People

Principal Investigator


Lillian Fritz-Laylin

Contact

Twitter: @FritzLaylin

Email: lfritzlaylin@umass.edu

Office: 459A Morrill 4S

About

I am an evolutionary cell biologist, coupling comparative genomics with modern cell biology to discover core molecules and mechanisms required for cell motility. I work with a number of eukaryotic organisms, from free living amoebae to flagellated fungi, as well as human neutrophils. Fun stuff!

Education

B.A. Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Ph.D. Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Postdoc Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, University of California San Francisco

Postdocs


Sarah Guest

Contact

Twitter: @Sarahmoeba

Email: sarahguest@umass.edu

About

Dr. Sarah Guest is an evolutionary cell biologist interested in how the cytoskeleton drives diverse morphology and motility in amoeboid protists across the eukaryotic tree. As a postdoc in the Fritz-Laylin lab, she is currently using a combination of microscopy and biochemical techniques to investigate the conserved function of Myosin 2 in generating contractile actin networks in Naegleria gruberi. She is also working on identifying divergent features of this unexpected myosin, which is believed to originate by horizontal gene transfer from an Amoebozoan ancestor to Naegleria's lineage - a divergence time of over 1 billion years.

Education

B.S. in Microbiology, Minor in Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity, University of California Davis.
Ph.D. in Microbiology, University of California Davis.

Jarrett Man

Contact

Email: jaman@umass.edu

About

I am an evolutionary developmental biologist, interested in how genetic modifications impact organisms' developmental trajectories. My background is in organic farming, microbiology and plant biology, but really I am organism agnostic, I treat organisms as a chassis for interesting evolutionary stories.

Education

PhD Plant Biology University of Massachusetts Amherst
BA Agroecology Hampshire College

Awards

2019 Lotta M. Crabtree Fellowship in Production Agriculture. University of Massachusetts
2016 Distinguished Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship. University of Massachusetts
2016 Helmsley Scholarship. The Helmsley Charitable Trust.  Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
2016 Albert L. Delisle Scholarship. University of Massachusetts

Andrew Kennard

About

Dr. Andrew Kennard is a cell biologist and biophysicist, hoping to combine his expertise in microscopy and quantitative image analysis with comparative genomics to better understand the fantastic diversity of cytoskeletal organization. He is currently investigating the assembly and organization of Naegleria gruberi’s unique mitotic spindle, as a case study in evolutionary cell biology and also as a route to discover treatments for infection by the related organism Naegleria fowleri—sometimes known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” He is a postdoc in the Fritz-Laylin lab, and received his PhD in Biophysics from Stanford University. His work is supported by an NIH F32 fellowship (NIGMS).
https://andrewkennard.github.io/

Education

PhD Stanford University
MPhil University of Cambridge
AB Harvard College

Awards

NIH NIGMS F32
Honorable Mention, NSF GRFP

Edgar M. Medina

Contact

Twitter: @mycozoa

Email: emedinatovar@umass.edu

About

Dr. Edgar M. Medina is an evolutionary cell biologist exploring the origins of the fungal cell, their developmental programs and how they deviated from the forms we see in the Animal lineage. To tackle these questions, Edgar enlists the help of “chytrid” fungi, some of the deepest lineages in the fungal kingdom. The special biology of chytrids spured Edgar to develop Spizellomyces as the first genetically tractable member of this lineage. When chytrids form swimming cells, they undergo morphogenetic changes reminiscent of animal embryogenesis. Edgar is now identifying the cellular machinery and regulatory mechanisms that drive this process. His objective is to dissect the axes of conservation and innovation in morphogenetic programs during the rise of the fungal Kingdom. Edgar is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Fritz-Laylin Lab and a 2020 HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellow.

Education

Ph.D. Genetics and Genomics, Duke University, USA
M.Sc. Microbiology, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
B.Sc. Biology, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
B.Sc. Microbiology, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

Awards

2020 HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellowship
2019 DeLill Nasser Award for Professional Development in Genetics, Genetics Society of America
2012 International Chancellor’s Award, Duke University School of Medicine.

Graduate Students


Kirsten Underwood

Stephanie Ridley

Contact

Email: sridley@umass.edu

About

Stephanie Ridley is interested in how biotic and abiotic signals influence fungal development. Currently, she is working on the signaling pathways associated with mucin-induced encystation in frog-killing chytrid fungi. She is also exploring how environmental factors affect the growth and overall development of these species. Stephanie is a PhD student in the MCB program at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Education

B.S., Biological Sciences, Hampton University

Stephanie Brody

Contact

Email: smbrody@umass.edu

About

Stephanie Brody is interested in how cells build and maintain a variety of functionally distinct actin structures from the same supply of actin monomers and regulators. She is currently studying how chytrid fungi respond to and crawl in different environments, specifically how confinement of cells affects the dynamic rearangements of the actin cytoskeleton. Stephanie is a PhD student in Dr. Fritz-Laylin's lab at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Education

BS, Biochemistry and Applied Mathematics, Brandeis University

Sarah Prostak

Contact

Twitter: @smprostak

Email: sprostak@umass.edu

About

Sarah Prostak is an evolutionary cell biologist interested in understanding the diversification and regulation of the actin cytoskeleton. She has identified actin regulatory genes in several chytrid fungi species and cataloged the actin structures in the frog killing chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Sarah is a PhD student in Dr. Fritz-Laylin's lab currently working on establishing the mRNA expression profiles of actin regulatory genes throughout the life cycle of several chytrid species, including Bd. She is also interested in how Bd and other chytrids osmoregulate as well as establish cell polarity. Sarah received an Honorable Mention for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2021.

Education

BS, Biology University of Massachusetts Amherst

Awards

Honorable Mention, NSF GRFP

Undergraduate Students


Emily Larkin

Contact

Email: emilylarkin@umass.edu

About

Emily Larkin is an undergraduate currently working with Dr. Andrew Kennard to investigate the assembly and organization of the mitotic spindles in Naegleria gruberi. She hopes to help uncover potential treatments for infections caused by a related amoeba, Naegleria fowleri (the “brain-eating amoeba”). She is interested in learning more about evolutionary biology through the cytoskeleton and hopes to use her skills in biochemistry and computer science to conduct more sophisticated imaging and data analysis.

Education

Pursuing B.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

B.A. Computer Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alumni


Where are They Now?

  • Dr. Karen Fisher @fisher_ke (Past Research Fellow) – Associate research scientist, Arizona State University
  • Jose Alfredo Guzman Lopez (Past Research Fellow) – Postdoc at UC Berkley
  • Shane Hussey (Past Research Fellow) – Bioinformatician
  • Katrina Velle @KatrinaVelle (Past Postdoc) – Assistant Professor of Biology, Umass Dartmouth
  • Andrew Swafford @Swafford_AJ (Past Postdoc) – Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
  • Alena Naritsin (Past Undergraduate Student) – Medical student at St. George's University
  • Mallory Kakley (Past Research Fellow) – High school science teacher