Link: University of Iowa

Karina Kruth, Jessica Maier, and Lacy Barton successfully defended their theses during the 2013-2014 academic year

October 1st, 2014 by Briana Horwath

Karina Kruth, a Biochemistry PhD Student mentored by Dr. Peter Rubenstein, successfully defended her thesis on October 31, 2013, entitled “Effects of three deafness-causing gamma-actin mutations on actin structure and function”. Karina is a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Miles Pufall at the University of Iowa, Department of Biochemistry.


Jessica Maiers, a Molecular and Cellular Biology PhD student mentored by Dr. Kris DeMali, successfully defended her thesis on November 26, 2013, entitled “The role of alpha-catenin and ZO-1 in coupling tight junctions to adherens junctions”. Jessica holds a post-doctoral position with Dr. Vijay Shah at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,  Minnesota.


Lacy Barton, a Biochemistry PhD student mentored by Dr. Pamela Geyer, successfully defended her thesis on July 11, 2014, entitled “Defining the role of a nuclear lamina LEM domain protein in germline stem cells”. Lacy is a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Ruth Lehmann at New York University in New York.

Congrats Karina, Jessica, and Lacy!

Dr. Brenner’s Tribute to Dr. Andy Robertson

August 28th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Robertson Desk 1The death of our colleague Andy Robertson two weeks ago was unexpected. His death is a reminder of just how important our friendships are. I met Andy in 1989, twenty-five years ago, when I was in graduate school and he was a postdoc at Stanford. He had just come from the University of Wisconsin where he did his PhD with John Markley. The reason Andy meant so much to me is that I spent five to seven days a week with him for a couple of years, seeing and talking with him nearly every day. That was a formative time in my life. Two years later, when he moved to our department as an assistant professor, he spent five to seven days a week seeing five of our colleagues who were then new assistant professors. He was very close with Dan Weeks, Madeline Shea, David Price, Pamela Geyer, Marc Wold—the heart and soul of our department—not to mention many others.

It turns out that, whether we are graduate students, technicians, post-docs, faculty members, or retirees, we’re all in formative periods of our lives and we always need friends.

In science, Andy really cared. He loved the turkey ovomucoid third domain. He loved every ionizable group in the turkey ovomucoid third domain from its amino terminus to its carboxy terminal group and every ionizable group in between. He really cared about that molecule. At Stanford, Andy spent two years working on ribonuclease, which was one of Buzz Baldwin’s favorite molecules, but he returned to turkey ovomucoid third domain when he was on the faculty at Iowa.

Beyond caring about every ionizable group, Andy truly cared about people. He was a very warm and graceful person. What is grace? Grace is the ability to adapt, to turn, to change, and to adjust to one’s surroundings. One of the ways to think about grace in terms of dealing with problems: picture Jacqueline Kennedy when her husband, our president, was shot in 1964. The type of grace she exhibited to hold her family together inspired people that life would go on and that we’ve got to make the best of a very difficult situation. If you look at graceful athletes—and, as a person who surfed and skied, Andy was a graceful athlete—they are constantly changing. At the top of a mountain, skiers imagine a line that they are going to take but, to get to the bottom, they shift their weight and turn on the basis of the wind, other skiers, and conditions encountered going down the mountain. You will not only encounter moguls and changing snow conditions, but actual ice patches. And, friends, there will be ice patches.

We’re mourning the loss of Andy Robertson, because we know that in life he would be available to us at any time. Andy was the kind of person who kept both eyes on you when he talked to you. When I had the opportunity to consider taking a position here, Andy was the first person I consulted about what I would find at the University of Iowa. Even though it was a telephone conversation, I knew that Andy was one hundred percent present with me in that conversation. We are mourning Andy because, not only do we no longer have him to listen to us, but he doesn’t have us to listen to him.

