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Graduate School

Sarachek Fellowship Award Recipient

Kirsten Grond

kirsten grondKirsten Grond is a doctoral candidate in biology. Her dissertation research title is, "Linking gut microbiota composition to development and life-history traits in migratory shorebirds". Gut bacteria play an important role in health due to interaction with the immune system and nutrient uptake. Next generation DNA sequencing allows for the identification of all members of a microbial community, without depending on bacterial culturing. Reconstruction of microbial communities in animal guts enables novel investigations into variation within and among species, and allows us to study how external factors such as diet and environment affect gut bacterial dynamics. Grond characterized gut bacterial communities of migratory shorebirds throughout their life from embryos to migratory adults. Migratory birds vary in life-history characteristics, which can impact the gut microbial community and bird health. Grond showed that shorebirds are sterile in the egg, and acquire their gut microbes from their local environment immediately after hatching. Gut communities of adult shorebirds were predominantly influenced by local habitat, which necessitates furthering our understanding of the interactions between shorebirds and their microbial environment.

Grond received her bachelor’s and master's degree from the University of Groningen, in Groningen, the Netherlands. Dr. Brett Sandercock, professor in biology, is her major professor. 

Grond will work in Dr. Sarah Hird's lab at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut, for a post-doc position starting in June 2017. In her lab, Grond will focus on unraveling the next step in bird microbiome research: Investigating the interactions between birds and their gut microbiomes through studying microbial function under varying environmental conditions. Grond will use metagenomic and transcriptomic techniques to determine presence and expression of bacterial genes in a range of wild bird species over temporal and geographical gradients. The Sarachek funding will be used to relocate to Connecticut, and to cover genomic and transcriptomic sequencing of Grond's first project. 


Sarachek Travel Award Recipients

Ananda Bandara

Ananda Bandara

Ananda Bandara is a doctoral candidate in plant pathology. He received his bachelors and master's degrees in agriculture and molecular and applied microbiology from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.  The primary focus of Bandara's research is to understand the molecular interplay and communication between the fungus Macrophomina phaseolina, and its sorghum host. In Kansas, losses to the disease, charcoal rot, caused by this pathogen exceeds $15 million per year. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a charcoal rot epidemic can be a serious issue for subsistence farmers, a situation expected to worsen if drought and heat stress increase as reflected in current climate change models. Breeding for resistance is the best means to control this disease, but to date breeders have focused on the surface phenotype rather than the underlying molecular interactions. Genes in sorghum that are responsible for resistance and susceptibility have been identified and are being turned into molecular markers that can be screened without waiting for the end of the season when mature plants are available. These markers will be useful to sorghum breeders worldwide as they work to reduce the losses dues to this most recalcitrant of sorghum diseases.

Bandara will use the funds to travel to San Antonio, Texas to attend and present at the American Phytopathological Society Annual Meeting in August 2017. By attending this meeting Bandara will be able to showcase his recent research findings on sorghum-Macrophominaphaseolina interaction while using it as an opportunity to interact with many scientists in the field. Upon completion of his graduate program, Bandara plans to return to Sri Lanka to become faculty at the University of Peradeniya.


Nicole Green

Nicole GreenNicole Green is a doctoral candidate in biochemistry. She received her bachelors in biological sciences from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, in Edwardsville, Illinois.  

The primary focus of Green's research focuses on how contractile muscles, e.g., the muscles that make up the heart and body muscles, can resist mechanical stress as we grow and age. Using the Drosophila genetic model, Green identified important structural factors that form the extracellular matrix (or structural ‘glue’) to build muscle attachments and repair wounds during an injury. Mutations in these genes cause damage to muscle tissue, impair muscle function, and lead to increased immune responses.  Green is trying to understand how signals released from damaged muscles communicate with distant immune tissues to activate immune signaling. Green can use genetic tools to manipulate various aspects of the immune response and determine targets for reducing chronic immune responses that exacerbate initial muscle injury. The molecular pathways Green is studying are shared by insects and humans, suggesting that the findings could have important implications for understanding human muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy. 

Green will use the travel award to attend the 2017 American Society for Cell Biology-European Molecular Biology Organization Joint Meeting in Philadelphia, PA in December 2017. This meeting brings together an international forum of researchers who ask questions about how cells function during normal lifespans or disease states using molecular mechanisms. The timing of this conference coincides with her plans to graduate in December 2017, giving her an opportunity to present her dissertation research in its entirety to a diverse range of scientists.  While attending the conference, she will participate in professional development workshops on advancing communication skills and promoting community engagement with science to continue to enhance her doctoral experience and prepare for her future career in science. 


Learn more about Al and Rosalee Sarachek.