Carnegie Mellon University
July 12, 2019

Ph.D. Candidates Awarded 2019 Glen de Vries Graduate Fellowship

By Matthew Salyers

Andrew Wolff and Surya Aggarwal, Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Biological Sciences, have been named recipients of the 2019 Glen de Vries Graduate Fellowship. Made possible through the generosity of alumnus and founder of Medidata Solutions, Glen de Vries, the fellowship is awarded to recognize outstanding research achievement and potential among Ph.D. students in biological sciences.

As a Ph.D. candidate in the Hinman lab, Andrew Wolff is interested in how a wounding response can lead to regeneration in a larval sea star model. His research has directed his focus to the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) signaling pathways.

“Currently, I’m trying to uncover the genes that not only connect wounding in a tissue-missing context that leads to regeneration, but also regulate wounding when no tissue is removed,” Wolff said. “RNA sequencing during regeneration points to the MAPK pathway as potential player, so I’m perturbing the pathway to learn how it may be involved.”

Wolff plans to further investigate the MAPK pathway, with additional analysis of gene expression following MAPK inhibition.

“Using transient transgenic reporters, I plan to follow the lineage of cells expressing target genes to determine how this pathway links wounding and regeneration,” said Wolff.

Surya Aggarwal, a Ph.D. candidate working in the Hiller lab, is working towards an understanding of the survival mechanisms of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia. This insight may shed a light on the bacterium’s pathogenesis and enable the design of intervention strategies, as Streptococcus pneumonia is the leading cause of lower respiratory infections.

“The goal of my research is to reveal the mechanisms of bacterial survival under stressed conditions. My work demonstrates that this cellular survival is mediated by a protein that contributes to the production of bacterial cell wall through its ability to regulate cellular stress response,” Aggarwal said. “Moreover, this link is provided by the ability of this protein to correct errors in the process of protein production. Thus, a cell wall modification enzyme also serves as a gatekeeper of the stress response and a component of translation quality control.”

With the resources provided by this fellowship, Aggarwal will further dissect these important molecular mechanisms. His overall goal is to capture and quantify molecular components that demonstrate the role of this protein in correcting errors in protein synthesis.

“This level of rigor will provide strong evidence that links multiple critical pathways in pneumococcus,” said Aggarwal, “These pathways are widespread in bacteria, such that our findings are likely to apply to a wide group of bacteria.”