, A.N.; Robinson, C.J. Valle, E.; Gustafson, J.L. Developing atroposelective syntheses to access diverse pharmaceutically relevant scaffolds. American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Spring 2019. 1 April 2019, 3 April 2019, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL

Cardenas, M.M.; Toenjes, S.T.; Nalbandian, C.J; Gustafson, J.L. Enantioselective synthesis of pyrrolopyrimidine scaffolds through cation-directed nucleophilic aromatic substitution. Org. Lett. 2018, 20, 2037-2041. [doi: 10.1021/acs.orglett.8b00579] [PMID: 29561161, PMC5909700]

Awards & Honors

University Graduate Fellowship Award, SDSU in May 2019; ARCS – San Diego Scholar, SDSU in Aug 2019; NIH Funded Student, SDSU in Aug 2017; Cal Vet Student, Cal Vet Services in Aug 2015.

Benefits to Science and Society

Atropiomerism (also referred to as axial chirality) is ubiquitous in all of drug discovery, as 30% of FDA approved drugs since 2011 possess at least one interconverting axis of atropisomerism. While this number is striking, the current ‘industry standard’ is to avoid creating stable atropisomers when possible and treating rapidly interconverting atropisomers as achiral. The current lack of synthetic methodologies to obtain ‘large-scale,’ industry-standard quantities of atropisomerically-pure drug scaffolds, and the reliance on chiral HPLC separation, is not useful for medicinal chemists involved in the drug discovery process.

Molly Elizabeth Clemens

Ph.D. Ecology (candidate)
Viticulture and AgroEcology
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

B.S. Environmental Science
Fordham University, New York

Molly Clemens close-up

About Molly

Molly’s thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation of adaptations in vineyards, with the goal of sustainable agro-ecological solutions to the threats of climate change. She has modeled the phenological timing of hundreds of international grapevine varieties in response to climate change, and she reviewed in depth the impacts of elevated carbon dioxide on grapevine ecology. She is working on her last chapter at the Fondazione Edmund Mach in Italy on genetic transformations of grapevines using cutting edge CRISPR cas9 technology. These transformations developed grapevine with higher drought resistance.

Personal Interests

When I’m not in the lab or travelling, I love to be in the water surfing or paddle boarding. I spend a lot of time baking and cooking, which I think comes from my love of lab culture.

My ARCS Award

It’s hard to describe the impact the ARCS award has had on me, because the relief of financial stress is a gift that I truly can’t say thank you for enough. I have been able to prioritize my research over financial stability. This year especially, I have been able to support myself, rather than ask for assistance from my family. It has been so validating to be supported by ARCS. It created security for me in probably the most insecure time of my life.

Award Donor

Heller Foundation of San Diego

Current Research

My dissertation in the Global Change Research Group focuses on the effects of climate change on vineyards in California, France, and Italy. We work on climate simulations to test genetic, phenological, and morphologic changes from elevated carbon dioxide and temperature on grapevines. I used microCT x-ray tomography scans to visualize changes in grapevine leaf tissue anatomy. I quantified microRNA to characterize graft incompatibility at the ISVV in France. I modeled the grapevine phenological response to climate, as well as an in-depth review of elevated carbon dioxide impacts on grapevine.

At the Fondazione Edmund Mach in Italy, we are using CRISPR cas9 genetic transformations of grapevines for higher drought resistance. I am using previous RNAseq results to quantify gene expression in the transformed plants, compared to wild type, to identify genetic response to drought. This genetics work will contribute to a global effort to make grapevine a more sustainable crop.

My thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation of adaptations in vineyards, with the goal of sustainable agro-ecological solutions to the threats of climate change.

Publication & Posters

Clemens, M.; Walker, A.; Wolkovich E. A comprehensive ecological study of grapevine sensitivity to temperature; How terroir will shift under climate change. GiESCO, Thessaloniki, Greece June 21-28, 2019

Valim, H.D.; Clemens, M.E.; Frank, H. Joint decision-making on two visual perception systems. Computational Intelligence, Cognitive Algorithms, Mind, and Brain (CCMB), 2014. IEEE Symposium

Awards & Honors

Chateaubriand Fellowship, French Embassy 2019; Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship, Area of Excellence Center for Climate and Sustainability Studies, San Diego State University 2016 and 2017; Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship 2014; Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship, Fordham 2013

Benefits to Science and Society

Winegrapes are one of the world’s most expensive and culturally important crops, currently facing climate change impacts like drought, heat waves, and increases in pest pressure. I hope that my research will benefit the grape growing communities by providing alternative varieties and sustainable solutions to some of these problems. Specifically, we are working on drought resistance grapevine varieties, which will hopefully be used in the industry one day. The current varieties we are testing in our experimental vineyard could help local growers in Temecula and Fallbrook choose alternatives that are more drought and heat tolerant.

