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Tag: Silvia Moreno

Trainee Spotlight: Melissa Sleda

Melissa Sleda, a Ph.D. trainee is Silvia Moreno’s laboratory, is in her third year at UGA. She is originally from Sandusky, Michigan and attended Lawrence Technological University where she majored in Molecular and Cell Biology with a minor in Chemistry. At UGA, she has held positions as the Secretary for the Cell Bio Grad Student Association (2019-2020), and as Treasurer (2019-2020) and current President (2020-2021) of the CTEGD grad student association.

Melissa Sleda has been awarded a T32 Trainee Fellowship for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Why did you choose UGA?

I chose UGA because of the Integrated Life Sciences Umbrella program. As an incoming graduate student, I was not set on studying a particular organism, and I was excited for the opportunity to rotate in labs across different departments.

What is your research project?

My project seeks to characterize enzymes of the isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway in Toxoplasma gondii and to investigate these enzymes as potential chemotherapeutic targets. The current chemotherapy for Toxoplasmosis is ineffective because it does not eliminate the chronic stage of infection. My project seeks to test drugs that target enzymes of the isoprenoid pathway in both the acute and chronic forms of infection in order to find a more effective chemotherapy.

What are your future professional plans?

My future career goal is to stay in academia and become a professor at a smaller institution with a higher emphasis on teaching and leading smaller research projects. I want to help students at smaller universities gain research experience through classroom labs and one-on-one research projects.

What do you hope to do for your Capstone Experience?

For my capstone experience, I hope to be able to do research in another country to gain a wider perspective of how research is done in other countries. I hope that I am able to do research in a lab that I can learn new techniques that will translate into my research project.

What is your favorite thing about Athens?

My favorite thing about Athens is the warm weather and the great sense of community.

What advice do you have for students interested in this field?

Do things out of your comfort zone because it will help you develop as a scientist.

Trainee Spotlight: Stephen Vella

Stephen Vella is a Ph.D. trainee in Silvia Moreno‘s laboratory. He is originally from Indiana where he received his B.S. in microbiology at Indiana University. In his first year at UGA, he was awarded an Excellence in Graduate Recruitment Award and a Provost’s Scholars of Excellence Award Fellowship. He has also been awarded an Outstanding Poster Presentation at the Molecular Parasitology Meeting in 2016. And in 2017, he was awarded a T32 fellowship from CTEGD.

Why did you choose UGA?

Originally UGA was recommended to me by my old boss. My old PI had said that UGA has a long-standing reputation for being a good school to study for a Ph.D. I interviewed here in February of 2014 and was greeted very warmly and hospitably.  Additionally, I wanted to experience how life was like living in a different part of the United States, so I chose UGA.

What is your project/research focus and why did you choose this research focus?

Ca2+ is a universal signaling molecule across all of life, yet little is known about how this important molecule regulates lytic cycle progression of the intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This question is the primary focus of our lab. In particular, my project focuses on how Ca2+ signaling regulates motility of the parasite. Motility is essential for egress from a host cell, the need to traverse biological barriers to find new host cells and invasion into a novel host. I am studying two aspects of this process: the role of host cell Ca2+ involved in parasite egress and how Ca2+ oscillations are decoded into different types of parasite motility.

What are your career goals?

I am still in the process of trying to determine the best career path for me! I strongly believe that I will do a postdoc, but I am leaning towards doing more industry or non-profit related research. Who knows, what the future will bring for me.

What do you hope to do for your capstone experience? 

I would like to do some more clinical related research in the field. I think it is easy to get tunnel vision into life within a lab. We forget that these are parasites that we are studying and affect millions of people’s lives. We can see a picture or two in a seminar, but that is not the same as seeing the consequences of the disease firsthand. I think that experience would aid me in whatever future endeavors in my life.

What is your favorite thing about UGA and/or Athens?

I have lived in a college town for quite some time now, and Athens has a sense of familiarity to it. It has the very youthful and diverse vibe that you can only experience in a college town. For the center, I really feel like we are a family. You hear stories of other research centers that are caught up in competition between each other and don’t want to work together. I don’t feel that here. We are all working together to better ourselves collectively.

And advice for a student interested in this field?

Don’t be afraid to try something new and make friends with your neighbors! When you have a problem or might need a resource from another lab it is best to be on good terms with them. Also, whatever background you come will only aid you as you develop in the field. Too often people downplay their previous background experience as a hindrance to being successful in parasitology. Whatever background you come from will only benefit you, as a diverse influx of ideas is fundamental for science.

Trainee Spotlight: Karla Márquez Nogueras

NIH T32 Trainee Karla M. Márquez Nogueras is in her 4th year of graduate training in Silvia Moreno‘s laboratory. Before entering the Ph.D. program at UGA, she taught for a semester at Turabo University in Puerto Rico, teaching undergraduate courses like Introduction to Microbiology and Human Anatomy. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Microbiology and a Master’s in Science where she focused on generating renewable energy systems using methane generated by anaerobic microbial communities.

Karla’s research focus

Karla’s project focuses on calcium signaling in Toxoplasma gondii. Calcium is a universal signal molecule and very little is known about calcium signaling in T. gondii, even considering that all steps of the parasite’s lytic cycle are regulated by calcium. Calcium is highly regulated by Toxoplasma, specially upon exit from host cells and the surrounding calcium changes from very low levels inside the host cell to the high concentration found in the extracellular environment. In order to shed light into the mechanisms involved and to discover the molecules involved they are studying two key aspects: the calcium channels that could be responsible for calcium entry into the cytosol and the calcium binding proteins that could regulate them.

“When I first entered grad school my research goals were different,” said Karla. “During my rotation in Dr. Moreno’s lab, I became fascinated by the biology of Toxoplasma and by how little is known about calcium signaling in T. gondii. As a scientist, I became very curious and interested in finding more about these signaling pathways and I decided to change my research focus.”

Trainee capstone experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience at the end of their fellowship. This experience allows for an extended visit to a collaborator’s laboratory or travel to a scientific meeting where they present their research and interact with colleagues.

“I was invited to the University of Puerto Rico to present my research project and discuss graduate and fellowship opportunities available at UGA. I would be presenting at an undergraduate event organized by the University.”

In addition, she would like to visit the laboratory of Dr. Ivana Kuo at Northwestern University to study the function of two TRP channels that Karla is characterizing. Dr. Kuo uses lipid layers and regular patch-clamp to characterize intracellular and plasma membrane channels. Using this system Karla hopes to understand the physiology of these channels that are important for calcium signaling in T. gondii.

T32 Fellowship helps trainees achieve their goals

“The fellowship will provide me with the necessary experience and opportunities for me to develop the skills to become a better scientist.”

Karla would like to go back to Puerto Rico and establish her own research lab. She would like to have the opportunity to train and give students the same opportunities that were given to her during her Ph.D. training.

“All the skills gained throughout this two years will prepare me for my ultimate goal which is to have my own research lab.”