In closing, I emphasize that we need to know our friends, treasure our friends, and rely on our friends. Work hard, but please always talk with each other. We don’t know how long any of us will be here, we don’t know how long our friendships or our lives will last, and we don’t know what another person might be going through at any given time unless we are present, like Andy was.

Andy Robertson was a tremendously valued member of this department and of this world. No one can take his place. And guess what? No one can take anybody else’s place, either. Everyone has a role and everyone has an important contribution to make, not just in science and in the department, but in the world. Your role is a unique one that no one else can fill.

Let’s remember Andy’s life with as much grace as we can muster. Let’s try to shift speeds, shift our weight from one ski to the other without ever giving up our principles or our goals. Please talk with each other, check in with each other because life can be too short.

Thank you, Andy, for being a part of our lives.

Dr. Charles Brenner

Highlights of the Fifth Annual Biochemistry Retreat

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

The 2014 Annual Biochemistry Retreat, organized by Lori Wallrath, Maria Spies, Elizabeth Boehm, Emily Malcolm, Jiannan Guo, Quinn Li, and Briana Horwath, was held on Saturday, August 23 at the Northridge Indoor Pavilion, Coralville. The Retreat was dedicated to Andy Robertson (former faculty member, 1991-2005), who unexpectedly died on August 14th, 2014. Dr. Brenner delivered a moving tribute to Dr. Robertson, describing his passion for research and teaching.

Oral presentations were given by Todd Washington, Ran Chen (Wold Lab), Larry Gray (Taylor Lab), Thomas Magin, Sheila Baker, Zhen Xu (Fuentes Lab), Casey Andrews (Elcock Lab), M. Ashley Spies, Pamela Geyer, Jiannan Guo (Price Lab), and Miles Pufall.

The poster session featured 28 posters. In the graduate student category, first place award went to Emily Malcolm (Davies Lab), who won the Lois Bigger Gehring Award, which supports travel to research conferences. Second place in this category went to Tyler Weaver (Musselman Lab) and third place to Jacob Litman (Schnieders Lab). Kaylee Lovander (Research Intern, Geyer Lab) won in the Postdoctoral Fellow/Research Intern category and Dylan Thiemann (Wallrath Lab) won in the undergraduate category.


Fifth Annual Biochemistry Retreat poster winners: (Back row, from left): Tyler Weaver, Dylan Thiemann, and Jacob Litman; (Front row, from left) Emily Malcolm and Kaylee Lovander.

Elizabeth Boehm Advanced to Nationals in Lasker Essay Contest

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Elizabeth Boehm, a graduate student in Todd Washington’s Lab, was one of three students who won the internal competition for the Lasker Essay Contest ( Her essay was titled “Creation of an Independent Trust for Sustainable Funding of Medical Research.” She advanced forward to nationals, but was not ranked.

The contest, open to medical school students and fellows; doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in biomedical research; graduate students in public health programs; and graduate students in other health professions programs at U.S-accredited institutions, accepted essays supporting medical research.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Baker Lab Publishes Article in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

August 25th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Yuan Pan, a senior Biochemistry graduate student, published a first author paper in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. This is her second first author paper and her third paper as a graduate student. On this latest work, she was aided by research assistant Joe Laird and BSURF student David Yamaguchi. This is the first scientific paper for David, while Joe has previously published in PNAS.

The paper, “A di-arginine ER retention signal regulates trafficking of HCN1 channels from the early secretory pathway to the plasma membrane,” reports a novel mode of regulating HCN1 channels in the retina. Because these channels are also present throughout the brain and heart, this research might have applications for understanding learning and memory, management of epilepsy and chronic pain, and regulation of heart rate.

An Epub ahead of print version was made available electronically on August 21st.

Congratulations Yuan, Joe, and David!


Biochemistry Alumna turned Science Writer Nicholette Zeliadt in Latest Issue of The Scientist

August 18th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Nicholette Zeliadt, an undergraduate in the Department of Biochemistry from 1997 to 2001, has parlayed her science education into a science writing career.

