2011 Early Independence Award Recipients
Nicole E. Basta, Ph.D.
Antibody persistence after conjugate meningococcal group A vaccination in Mali
Nicole Basta is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and a Research Associate in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Previously, she earned an MPhil in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom where she studied as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar, graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with an undergraduate degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and conducted infectious disease outbreak investigations as a Florida Epidemic Intelligence Service Fellow at the Florida Department of Health. Basta has designed and implemented international field studies of the epidemiology of asymptomatic carriers of meningococci incollaboration with the African Meningococcal Carriage Consortium and the Centre pour le Développement des Vaccins-Mali. She also has conducted statistical analyses to evaluate the efficacy and impact of influenza vaccines with the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases. She aims to understand the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases, to assess the direct and indirect effects of vaccination, and to determine optimal strategies for disease prevention and control.
John Calarco obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Toronto in the Department of Molecular Genetics. During his Ph.D. work, he studied the question of how alternative pre-mRNA splicing, a key gene regulatory step in metazoans, contributes to development and function of the nervous system. He has applied numerous genome-wide and directed approaches to investigate this question, resulting in several interesting observations regarding the evolution and impact of alternative splicing regulation in the nervous system. With the help of funding from this NIH award, Calarco will have the opportunity to continue pursuing this research as a Bauer Fellow in the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University.
James S. Fraser, Ph.D.
The impact of mutation on the conformations and recognition of ubiquitin
James Fraser studied cell and developmental biology as an undergraduate at McGill University and performed summer research in evolutionary genomics at the University of Toronto. As a graduate student at UC Berkeley with Tom Alber, he developed new experimental and computational methods to investigate protein conformational dynamics by X-ray crystallography. During his Ph.D., he studied directed evolution as an EMBO short-term fellow in Dan Tawfik’s lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science. In January 2011, Fraser started as a qb3@UCSF Fellow, where his lab focuses on the role of protein motions in catalysis, ligand binding, and allostery.
Randal Halfmann, Ph.D.
Contributions of protein aggregation to gene regulation and phenotypic diversity
Randal Halfmann is a Sara and Frank McKnight Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Halfmann studied genetics at Texas A&M University. He then received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the mentorship of Dr. Susan Lindquist. While there, he explored the ability of certain proteins to form protein-based elements of inheritance, or prions. At UT Southwestern, he is expanding this work to elucidate the contributions of prion-like protein aggregation to gene regulation and phenotypic diversity.
Jeffrey M. Kidd, Ph.D.
Characterizing the global architecture of genomic diversity
Jeffrey Kidd received his PhD in 2010 from the Department of Genome Science at the University of Washington, Seattle WA. Under the mentorship of Dr. Evan E. Eichler, he characterized genomic structural variation among humans, giving insight into the mutational mechanisms that alter the content and organization of the human genome. Kidd is currently a postdoctoral scholar working with Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante in the Department of Genetics at Stanford University, where he applies approaches from genomics and population genetics to understand how the past history of human populations impacts the variation observed around the world today. In January 2012, Kidd will establish his own research group on genomic variation as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Michigan.
Christoph Lepper, Ph.D.
Molecular mechanisms of muscle stem cells transitioning into quiescence
Christoph Lepper received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biotechnology from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. As an undergraduate he studied cartilage development in the Drs. Lian/Stein laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Medical School using an in vitro system to elucidate molecular mechanism driving chondrogenesis. He then pursued his Ph. D. at the Johns Hopkins University in the laboratory of Dr. Chen-Ming Fan where his work was focused on the biology of skeletal muscle. While there, he discovered that adult quiescent muscle stem cells undergo a previously unknown developmental transition from their embryonic and neonatal active muscle progenitors, and consequently differ in their genetic requirements. He has since joined the Carnegie Institution of Washington - Department of Embryology as a Staff Associate, where he will continue elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying this fundamental maturation of muscle stem cells.
Carissa Perez Olsen, Ph.D.
Defining the impact of lipid synthesis and turnover on aging in C. elegans
Carissa Perez Olsen received a B.A. in Biology from Cornell University in 2005. As an undergraduate student, she conducted research projects in the Linster and Wolfner laboratories in the departments of Neurobiology and Behavior and Molecular Biology and Genetics, respectively. Following her undergraduate studies, she attended graduate school at the University of Washington in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. In 2011, Olsen completed her Ph.D. for my work in Marc Van Gilst’s laboratory on the genetic regulation of de novo fatty acid synthesis. Olsen will use her NIH Director’s Early Independence Award to establish her own laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Rodney C. Samaco, Ph.D.
The genetic and neuroanatomical origin of social behavior
Rodney Samaco received his B.S. in Genetics from the University of California, Davis, and his Ph.D. in Molecular and Human Genetics from Baylor College of Medicine. His research focus has been to understand the role of the transcriptional modulator, MeCP2, in the regulation of molecular pathways underlying the neuropsychiatric features of Rett syndrome and related disorders. With the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, he will focus on studying the key neuroanatomical and molecular determinants of social behavior using mouse models of autism spectrum disorders.
Harris Wang is a Fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Harris holds B.S. degrees from MIT in Physics and Mathematics and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Biophysics. He also received a joint degree from Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. In 2009, Harris won the Grand Prize in the National Inventor Hall of Fame's Collegiate Inventors Competition. Wang has been developing foundational technologies in genome engineering to rapidly program cells with improved function and new traits.
Daniela Witten, Ph.D.
High-dimensional unsupervised learning with applications to genomics
Daniela Witten is an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Washington School of Public Health, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Washington, and an affiliate investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Her research involves the development of statistical tools for the analysis of large-scale biological data sets, such as gene expression, DNA copy number, and DNA sequencing data. At Stanford University she received a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Biology with Honors and Distinction in 2005, and a doctorate in Statistics in 2010 under the supervision of Dr. Robert Tibshirani. Her awards include a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (2006-2009), the Gertrude Cox Scholarship from the American Statistical Association (2008), the Genentech Endowed Professorship in Biostatistics at the University of Washington (2010-2011), and the David Byar Young Investigator Award from the American Statistical Association (2011). Witten currently serves on an Institute of Medicine committee reviewing the use of omics-based tests in clinical trials, and as an associate editor for the Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics.