Trainees

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Abby Calixto, 2021-present. Microbiology. Mentor: Silvia Moreno

Abby received her Bachelor’s degree from The College of New Jersey. She participated in research throughout the academic year as well as partaking in NSF funded research opportunities throughout the summers. She gained an interest in microbiology research while working in Dr. KT Elliott’s lab studying the bacterial model organism Acinetobacter baylyi. She then became deeply interested in the microbiology program at UGA. Here she discovered the CTEGD and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, of which she is doing her thesis work on. Her work is on the characterization of new Calcium signaling players that are important for the lytic cycle of Toxoplasma. Throughout her time at UGA she has been involved in raising awareness of effective mentoring and its benefits for graduate students as well as advocating for an increase in diversity in the graduate school population, specifically in the life sciences.

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Dr. Anna Gioseffi, 2021-present. Mentor: Roberto Docampo

Anna joined the CTEGD after obtaining their Ph.D. in microbiology and cell science from the University of Florida in April 2021. During their graduate training, Anna studied the composition and pathological function of extracellular vesicles released by macrophages infected with Leishmania donovani, leading to a better understanding of host-pathogen interactions in the context of leishmaniasis. Anna has been appointed as postdoctoral fellow at UGA under the T32 trainee grant in August 2021. Under the mentorship of Dr. Roberto Docampo, Anna is studying the extracellular release of polyphosphate from infective stages of Trypanosoma cruzi and its possible role in cardiac manifestations of chronic chagas disease. Outside the lab, Anna enjoys a number of artistic hobbies as well as spending time with their pets. Through the T32 fellowship Anna hopes to further their knowledge of host-parasite interactions as well as develop the independence and skills necessary to effectively drive and manage their own future research goals in the field of parasitology. Anna’s long term career goal is to continue pursuing parasitology in the academic sector, where they hope to inspire curiosity about the “monsters inside us” and foster a new generation of diverse and inclusive scientists.

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Dr. Ruby Harrison, 2021-present. Advisor: Drew Etheridge

Ruby received a bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012 followed by a PhD in entomology from UGA in 2021, working with CTEGD trainers Michael Strand and Mark Brown. Her doctoral research, which was partially supported by a predoctoral T32 fellowship from the CTEGD, focused on nutritional and endocrine regulation of mosquito reproduction as well as mosquito-microbe interactions. Ruby went on to apply for the T32 a second time and was accepted as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Drew Etheridge in September 2021. Under the mentorship of Dr. Etheridge and in conjunction with collaborator from UGA Entomology Kevin Vogel, Ruby’s postdoctoral research will focus on the molecular interactions between the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and its kissing bug vector host Rhodnius prolixus. Support from the CTEGD during both her doctoral and postdoctoral positions has been invaluable to Ruby’s training and career development and has greatly facilitated interdisciplinary research on understudied parasite-vector systems.

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Benjamin Phipps, 2021-present. Genetics. Mentor: Michael Strand

Benjamin earned bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and biology and a minor in chemistry from the University of North Texas in May 2019. While at UNT, he studied the influence of mixed vehicle emissions on regulation of the renin-angiotensin system with Dr. Amie Lund and programmed translational frameshifts in Streptomyces bacteriophages with Dr. Lee Hughes. Benjamin earned research support and two travel grants to report his findings for his undergraduate projects. In August 2019, he enrolled in the Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) program at UGA and completed several laboratory rotations in parasitology before joining the laboratory of Dr. Michael Strand. Benjamin’s dissertation project focuses on the effects of mosquito neurohormones and gut microbiota on egg production and malaria infection in the Indian malaria vector An. stephensi. He has served as treasurer of the Genetics Graduate Student Association and currently serves in that role for the CTEGD GSA.

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Justine Shiau:  2021-present. Infectious Diseases. Advisor: Dennis Kyle

Justine received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Pennsylvania State University, where she was introduced to parasite biology and infectious diseases/disease transmissions. She was accepted by the UGA Integrated Life Science graduate program in Fall 2018, and later, joined the laboratory of Dennis Kyle. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a research technician at UGA in the laboratory of Courtney Murdock, during which she studied ecology of vector-borne diseases and transmission dynamics. In the Kyle lab, Justine is currently working on the transmission stages of Plasmodium falciparum, a parasite that infects humans and causes significant mortality worldwide. Justine’s project focuses specifically on the vector to human life-stages transmission. Her project aims to understand better the biology of the malaria parasite during the vector to human transition and parasite’s development in the liver, an obligatory yet silent phase of the disease in humans.

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Melissa Sleda, 2020-present. Cellular Biology. Mentor: Silvia Moreno

Melissa received a Bachelor’s degree from Lawrence Technological University (LTU), where she excelled academically and graduated as the top female student and was awarded the Ed Donley Distinguished Graduate. She was accepted by the UGA ILS program Fall 2018 and joined the laboratory of Silvia Moreno. During her undergraduate time Melissa acted as the President of two student organizations (American Chemical Society and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). She was also the captain of the women’s bowling team while holding a variety of academic jobs while also excelling academically. Prior to joining UGA, she participated in two summer undergraduate programs at Michigan State University (2016) and the University of Iowa (2017). She is presently working on the characterization of the enzymes of the isoprenoid pathway of Toxoplasma gondii. She is also the president of the CTEGD graduate student association.

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Megna Tiwari, 2020-present. Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. Mentor: Chris West

Megna received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of California Riverside and she also obtained a Master’s Degree in Biology from California State University at Fullerton. She joined the UGA ILS program Fall 2019 and she is presently working in the laboratory of Dr. Christopher M. West. Megna participated in undergraduate research when she worked for the Fungal Evolutionary Genomics group at the University of California, Riverside. She next worked as a technician at LifeStream Blood Bank, where she became fascinated with parasites, specially Trypanosoma cruzi, one of the pathogens she would routinely screen and the causative agent of Chagas’s disease. Because of her interest in T. cruzi, she applied for a Master’s program in Biology at California State University, Fullerton under the supervision of Dr. Veronica Jimenez, one of our previous CTEGD trainees. During this period, Megna studied mechanosensitive ion channels of T. cruzi which reinforced her passion for molecular parasitology. Megna’s present project focuses on determining the role of O-fucosylation post translational modifications in T. gondii.

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Emma Troth, 2020-present. Infectious Diseases. Mentor: Dennis Kyle

Emma received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Bradley University. She worked as an intern for a biotechnology company, zhChem Inc. prior to applying to graduate school. During her undergraduate years, she did basic research in several areas and was awarded two grants to fund her work from the Bjorklund Endowment and Sherry Endowment Funds. Emma became interested in parasites, during her summer research program at the University of Notre Dame on malaria vectors in the Solomon Islands and Sulawesi, Indonesia. She joined the UGA Ph.D. program at UGA, Fall 2017. She presently works on structure-based drug design to develop novel drugs for the treatment of the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. She is very excited to be part of the CTEGD community and is one of the founders of the CTEGD graduate student association and she is continuously organizing events for the whole CTEGD trainee community.