Lucas Aaron Luna

Ph.D. Biochemistry (candidate)
Enzymology; Molecular Mechanisms of Diseases
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. Biochemistry
UC Santa Barbara

Lucas Luna

About Lucas

The Sohl Lab in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at SDSU aims to help alleviate disease by investigating mechanistic questions at the intersection of biochemistry, cell biology, and medicine. We explore how altered enzyme activity impacts human health using kinetic, structural and cellular tools. By understanding the molecular mechanisms of enzyme dysfunction, we can illuminate structure-function relationships, probe subsequent global cellular consequences of mutations, identify drug targets, and ultimately develop platforms for targeted therapy.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS award has had a monumental influence on my passion and the quality of my work. It has increased my motivation to make lasting contributions to the scientific community, and I feel like it will accelerate my degree completion. The network that ARCS provides will also be invaluable to my career development. The ARCS award has inspired me to give back to the student community at SDSU. I have decided to become more involved in chemistry tutoring and have started tutoring students in general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. As someone who has gone through the same courses more recently, I can provide a more relatable experience and an explanation that the students can understand. It is a very rewarding experience to give back to the community and I hope for it to continue through the rest of my PhD career. An additional benefit to the tutoring experience is that I can influence someone to continue a degree in chemistry or biochemistry and inspire them to seek out a research position.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

Recently, I have been involved in studying how changes in the cellular environment can reroute metabolism by altering the catalytic activities of metabolic enzymes such as Isocitrate Dehydrogenas (IDH) 1. IDH1 catalyzes the reversible conversion of isocitrate to alpha ketoglutarate. The forward reaction is important to protect against oxidative damage and the reverse reaction is important for anaplerosis and glutamine metabolism. Normal IDH1 is amplified in various types of cancer; however, the majority of IDH1 studies use tumor-relevant mutations. Thus, there is a critical, unmet need to show how changing the cellular environment regulates IDH1 activity. Typically, the forward and reverse reactions are balanced to meet the metabolic needs of the cell. However, when the cellular environment is perturbed by a change in pH, the catalytic activity of proteins can change and the equilibrium of the forward reaction and reverse reaction can be shifted. In one piece of the project we will determine if the activity of IDH1 is sensitive to pH, and in the other we will examine the cellular consequences of IDH1 upon encountering lowered intracellular pH.

The final project that I am involved with at this time is establishing mechanisms of dysfunction for DNA Polymerase Epsilon. Mutations in this enzyme are frequently observed in colorectal and uterine cancers. Studies with human DNA Polymerase Epsilon are extremely limited. In this project, we will kinetically characterize the mechanism of altered fidelity of human DNA Polymerase Epsilon and tumorigenic mutants.

Publication & Posters

Bernatchez, J.A.; Coste, M.; Beck, S.; Wells, G.A.; Luna, L.A.; Clark, A,E.; Zhu, Z.; Hecht, D.; Rich, J.N.; Sohl, C.D.; Purse, B.W.; Siqueira-Neto, J.L. Activity of selected nucleoside analogue protides against Zika virus in human neural stem cells. Viruses 2019.

Avellaneda Matteo, D.; Wells, G.A.; Luna, L.A.; Grunseth, A.J.; Zagnitko, O.; Scott, D.A.; Hoang, A.; Luthra, A.; Swairjo, M.; Schiffer J.M.; Sohl, C.D. Inhibitor potency varies widely among tumor-relevant human isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 mutants. Biochemical Journal 2018.

Bernatchez, J.A.; Zunhua, Y.; Coste, M.; Li, J.; Beck, S.; Liu, Y.; Clark, A. E.; Zhu, Z.; Luna, L. A.; Sohl, C.D.; Purse, B. W.; Li, R.; Siqueira-Neto, J. L. Development and validation of a phenotypic high-content imaging assay for assessing the antiviral activity of small molecule inhibitors targeting the Zika virus. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 2018.

Awards & Honors

University Graduate Fellowship 2019; Prebys Biomedical Research Endowed Scholarship 2018, 2019; Harry E. Hamber Memorial Scholarship 2018, 2019; ARCS – San Diego Scholar 2018, renewed 2019.

Benefits to Science and Society

With the Isocitrate Dehydrogenase project we hope to establish how metabolic enzyme activity is affected by changes in the cellular environment, and we hypothesize that the reverse reaction is favored at lower pH levels. We will also show how cellular metabolism is regulated by intracellular pH. In the polymerase project, we will identify unique mechanisms of novel polymerase mutations and help inform a treatment strategy in colorectal and uterine cancer patients.

Nicholas Benjamin Williams

Ph.D. Chemistry (candidate)
Inorganic Chemistry
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.A. in Chemistry
Washington and Jefferson College

B.A. in Economics
Washington and Jefferson College

Nicholas Williams

About Nicholas

Currently, Nick is investigating the decomposition of a molecular catalyst-semiconductor hybrid system designed to produce Hydrogen gas. Understanding the mechanism of decomposition has led to the design of better molecular catalysts expected to inhibit degradation during the photoelectrochemical production of Hydrogen. Fundamental studies such as this are necessary for the rational design of better, more efficient and cost-effective solar fuel producing systems in the times to come which we so readily need.

Personal Interests

I enjoy camping at places like Death Valley, Yellowstone, and the Black hills. I like to bake my own bread.

My ARCS Award

Throughout the last year, whether I was working in lab, reading literature or communicating with scientists and colleagues, I was always learning. Most of the time I was stressed or tired, but thanks to the ARCS Award, the burden of finances was very much alleviated. It gave me the freedom to sit down over the weekends and learn some new fields of sciences related to my work, such as the area of self-assembled monolayers and ion scattering spectroscopy or potential organic liquids for hydrogen storage applications, that I may not have had the time to do. The ARCS Award has been a phenomenal help, and going forward this upcoming year working solely on advancing my PhD, I am truly excited for what I will learn in the year to come

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego
Virginia Lynch Grady Endowment

Current Research

Our lab studies the evolution of ciliated epidermal sensory neuron (CESN) development during embryogenesis using the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona robusta. Pou4, a proneural transcription factor (TF) involved in C. robusta peripheral nervous system development is necessary and sufficient for CESN differentiation.

