UNL INBRE Mentors-Biological Sciences

Peter C. Angeletti, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-mail: pangeletti2@unl.edu

Research Interests:  My research is focused on three main topics relating to sexually transmitted Human papillomaviruses (HPVs). The first topic involves the analysis of cis and trans-acting signals required for stable replication of HPVs.  A second topic of interest is the analysis of the packaging requirements for HPVs.  A final area of interest for the lab is in discovery of the rates of genital HPV infection and genotypes present in HIV positive populations in Zambia, Africa.  In these studies we hope to determine if HIV plays a role in susceptibility to HPV infection and whether it influences progression of HPV lesions to cancer. 

For more information on Dr. Angeletti: Web Site 

Audrey L. Atkin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
E-mail: aatkin1@unl.edu 

Research Interests:  We are studying how the cell controls the levels of messenger RNAs as a means of controlling the biosynthesis of the proteins encoded by these mRNAs.  Using yeast as a model system, we are looking at the nonsense-mediated mRNA decay pathway, which is found in most organisms, including bacteria and humans.  Understanding this system will enable us to better understand the regulation of mRNA levels in cells.

For more information on Dr. Atkin: Web Site 

Paul Blum, Ph.D.
E-mail: pblum1@unl.edu

Research Interests:  We study microbial extremophiles (Archaea) that live at temperature extremes in order to understand the limits and origins of life. Sulfolobus solfataricus is our model system and is an organism used in labs around the world. Research topics include 1) Gene expression and silencing involving the archaeal chromatin code and toxin/antitoxins; 2) Lesion bypass DNA polymerase; 3) Biomining and metal resistance; and 4) Bioenergy enzyme engineering. Our experimental approaches employ genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry that integrate DNA expression arrays and proteomics.

For more information on Dr. Blum: Web Site

Deborah Brown, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-mail: dbrown7@unl.edu

Research Interests:  Our research project is focused on the host immune response to viral infections.  Primarily, we use mouse models of influenza infection to understand how CD4 T cells are activated during infection and the mechanisms employed by these cells to help clear infectious virus.  We also use a T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic (Tg) mouse model in which all of the CD4 T cells recognize a piece of the influenza virus and various "knock-out" mouse strains lacking important immune response genes to determine which type of CD4 T cells provide protection to lethal influenza infections which will further our understanding of CD4 T cell biology and provide a framework for developing oval vaccine formulations to combat highly pathogenic and emerging influenza virus strains.

For more information on Dr. Brown: Web Site

Heriberto Cerutti, Ph.D.
E-mail: hcerutti1@unl.edu

Research Interests:  The Cerutti Lab studies the biological roles and the mechanisms of RNA interference (RNAi), an evolutionarily conserved process in plants, fungi, and animals. While the complete details of how RNAi works are still unknown, it appears that the machinery, once it finds a double-stranded RNA molecule, cuts it up into small RNAs, separates the two strands, and then proceeds to destroy other single-stranded RNA molecules that are complementary to one of those segments. Since many viruses produce double-stranded RNA as part of their life cycle, it is becoming apparent that RNAi has important roles in viral defense and transposon silencing. Cells also employ the RNAi machinery to regulate endogenous gene activity. Perhaps more exciting, however, is the emerging use of RNAi as a tool to knock out expression of specific genes on a genomic scale, to learn about their normal function and potential role in diseases. Moreover, RNAi is also being tested as a therapeutic approach for treating genetic diseases.

For more information on Dr. Cerutti: Web Site

Lawrence G. Harshman, Ph.D.
E-mail: lharshman1@unl.edu
Research Interests:  The Harshman laboratory conducts research on the genetics of aging and longevity.  Most of this research is done with Drosophila melanogaster.  One avenue of research focuses on the genomics and physiology of caloric restriction which is an environmental intervention that extends life span in many organisms from yeast to primates.  Another area of research is the genetics of environmental stress resistance.  Resistance to environmental stresses such as oxidation or starvation is correlated with extended longevity.  A third area addresses the issue of why reproduction has a negative effect on life span.  Work on this problem ties together two research areas in the laboratory because we have documented that reproduction is associated with oxidative stress susceptibility and oxidative damage to macromolecules.

For more information on Dr. Harshman: Web Site

Eileen Hebets, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
E-Mail: ehebets2@unlnotes.unl.edu

Research Interests: My research program focuses on understanding the diversity associated with communication systems, with much of my current concentration on intra-specific communication relating to reproductive behavior. Research in my laboratory uses various arachnid groups to ask questions relating to the evolution and function of animal signals.

For more information on Dr. Hebets: Web Site

Qingsheng Li, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-Mail: qli4@unl.edu

Research Interests: Qingsheng’s research focuses on better understanding the interaction of human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) with its host in the earliest infection to elucidate key steps and critical events in the mucosal transmission of HIV-1, to identify correlates of protection, and ultimately to develop an effective anti-viral topical microbicide and vaccine.