Her most recent article, “Tailoring Your Proteome,” is in this month’s issue of The Scientist. Earlier articles have appeared in Scientific American, Science, Nature, and The Scientist.

As a biochemistry student, Nicholette took a Technical Communications course, for which she gave a presentation on pathogenic prions–arguably her first real piece of science writing for an audience.

Her professional science writing career was launched when, after earning her PhD at the University of Minnesota, she interned at Scientific American for a summer during her mass media fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

To read more articles by Nicholette, visit Nature or Scientific American online.


Dr. Fuentes Promoted to Associate Professor

August 18th, 2014 by Christa Fraser

Congratulations to Dr. Fuentes for his recent promotion to Associate Professor!

Dr. Fuentes began working as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry in January of 2006 after completing a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and postdoctoral fellowships focused on structural and cancer biology at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Shea presents FUTURE in Biomedicine Program to Board of Regents

June 23rd, 2014 by Christa Fraser

FUTURE_SheaLab_10_croppedAt the June meeting of the Board of Regents, Professor of Biochemistry Madeline Shea presented an overview of the FUTURE in Biomedicine Program, a novel STEM initiative now beginning its sixth year in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. FUTURE stands for Fostering Undergraduate Talent – Uniting Research and Education. A major goal of FUTURE is to develop a statewide network of scientist-educators conducting collaborative research and sharing best practices for teaching undergraduates about the breadth of new discoveries in biomedicine.

During the summer portion of the FUTURE in Biomedicine program, professors from primarily undergraduate institutions bring a student or two, and work in a host laboratory in Iowa City to make use of state-of-the-art instruments, research facilities, and faculty expertise. They also participate in weekly events to learn about the resources and training programs offered by the Carver College of Medicine and the Graduate College.

The FUTURE in Biomedicine Fellows serve on two public panels during the summer to share information about their home colleges with UI admissions directors, and to provide career advice to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows considering a career in academia. Professor Shea, the founding director of the program, shared with the regents news about how the summer collaborations have evolved into long-term research and learning partnerships that strengthen undergraduate science education across the entire state.

Since it began in 2009, the FUTURE program has hosted 25 professors from 17 schools. There have been at least seven co-authored research papers and 35 presentations at scientific conferences, as well as three successful grant applications with three more currently in preparation. The FUTURE Faculty enrich teaching and research on their own campuses with insights gained from their experiences in Iowa City, and facilitate connections that help their students pursue opportunities in graduate and medical education or work as research assistants at the University of Iowa.

This year, the FUTURE program has participants from Coe College in Cedar Rapids; Loras College in Dubuque; Drake University in Des Moines; Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo; Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids; and Wartburg College in Waverly.

To learn more about this year’s participants and the program, visit A map of participating institutions across the state is here

Jessica Ponce Awarded American Heart Pre-doctoral Fellowhip

June 9th, 2014 by Briana Horwath

Congratulations to Jessica Ponce in the Wallrath Lab for being awarded an American Heart Pre-doctoral Fellowship to examine the role of the nuclear envelope protein lamin in redox homeostasis in muscle tissue. Ms. Ponce is a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics.

Drs. Wallrath, Geyer, and Musselman among speakers at the Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetic Meeting

May 21st, 2014 by Christa Fraser

The 2014 Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetic Meeting was held on May 18, 19, and 20 at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Speakers from the University of Iowa included Frederick Domann, Catherine Musselman, Pamela Geyer and Lori Wallrath; poster presenters included Lacy Barton, Heather Brockway, Diane Cryderman, Lynne Dieckman, Daniel Ferrell, and Tyler Weaver.

Over 200 attendees, representing eighteen states and four countries, presented their current research findings on transcriptional regulation, chromatin structure, and epigenetics as it relates to nutrition, the environment and human disease.

The prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry‘s Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award was given to Andrew DeVilbiss, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Wallrath co-organized the event with John Denu of the University of Wisconsin and Raul Urrutia of the Mayo Clinic.