My primary research focus aims to understand how CESNs differentiate, thus, what are the factors involved in activating Pou4? I am approaching this question in a number of ways. By having reviewed relevant literature, TF binding motif analyses, and an RNA-seq database I generated, I made informed predictions regarding genes, i.e. potential Pou4 activators and repressors, expressed in the correct pre-Pou4 location. This approach has revealed TFs that when ectopically expressed seem to increase the number of CESNs indicating activation of Pou4, and genes that decrease the number of CESNs indicating repression of Pou4. Once individual proteins are identified, I perform an overexpression screen and a CRISPR screen to establish their role as either Pou4 activators or repressors.

Publication & Posters

Fang, C.; Li J.; Zhang, Y.; Yang, F.; Lee, J.L.; Lee, M.; Alvarado, J.; Wang, X.; Schroeder, M.; Yang, Y.; Williams, N.; Ceja, M.; Yang, L.; Cai, M.; Gu, J.; Xu, K.; Wang, X.; Meng, Y.S. Quantifying inactive lithium in lithium metal batteries. Nature 2019 572, 511-515.

Huang, Y.; Sun, Y.; Zheng, X.; Aoki, T.; Pattengale, B.; Huang, J.; He, X.; Bian, W.; Younan, S.; Williams, N.; Hu, J.; Ge, J.; Pu, N.; Yan, X.; Pan, X.; Zhang, L.; Wei, Y.; Gu, J. Atomically engineering activation sites onto metallic 1T-MoS2 catalysts for enhanced electrochemical hydrogen evolution. Nature Communications 2019, 10 (1).

Zhou, Y.-H.; Wang, S.; Zhang, Z.; Williams, N.; Cheng, Y.; Gu, J. Hollow nickel-cobalt layered double hydroxide supported palladium catalysts with superior hydrogen evolution activity for hydrolysis of ammonia borane. ChemCatChem 2018, 10 (15), 3206–3213.

Zhou Y.-H.; Zhang, Z.; Wang, S.; Williams, N.; Cheng, Y.; Luo, S.; Gu J. rGO supported PdNi-CeO2 nanocomposite as an efficient catalyst for hydrogen evolution from the hydrolysis of NH3BH3. Int. J. Hydrog. Energy 2018 43, 18745-18753.

Awards & Honors

National Renewable Energy Lab Summer research internship, July 2019; SDSU Dept. Chemistry and Biochemistry Outstanding Masters Research Award, Fall 2017; ARCS Foundation, Inc. – San Diego Award, Fall 2017 to Present.

Benefits to Science and Society

In catalyst development, the major focus lies in designing better catalysts with understanding the limitation and pitfalls taking a backseat. This work offers insight into the reasons why a very particular and specific system failed. The methodology however can be used on a broader level applied to a wide variety of catalysts. Developing an understanding for why a catalyst fails can aid in the designing of better structures in the future.

2019-2020 ARCS Alumni

John Allen

John Matthew Allen

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Stem Cell Biology and Regeneration
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. Molecular Biology
Harvey Mudd College, Claremont

John Allen

About John

John’s project works towards understanding how cells make fate decisions. How DNA, or the “blueprints” of the cell, are physically packaged by histone proteins in the nucleus can regulate gene levels and directly influence cell fate. His work focuses on a complex that modifies histone proteins that wind DNA around them. The effect of this modification is to cause a localized compaction of the DNA and histones and cause genes to become silenced. His lab studies this complex during regeneration and examines how stem cells are regulated as re-form tissues.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation award has been a source of continued support throughout my graduate career. I use part of this award to relieve myself of teaching obligations that significantly hinder my ability to focus solely on conducting the research that is essential to advance my thesis work. I also appreciate the chance to interact with scientific donors and to discuss my work (and science in general) with the public.

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

How cells make fate decisions through development and how they maintain these states is a complicated multi-faceted question that has important implications in understanding many human diseases. Especially important is understanding how an organism can deploy a common set of DNA instructions to form multiple differentiated cell types. My work seeks to understand how cells use epigenetic instructions to guide cell fate decisions through the dynamic process of regeneration. This work will help us understand how an important but understudied epigenetic complex is affecting stem cell regulation.

Publication & Posters

Ochoa, S. D.; Dores, M. R.; Allen, J. M.; Tran, T.; Osman, M.; Castellanos, N. P. V.; Trejo, J.; Zayas, R. M. A modular laboratory course using planarians to study genes involved in tissue regeneration. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 2019, 47 (5), 547–559.

Strand, N. S.; Allen, J. M.; Zayas, R. M. Post-translational regulation of planarian regeneration. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology 2019, 87, 58–68.

Strand, N. S.; Allen, J. M.; Ghulam, M.; Taylor, M. R.; Munday, R. K.; Carrillo, M.; Movsesyan, A.; Zayas, R. M. Dissecting the function of cullin-RING ubiquitin ligase complex genes in planarian regeneration. Developmental Biology 2018, 433 (2), 210–217.

Allen, J. M.; Ross, K. G.; Zayas, R. M. Regeneration in invertebrates: Model systems. eLS 2016, 1–9.

Awards & Honors

ARCS Foundation, Inc. – San Diego Scholar; University Graduate Fellowship; DePietro Scholarship Award.