For more information on Dr. Li: Web Site 

Etsuko Moriyama, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
E-Mail: emoriyama2@unl.edu

Research Interests:  I am interested in bioinformatics, molecular evolution, and molecular population genetics. Owing to many genome projects, almost infinite amount of molecular data is becoming available. They are filled with evolutionary footprints. My interest revolves around mining such information from sequence data, reconstructing the evolutionary process of sequences, genes, and genomes, and applying knowledge we gain from these analyses for protein function prediction and gene mining.

For more information on Dr. Moriyama: Web Site 

Hideaki Moriyama, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Email: hmoriyama2@unl.edu

Research Interests:  Relationships between planetary-scale changes in the environment and biological adaptation are of important concern.  The long-term goal of my research is to elucidate mechanisms of biological adaptation and to predict the future form of organisms through the atomic description of biological macromolecules.  To approach this goal, I am proposing a concept of “temperature driven evolution,” in which I try to organize information and to model the biological system along physical factors including temperature.

For more information on Dr. Moriyama: Web Site

T. Jack Morris, Ph.D.
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-Mail: jmorris1@unl.edu

Research Interests:  We study plant viruses with a particular emphasis on understanding the molecular basis of virus-host interactions. We have been exploring mechanisms of host plant resistance in Arabidopsis to turnip crinkle virus (TCV) infection. The ability to manipulate both the viral pathogen and the host plant using molecular genetic and genomic tools makes our model system particularly suitable for examining molecular basis of plant innate immunity and the role of the silencing pathway in defense against viral infection. Research applications include the development of novel strategies for genetically engineering resistance against viral pathogens, and in the area of plant biotechnology, using RNA viruses as transient vectors for vaccine development against animal viruses.

For more information on Dr. Morris: Web Site 

Kenneth W. Nickerson, Ph.D.
E-Mail: knickerson1@unl.edu

Research Interests:  My interests focus on microbial physiology and biochemistry of bacteria and fungi. The main thrusts to our research are: 1/ Bacterial resistance to detergents such as SDS and organic solvents. 2/ The microbial insecticides like the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. and 3/ Quorum sensing in fungal dimorphism. Current research concerns the role of farnesol in determining yeast-mycelial dimorphism Candida albicans. Quorum sensing is really cell density determination by single celled organisms. Our breakthrough discovery was that C. albicans excretes farnesol as a quorum sensing molecule

 For more information on Dr. Nickerson: Web Site

Karrie A. Weber, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
E-Mail: kweber2@unl.edu

Research Interests: My research interests focus on the intricate interactions between microorganisms (including viruses) and the environment at the molecular scale, the ecosystem scale, and ultimately, the global scale. I have applied and will continue using an interdisciplinary approach in order to link the microbial community to biogeochemical function combining environmental microbiology, microbial physiology, molecular biology, microbial ecology, geomicrobiology, virology, and biogeochemistry.

For more information on Dr. Weber: Web Site

Charles Wood, Ph.D.
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-Mail: cwood1@unl.edu
Research Interests:  Charles Wood studies the transmission and evolution of viruses, particularly HIV, and the risk factors that are involved. His research involves collaboration with University Teaching Hospital in Zambia, a country in central Africa where HIV/AIDS is prevalent. He studies how HIV is transmitted from mothers to their infants, and how the virus evolves into new strains in the infected infants. This research shows that HIV can evolve rapidly in newborns, with new strains being produced that are resistant to the infant’s immune system defenses. A parallel project is to study the transmission of a human herpesvirus, known as the Kaposi’s sarcoma virus, which is linked to a common cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma in AIDS patients. The focus is to determine how frequent is the infection by this virus, its route of transmission and the mechanism that this viruses causes cancer, especially in AIDS patients.

For more information on Dr. Wood: Web Site

Anthony Zera, Ph.D.
E-Mail: azera1@unl.edu

Research Interests: My research focuses on the physiological, biochemical, molecular, and endocrine bases of adaptation. Since graduate school I have been working on two interrelated problems: (1) the evolution of the endocrine regulation of development and reproduction in insects, and (2) the physiological, biochemical, and endocrine bases of life history evolution, especially lipid metabolism and life-history trade-offs. A new research focus is the microevolution of circadian rhythms. This research has largely been undertaken in wing-polymorphic crickets of the genus Gryllus, and has resulted in the first detailed syntheses of evolutionary genetics, endocrinology, life history evolution, and metabolic biochemistry.

For more information on Dr. Zera: Web Site

Luwen Zhang, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Nebraska Center for Virology
E-Mail: lzhang2@unlnotes.unl.edu 

Research Interests:  Dr. Luwen Zhang’s laboratory studies the transformation processes. Epstein-Barr virus is (EBV) a human herpesvirus of increasing medical importance. EBV infection has been associated with the development of several human cancers. In immunocompromised individuals, such as organ transplant recipients or AIDS patients, EBV almost certainly causes two fatal cancers: post-transplantation lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) and AIDS-associated central nerve system (CNS) lymphoma.  The Zhang lab tackles the problems related to how virus interacts with cell, and transforms normal cells into cancerous ones.  Also, potential treatment of human cancers is also on their agenda. Zhang lab has been testing a novel approach to specifically block the viral transformation events that lead to the development of human cancers.

For more information on Dr. Zhang: Web Site