MCB students garner NSF fellowships

‘Banner year’ nets three-year research awards for Weber, Teves, Ross and Compton
Alex Compton, Benjamin Ross, Sheila Teves and Chris Weber
From left, Alex Compton, of the Human Biology Division, and Benjamin Ross, Sheila Teves and Chris Weber, of the Basic Sciences Division—winners of three-year graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation. Photo by Carol Insalaco

The National Science Foundation recently awarded three-year graduate research fellowships to four Hutchinson Center graduate students. All are part of the joint Center/University of Washington Molecular and Cellular Biology program. Two other MCB students at the Center received honorable mentions from the NSF.

The fellowship recipients include Chris Weber, Sheila Teves and Benjamin Ross of the Basic Sciences Division and the Human Biology Division’s Alex Compton. Honorable mentions went to Duncan Reid and Ilana Cohen of the Human Biology Division.

In the Henikoff Lab, Weber is studying the role of histone variant H2A.Z in gene regulation. Since this variant is involved in one of the most fundamental biological processes and is aberrant in cancer, his work will be broadly applicable.

Teves is researching how changes in the composition, stability, and dynamics of nucleosomes, the basic unit of chromatin composed of DNA and histones, affect transcriptional activation during environmental perturbations and in disease models. Also part of the Henikoff Lab, Teves aims to further understand transcriptional controls in response to the environment, and how such controls err during disease formation such as cancer.

The Malik Lab’s Ross is combining evolutionary sequence analyses with molecular, genetic and cytological approaches to study how molecular arms races between host genomes and selfish genetic parasites shape the biology of Drosophila fruit flies. Ross is especially interested in the causes and consequences of such escalating genetic conflicts on heterochromatin, the genome compartment once considered "silent" but now appreciated as being both fundamental to normal cellular function and to speciation, evolution of two species from one.

In the Emerman Lab, Compton is studying the co-evolution and viruses and the hosts they infect, as well as how subtle mutations in antiviral genes can affect an individual's susceptibility to infections by emerging viruses. This work may contribute to our understanding of how and when cross-species transmission events occur and how viruses adapt to new hosts.

“These are very prestigious fellowships and we are very proud of our students,” said Michele Karantsavelos, manager of Graduate Education for the Basic Sciences Division. “It was a banner year—overall, the MCB program had eight awardees and six honorable mentions.”

The NSF fellowships provide support for graduate study leading to research-based master’s or doctoral degrees and are intended for students in the early stages of their graduate study. The foundation works to ensure a diverse array of students pursue advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the United States by offering more than 1,600 graduate fellowships.

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