Benefits to Science and Society

Winegrapes are one of the world’s most expensive and culturally important crops, currently facing climate change impacts like drought, heat waves, and increases in pest pressure. I hope that my research will benefit the grape growing communities by providing alternative varieties and sustainable solutions to some of these problems. Specifically, we are working on drought resistance grapevine varieties, which will hopefully be used in the industry one day. The current varieties we are testing in our experimental vineyard could help local growers in Temecula and Fallbrook choose alternatives that are more drought and heat tolerant.

Corey Allyn Clatterbuck

Corey Allyn Clatterbuck

Ph.D. Ecology (candidate)
Marine Ecology and Conservation
Joint SDSU / UC Davis

M.S. in Biology
San José State University

B.S. in Biology and Anthropology
Transylvania University

Mariel Cardeneas

About Corey

Seabirds are a highly-threatened taxon that are also ecological sentinels of ocean conditions, including chemical pollution. Corey’s research examines contaminants found in seabird tissues to better describe the chemical environments sea life are exposed to. She uses targeted approaches to assess contaminants that are highly regulated and well-established as harmful to human health, in addition to non-targeted approaches that detect new, currently unmonitored, and unregulated contaminants of interest. The primary objective is to determine concentrations and spatial extent of contaminants and potential impacted species before the levels of these contaminants become problematic in the environment.

Personal Interests

Hiking, cycling, trivia nights at brewpubs, winning my fantasy football league, and spending time with dogs.

My ARCS Award

Recognition of my work and my potential as a scientist is empowering. As an early career scientist, the ARCS Foundation Award has helped me see myself not only as a student, but as a peer to other scientists that have made significant contributions to science & society. As such, being an ARCS Scholar is invaluable to my identity and future as an ecologist, and has helped me gain self-confidence in completing my doctoral research.

Award Donor

Virginia Lynch Grady Endowment

Current Research

Monitoring physical and biological conditions in the open ocean is an inherently difficult task, particularly when monitoring toxic and harmful compounds. A large proportion of biomonitoring research focuses on a single species, a single site, and/or a small range (i.e. 1-3) of contaminant classes. While informative, the scope of such studies can limit their applicability, which is concerning as data suggests the abundance of organic and heavy metal contaminants in the ocean is increasing. Contaminants can have sub-lethal effects that affect population viability, and new, unknown contaminants enter the environment with little knowledge of their possible effects and limited ability to monitor these emerging contaminants.

My research explores how seabirds may be used as biomonitors for a rapidly-changing ocean environment. First, I show that seabird tissues can be used to indicate the magnitude and extent of a wide range of contaminants at the regional scale. I also examine relationships between seabird distribution and mercury concentrations to investigate a link between foraging habitat and observed reproductive failure in seabird colonies. Lastly, I will use tissues of wide-ranging seabird species, albatrosses (Phoebastria spp.), to characterize the type and abundance of legacy and new toxicants present in North Pacific waters.

Publications & Posters

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L. California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni) breeding survey, 2018; CDFW; San Diego, CA, 2019.

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L.; Orben, R.; Suryan, R.; Torres, L.; Ackerman, J.; Shaffer, S. Contaminants as ecological tracers: Does mercury load reflect foraging habits of a generalist seabird? 46th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group, Lihue, HI, USA, Feb 27-March 3, 2019.

Shaffer, S.A.; Cockerham, S.; Warzybok, P.; Bradley, R; Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lucia, M.; Jelincic, J.; Cassell, A.; Kelsey, E.C.; Adams, J. Population-level plasticity in foraging behavior of western gulls (Larus occidentalis). Move. Ecol. 2018, 27, 1-13.

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L.; Dodder, N.; Zeeman, C.; Schiff, K. Seabirds as regional biomonitors of legacy toxicants on an urbanized coastline. Sci. Total Environ. 2018, 619-620C, 460-469.

Awards & Honors

SDSU University Grant Program; CSU Program for Education & Research in Biotechnology Travel Grant; CSU-Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology Student Research Award.

Benefits to Science and Society

Many contaminants are incidentally introduced to coasts and oceans, where they persist and impact marine life for decades. However, we have little knowledge of how suites of chemicals impact marine life. This research is a first step to identifying these chemical suites, in addition to describing their spatial extent and magnitude. These investigations support innovation and advances in biomonitoring, to shift from reactionary to proactive monitoring and towards a stronger integration with animal ecotoxicology and ecology.

Liwen Deng

Liwen Deng

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Microbiology
Joint SDSU / UC San Diego

B.S. in Physiology and Neuroscience
UC San Diego

Liwen Deng

About Liwen

Liwen is interested in how the typically commensal bacterium Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is able to cause severe disease in vulnerable populations such as newborns. GBS normally colonizes the vaginal tract of healthy women asymptomatically but can be transmitted to the newborn with devastating consequences. Currently, GBS is a leading cause of neonatal pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis in the United States. Since beginning her work in Dr. Doran’s lab, Liwen has identified several bacterial factors that contribute to how asymptomatic colonization can transition and cause invasive disease in newborns.

My ARCS Award

I am very grateful for the support of the ARCS Foundation award. This funding has enabled me to attend many conferences to present my research. At these meetings, I have received valuable feedback about my data and I have also been able to network and meet other scientists in the field of bacterial pathogenesis.

Award Donor

Hervey Family Non–Endowment Fund

Current Research

Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus [GBS]) is an opportunistic pathogen that normally colonizes healthy adults asymptomatically and is a frequent inhabitant of the vaginal tract in women. However, GBS possesses a variety of virulence factors and can cause severe disease when transmitted to newborns. Despite widespread intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis administration to colonized mothers, GBS remains a leading cause of neonatal meningitis in the US.

For my PhD work, I am investigating how this bacterium is able to persist in the vaginal tract, transition from a commensal colonizer to an invasive pathogen, disrupt host barriers, and ultimately penetrate into the brain to cause infection and inflammation. I have characterized an inflammatory GBS surface adhesin which promoted bacterial attachment to brain endothelium and discovered the host endothelial receptor for this GBS factor. I have also characterized a GBS two-component system transcriptional regulator that influences meningitis as well as GBS vaginal carriage by impacting host immune signaling.

Lastly, I have developed an in vivo mammalian model for vaginal colonization by another common opportunistic pathogen, Staphylococcus aureus, so that we can begin to investigate interactions between GBS and other resident microbes within this host niche.

Publications & Posters

Deng, L.; Schilcher, K.; Burcham, L.R.; Kwiecinski, J.; Johnson, P.M.; Head, S.R.; Heinrichs, D.E.; Horswill, A.R.; Doran, K.S. Identification of key determinants of Staphylococcus aureus vaginal colonization. mBIO (2019).

Spencer, B.L.; Deng, L.; Patras, K.A.; Burcham, Z.M.; Sanches, G.F.; Nagao, P.E.; Doran, K.S. Cas9 contributes to Group B Streptococcal colonization and disease. Front Microbiol (2019).

Deng, L.; Spencer, B.L.; Holmes, J.A.; Mu, R.; Rego, S.; Weston, T.A.; Hu, Y.; Sanches, G.F.; Yoon, S.; Park, N.; Nagao, P.E.; Jenkinson, H.F.; Thornton, J.A.; Seo, K.S.; Nobbs, A.H.; Doran, K.S. The Group B Streptococcal surface antigen I/II protein, BspC, interacts with host vimentin to promote adherence to brain endothelium and inflammation during the pathogenesis of meningitis. PLoS Pathog (2019).

Deng, L.; Mu, R.; Weston, T.A.; Spencer, B.L.; Liles, R.; Doran, K.S. Characterization of a two-component system transcriptional regulator LtdR that impacts Group B Streptococcal colonization and disease. Infect Immun 2018, 86(7).

Awards & Honors

Rocky Mountain ASM 2nd place best oral presentation; SDSU Heart Institute/Rees Stealy Research Foundation graduate fellowship; ASM Student travel grant; SCASM 1st place outstanding graduate research.

Benefits to Science and Society

Despite widespread intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis treatment of mothers who are carriers for GBS, this pathogen remains the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in newborns. Additionally, there is growing concern of emerging patterns of antibiotic resistance in GBS and other microorganisms present during treatment. Liwen hopes that a better understanding of how GBS interacts with the host immune system to cause disease may lead to the development of more targeted therapeutics to combat GBS infections.

Joshua Terence Kelly

Joshua Terence Kelly

Ph.D. Geological Sciences (candidate)
Coastal Geomorphology, Remote Sensing
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

M.S. in Environmental Science
University of Massachusetts, Boston

M.S. in Oceanography
University of Rhode Island

B.S. in Geosciences
University of Rhode Island

Joshua Kelly

About Josh

Josh’s research involves understanding how climate influences shoreline change along the southeast coast of Queensland, Australia. He has used satellite imagery to construct a decades long shoreline change curve that was correlated to global climate cycles such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. He ultimately found that shoreline dynamics (erosion/growth) are controlled by variability in the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. He is currently using emerging satellite technologies to rapidly assess tropical cyclone impacts on Australia’s coast.

Personal Interests

Hiking, playing soccer, traveling, exploring local breweries, and cheering on my hometown Boston sports teams.

My ARCS Award

Being selected as an ARCS Scholar has proven to be a significant morale booster over the past year and has inspired me to produce scholarly work that all of the ARCS community can be proud of. The funding from ARCS has directly assisted me in my research endeavors, as I was able to purchase state-of-the-art software programs that are not available to University faculty or students. In addition, I used the funding to acquire much-needed equipment and field apparel for my field work in Australia. The funding has also provided a much-needed safety net of sorts for day to day life in San Diego, as most are well aware that living in one of the most expensive cities in the US on a graduate student stipend is not the easiest. I have also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other ARCS recipients, particularly the SDSU cohort, at the various University-hosted events on campus and ARCS events off. I really appreciate the professional development events that ARCS has hosted, such as the financial advising seminar at Rachel Collins’ home, as they provide extremely valuable information that most of us do not receive in our day-to-day lives.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

The ultimate goal of my dissertation is to find, if any, primary climate drivers of shoreline change in southeast Queensland, Australia. I have mapped over 9,000 km of historical shoreline positions using Landsat imagery and constructed a temporally and spatially robust shoreline change curve that is statistically correlated to the five major climate phenomena operating in the Australasian region. I observed a bimodal climate control of shoreline change dependent upon the phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), where by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) controls shoreline dynamics during negative IPO phases and the Subtropical Ridge becomes dominant during positive IPO. I theorize this is due to IPO’s control over the position of the South Pacific Convergence Zone and modulation of the impacts of ENSO on Australia’s eastern coast.

I am also using emerging satellite technologies such as CubeSat’s to rapidly assess tropical cyclone-induced shoreline changes along Queensland’s coast. Much of this work involves quantitatively assessing the total positional uncertainty of shoreline positions derived from CubeSat imagery as this a novel application of the new satellite data product.

Publication & Posters

Kelly, J. T.; Gontz, A. Rapid assessment of shoreline changes induced by tropical cyclone Oma using CubeSat imagery in Southeast Queensland, Australia. J. Coast. Res. 2019. (in press)

Kelly, J. T.; McSweeney, S.; Shulmeister, J.; Gontz, A. Bimodal climate control of shoreline change influenced by interdecadal Pacific oscillation variability along the Cooloola Sand Mass, Queensland, Australia. Mar. Geol. 2019. (in press)

Kelly, J. T.; Gontz, A. Using GPS-surveyed intertidal zones to determine the validity of shorelines automatically mapped by Landsat water indices. Int. J. Appl. Earth Obs. 2018, 65C, 92-104.

Kelly, J. T.; Carey, S.; Croff-Bell, K. L.; Roman, C.; Rosi, M.; Marani, M.; Pistolesi, M. Exploration of the 1891 Foerstner submarine vent site (Pantelleria, Italy): Insights into the formation of basaltic balloons. Bull. Volcanol. 2014, 76, 844-862.

Awards & Honors

USNC/INQUA Congress Fellowship; AAPG Raymond D. Woods Memorial Grant; GSA Graduate Student Research Grant (2); Robert D. Ballard Endowed Fellowship.

Benefits to Science and Society

One of the biggest concerns of climate change is understanding how it will impact shorelines on a global scale. Where 40% of the global population live within 100 kilometers of the coast, it’s becoming ever more important to understand the correlation between climate variability and shoreline dynamics. The results of Josh’s research further our understanding of the coupling between climate and shoreline change and will support the development of long-term coastal management strategies.

Clifford Dennis Pickett Jr.

Clifford Dennis Pickett Jr.

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Developmental Genetics
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. in Biology
Rhode Island College

Clifford Pickett

About Clifford

The development of an embryo from a single cell has always fascinated C.J. Particularly, he is interested in the study of the genetic program of embryogenesis. His research aims to understand the advent of a particular cell type in a marine chordate, a ciliated neuron that is homologous to our inner ear hair cells. He is discovering what genes are responsible for producing this cell type. Due to our evolutionary connections to this organism that he studies, the properties of how this cell type develops are transferable to fields such as human hearing-loss research.

Personal Interests

I enjoy reading, cycling, softball, gardening, cooking, and spending time with my wife.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation is truly a wonderful organization. Each and every ARCS person I have interacted with since receiving the award has been friendly, sincere, smart, motivated, and dedicated to the idea that rewarding hard working and promising students of the sciences is a worthwhile and fruitful idea. It’s a really special foundation, and I feel so honored to have been recognized by them.

Award Donor

Drs. Mara and Larry Ybarrondo
ARCS Foundation San Diego Chapter

Current Research

Our lab studies the evolution of ciliated epidermal sensory neuron (CESN) development during embryogenesis using the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona robusta. Pou4, a proneural transcription factor (TF) involved in C. robusta peripheral nervous system development is necessary and sufficient for CESN differentiation. My primary research focus aims to understand how CESNs differentiate, thus, what are the factors involved in activating Pou4? I am approaching this question in a number of ways. By having reviewed relevant literature, TF binding motif analyses, and an RNA-seq database I generated, I made informed predictions regarding genes, i.e. potential Pou4 activators and repressors, expressed in the correct pre-Pou4 location. This approach has revealed TFs that when ectopically expressed seem to increase the number of CESNs indicating activation of Pou4, and genes that decrease the number of CESNs indicating repression of Pou4. Once individual proteins are identified, I perform an overexpression screen and a CRISPR screen to establish their role as either Pou4 activators or repressors.

Publication & Posters

Pickett, C. J.; Zeller, R. Efficient genome editing using CRISPR-Cas-mediated homology directed repair in the ascidian Ciona robusta. genesis, 2018 56(11-12):e23260.

Ratcliffe, L.; Asiedu, E.; Pickett, C. J.; Warburton, M.; Izzi, S.; Meedel, T. H. The Ciona myogenic regulatory factor functions as a typical MRF but possesses a novel N-terminus that is essential for activity. Developmental Biology, 2018, 15;448(2):210-25.

Pickett, C. J.; Zeller, R. Pou4 Genes during Neurogenesis (in prep).

Awards & Honors

Elliott Family Fund Scholarship; W. Christina Carlson Award for Excellence in Biology; Mary M. Keefe Departmental Award for Excellence in Biology; Rhode Island College Alumni Scholarship.

Benefits to Science and Society

I am passionate about understanding how sensory neurons emerge from a neurogenic field of epidermis. I think that the work I am performing is an excellent route to gain critical insights into this phenomenon.

Adriana Sara Trujillo

Adriana Sara Trujillo

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Molecular Mechanisms of Heart Disease
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology
SDSU

B.S. in Cellular and Developmental Biology
Minor in Chemistry
CSU Fullerton

Adriana Trujillo

About Adriana

Adriana’s research uses the fruit fly model system to explore the disease mechanisms by which mutations can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease associated with heart enlargement. This disease can be caused by mutations in myosin, the protein responsible for producing muscle contraction. She is currently implementing multidisciplinary approaches (molecular, cellular, and whole tissue) to better understand how changes within the structure of the myosin molecule lead to biochemical defects and how these abnormalities relate to the structural and physiological decline of muscles.

My ARCS Award

This award has greatly reduced my financial burden, allowing me to focus on engaging in productive research in the field. This will enhance my ability to produce high-quality publications, permitting me to make strong progress towards degree completion and in meeting my professional goals. It has also allowed me to better focus on training and mentoring undergraduates, to improve my mentoring skills and to extend a positive influence on other students. Additionally, these funds covered technology-related expenses necessary for completion of my research. I also appreciate the opportunity to network with scholars and supporters at ARCS events.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

My project explores the disease mechanisms by which mutations can cause dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a type of heart disease associated with heart enlargement. DCM can be caused by mutations in genes coding for the molecular machinery responsible for heart contractions, resulting in heart pumping defects, physiological alterations, and ultimately, heart failure.

In Dr. Bernstein’s lab, I previously generated fruit fly models to determine the exact mechanistic basis of disease. I previously isolated mutant protein from our fly models, optimized a procedure to form a protein complex containing the contractile machinery, and assessed the protein complex structure using electron microscopy (collaboration with Drs. Hanein and Volkmann, Sanford Burnham Prebys). Recently, we obtained high resolution cryo-electron microscopy data to solve the structure of the mutant protein complex, to understand the structural basis of disease. Using biochemical and muscle performance assays, I determined the biochemical defects caused by two DCM mutations, and related these defects to muscle functional impairments.

Eventually, our fly models will serve as a platform for testing therapeutic strategies for ameliorating defects associated with heart disease.

Publication & Posters

Achal, M.*; Trujillo, A. S.*; Melkani, G. C.; Farman, G. P.; Ocorr, K.; Viswanathan, M. C.; Kaushik, G.; Newhard, C. S.; Glasheen, B. M.; Melkani, A.; Suggs, J. A.; Moore, J. R.; Swank, D. M.; Bodmer, R.; Cammarato, A.; Bernstein, S. I. A restrictive cardiomyopathy mutation in an invariant proline at the myosin head/rod junction enhances head flexibility and function, yielding muscle defects in drosophila. J Mol Biol 2016, 428 (11), 2446-2461.

Trujillo, A. S.; Ramos, R.; Bodmer, R.; Bernstein, S. I.; Ocorr, K.; Melkani, G. C. Drosophila as a potential model to ameliorate mutant Huntington-mediated cardiac amyloidosis. Rare diseases 2014, 2 (1).

Awards & Honors

SDSU University Graduate Fellowship; NIH NRSA F31 Diversity Pre-doctoral Fellowship; Rees-Stealy/SDSU Heart Institute Research Fellowship; Recipient of the NIH Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research.

Benefits to Science and Society

Though dilated cardiomyopathy represents the most common form of inherited heart disease, the molecular mechanisms of disease are not well understood. Our main goal is to better understand how the disease arises due to specific mutations, which will help us design targeted drug regimens intended to restore muscle defects in our fruit fly models. We can then use our fly models as a platform for testing promising drug candidates, to evaluate potential drug therapies for human patients.

Melissa Ann Ward

Melissa Ann Ward

Ph.D. Marine Ecology (candidate)
Ocean Biogeochemistry, Chemical Oceanography
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

B.S. in Biological Sciences
UC Irvine

Melissa Ward

About Melissa

Seagrass meadows improve water quality, stabilize sediments, and are home to many economically and ecologically valuable species; yet most of California’s seagrass meadows have been lost. By exploring the ability of seagrass to sequester carbon and alter water chemistry, we can quantitatively evaluate the carbon services gained through seagrass conservation and restoration. This work will help inform state and federal management efforts to restore these habitats while maximizing the carbon services they provide, which will become increasingly more important in the face of climate change.

My ARCS Award

The help the ARCS award provides not only relieves financial stress, but it encourages and inspires me to continue my research. As I move from my PhD to pursue a career as a scientist, I hope that I can continue to conduct high caliber research that explores innovative solutions in climate change management. Given that my priorities and goals fall in step with those of the ARCS Foundation, I am grateful to be a part of this unique community of scholars, where I can contribute to the growing body of research they produce. I would not be where I am today without this scholarship and community!

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

My research investigates the role that seagrasses play in coastal carbon cycling. Seagrasses have been noted for their disproportionally high ability to remove CO2 from seawater through primary production and burial in sediment. Simultaneously, seagrass coverage has been declining rapidly on both global and local scales. As such, state and federal agencies have been directed to consider seagrass conservation and restoration as strategies to enhance carbon stocks and locally ameliorate impacts from ocean acidification (OA), a service that provides economic and ecological value. However, to date, there is no data on the potential of California seagrasses to lessen the impacts of OA or store carbon in their underlying sediments. The State has been hindered by lack of data on how to select optimal locations for seagrass restoration and conservation to maximize these benefits.

Publication & Posters

Ward, M.; Hill, T. M.; Ricart, A.; Gaylord, B.; O’Donnell, B C.; Capece, L.; Shukla, P., Kroeker, K.; Sanford, E.; Oechel, W. Synthesizing multiple carbon fluxes in a temperate, Pacific seagrass meadow. Global Biogeochem. Cycles (in review).

Kroeker, K.; Kindinger, T.; Hirsh, H.; Ward, M.; Koweek, D.; Hill, T.; Jellison, B.; Lummis, S.; Rivest, E.; Waldbusser, G.; Gaylord, B. Seagrass community metabolism studies reveal opportunities and challenges for local mitigation of ocean acidification. Ecological Applications​ (in review).

Ward, M. San Francisco State University, Distinguished speaker series. Title: Carbon services of California coastal habitats. San Francisco, CA 2018.

Ward, M.A.; Hill, T.M.; Ricart, A.; Gaylord, B.; O’Donnell, B.C.; Shukla, P.; Kroeker, K.; Oechel, W.C. 2018. A synthesis of seagrass carbon services: Implications for restoration and climate change management. Poster presentation. 9th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration and Management.

Awards & Honors

Geological Society of America Graduate Student grant winner 2019; Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellowship Winner 2018; Rafe Sagarin Fund for Innovative Ecology, Best Talk- 2nd place, Western Society of Naturalists 2017; UC-wide Carbon Neutrality Competition: People’s Choice Award 2016.

Benefits to Science and Society

My research will fill these knowledge gaps in order to quantitatively evaluate the carbon services gained through seagrass conservation and restoration.

In Memoriam

Joi LaGrace Weeks

Joi LaGrace Weeks

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Developmental Genetics
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. in Biology
Rhode Island College

Joi Weeks

About Joi

To study amplified malate dehydrogenase 1 (MDH1) in lung cancer, Joi created two cell clones that reveal increased MDH1 levels and enzymatic activity in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Metabolic studies on MDH1 knock out (KO) cells reveal a 50% reduction in TCA cycling suggesting that decreased activity of MDH1 has the potential to slow down tumor progression. Her studies will increase our understanding about the effects of changing MDH1 levels on cell behavior and how changes in MDH1 activity can eradicate cancer cells.

Personal Interests

Joi also enjoys running, reading, making jewelry, gardening and spending time at the beach with her family.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation Award means security and productivity to me. What I mean is that the ARCS Award has allowed me to investigate the activity of MDH1 in squamous NSCLC within the confines of a small research group. This opportunity would not be possible without funding as our research group is young and quickly acquiring undergraduates, so help is greatly needed to support the graduate students. Plus, I acutely felt the impact of a challenging funding climate as my previous lab was forced to eliminate a project and personnel due to a grant ending, requiring me to find a new lab. Since all of my funds are from outside sources such as ARCS, I was able to seamlessly move on to a new research group without the worry of delayed or suspended pay. Now I’m in a new lab that values my biological expertise and seeks to help me grow as a scientist, regardless of the ebb and flow of lab grants. Also, by focusing on science, progress on my new project allowed me the opportunity to present my findings and connect with other scientists at the American Association for Cancer Researchers this April.

Award Donor

Legler Benbough Foundation

Current Research

To study amplified malate dehydrogenase 1 (MDH1) in lung cancer, Joi created fourteen single cell clones as a tool in squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells. Levels of MDH1 were found to be more than five times higher in two of the clones compared to the other 12 and to have increased MDH1 enzymatic activity over the control. Preliminary metabolic studies on MDH1 knock out (KO) cells reveal that KO cells have a ~50% reduction in tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycling revealing a decrease in lactate secretion and decreased lipid synthesis compared to wild type (WT) cells. A physical result of decreased TCA cycling is that the KO cells grow ~50% slower than WT cells.

Growth rescue experiments reveal that pyruvate and alpha-ketobutyric acid can partially rescue the growth of KO cells. Such experiments suggest that decreased activity of MDH1 has the potential to slow down tumor progression.

Publication & Posters

Weeks, J.; Wells, G.; Alexander, S.; Metallo, C.; Sohl, C.D. Investigating the reversible MDH1 catalytic reaction in squamous non-small cell lung cancer. Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research, Atlanta, GA March 28-April 3, 2019; Vol 60; Philadelphia, PA, 2019.

Huang, C.H.; Mendez, N.; Echeagaray, O.H.; Weeks, J.; Wang, J.; Vallez, C.; Gude, N.; Trogler, W.; Carson, D.; Hayashi, T.; Kummel, A.C. Conjugation of a small molecule TLR7 agonist to silica nanoshells enhances adjuvant activity. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2019, 11, 30, 26637-26647.

Wang, J.; Barback, C.V.; Ta, C. N.; Weeks, J.; Gude, N.; Mattrey, R.F.; Blair, S.L.; Trogler, W.C.; Lee, H.; Kummel, A.C. Extended lifetime in vivo pulse stimulated ultrasound imaging. IEEE Trans Med Imaging. 2018, 37, 1, 222-229.

Awards & Honors

The ARCS Foundation Award means security and productivity to me. What I mean is that the ARCS Award has allowed me to investigate the activity of MDH1 in squamous NSCLC within the confines of a small research group. This opportunity would not be possible without funding as our research group is young and quickly acquiring undergraduates, so help is greatly needed to support the graduate students. Plus, I acutely felt the impact of a challenging funding climate as my previous lab was forced to eliminate a project and personnel due to a grant ending, requiring me to find a new lab. Since all of my funds are from outside sources such as ARCS, I was able to seamlessly move on to a new research group without the worry of delayed or suspended pay. Now I’m in a new lab that values my biological expertise and seeks to help me grow as a scientist, regardless of the ebb and flow of lab grants. Also, by focusing on science, progress on my new project allowed me the opportunity to present my findings and connect with other scientists at the American Association for Cancer Researchers this April.

Benefits to Science and Society

Joi’s studies will increase our understanding about how microenvironmental pH can alter cellular MDH1 activity, the effects of amplifying and decreasing MDH1 levels on cell behavior, and how changes in MDH1 activity can lead to the eradication of squamous NSCLC cells. It is her hope that once she demonstrates that reduced MDH1 activity is specifically detrimental to squamous NSCLC cells, future work will be done to create MDH1 inhibitors that will have the potential to be used as anti-tumor therapies for squamous NSCLC patients.

 

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