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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2017

NIEHS Science Days wrap up with awards ceremony

This year’s award winners, including mentor and fellow of the year, represent the full range of research at the institute.

The awards ceremony at the end of NIEHS Science Days always brings smiles to those who attend (see related story). This year’s winners represent the full range of research at the institute.

Mentor of the Year

As chief of the Toxicology Branch, Paul Foster, Ph.D., has a lot of responsibilities, but none more important than helping guide his trainees. His commitment to mentoring over the years led to his selection as the 2017 NIEHS Mentor of the Year.

"I see mentoring as something important," Foster said. "It’s good to have someone to act as a sounding board."

Burcher, Dzierlenga, and Foster NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., left, and Dzierlenga, center, congratulated Foster on his award as Mentor of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Foster’s research involves looking at the effects of environmental agents on the development of birth defects in experimental animals. His branch initiates studies and reports their findings for the National Toxicology Program (NTP). He has been at it for quite a few years and plans to retire in December 2017. His upcoming departure gave a sense of urgency to his Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) fellow Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., who nominated Foster for the award.

"On behalf of all who came before me, I wanted to be sure Paul was properly recognized for his dedication to training the next generation of toxicologists," Dzierlenga said. "He has had a long, productive career in toxicology and has inspired many young scientists to have fruitful careers of their own."

Fellow of the Year

Gordenin and Saini Gordenin, left, and Saini posed with her Fellow of the Year certificate. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD) selects the Fellow of the Year from among the many talented trainees at NIEHS. This year, one stood out — Natalie Saini, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Mechanisms of Genome Dynamics Group led by Dmitry Gordenin, Ph.D.

"It is a huge honor to be chosen Fellow of the Year," Saini said. "I consider myself fortunate to be a part of Dr. Gordenin’s group. I owe a large part of my success as a trainee to his guidance."

Saini studies how mutations differ in the genomes of healthy people, but her talents extend far beyond her research skills. She also has an eye for making science videos. The one she produced about her work for the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society garnered the society’s Young Scientist Award (see related story).

"Every year, choosing the Fellow of the Year is a difficult task, because the nominees are always of such high caliber," said Office of Fellows’ Career Development Director Tammy Collins, Ph.D. "Dr. Saini exemplifies not only excellence in research, but also embodies the spirit of collegiality and is praised as an excellent communicator and mentor."

The best of the best

Ramaiahgari with his award Ramaiahgari proudly displayed his Best Oral Presentation award. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Science Days participants heard several talks, but the one given by Sreenivasa Ramaiahgari, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Molecular Toxicology and Genomics Group led by Alex Merrick, Ph.D., was chosen as the Best Oral Presentation.

One of the most exciting parts of Science Days is the poster session, which allows presenters and judges to have an open dialogue about the presenters’ research. While each poster highlighted the important work going on at the institute, only 10 posters are chosen as the best (see text box).

Since fellows and technicians make up the bulk of poster presenters, the Science Days steering committee added a new category this year that included younger scientists. Jeffrey Ramsey, who works with Kenneth Korach, Ph.D., in the Receptor Biology Group, won Best Poster Presentation by a Postbaccalaureate Student.


Best poster presentation winners Best Poster Presentation winners were, from left, Qin, Wang, Liu, Wojtaszek, Ramsey, McClelland, Ganini Da Silva, Nicol, Pathania, and Pillon. Not shown, Daisy Lo. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Shannon Faris DIRA awardee Farris discussed "Mechanisms underlying hippocampal CA2 resistance to injury." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Bart Phillips DIRA awardee Phillips presented "Identification of translational regulatory networks in spermatogonial stem cells." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Motoki Takaku DIRA awardee Takaku focused on "Nucleosome targeting mechanism by pioneer transcription factors." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Fei Zhao DIRA awardee Zhao talked about the "Contribution of the male tract mesenchymal cells to the female reproductive tract." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Best Poster Presentations

The posters from the following trainees impressed the judges enough to be named Best Poster Presentation by a Fellow or Technician. The top five winners received a $1,000 travel award to attend a scientific meeting of their choice and a certificate. The other five winners received a certificate.

  1. Yufeng Qin, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory — "An obesity-associated gut microbiome reprograms the intestinal epigenome and leads to altered colonic gene expression."
  2. Jessica Wojtaszek, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory — "Structural analysis of the 3ʹ–5ʹ exonuclease Apn2 of Saccharomyces cerevisiae."
  3. Daisy Lo, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory — "Structural analysis reveals the features of ribosome assembly factor WDR74 important for localization and interaction with the AAA-ATPase NVL2."
  4. Barbara Nicol, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory — "RUNX1 and FOXL2 play synergistic roles in maintaining the identity of fetal granulosa cells in mice."
  5. Rajneesh Pathania, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory — "Identification and characterization of metastasis-initiating cells in triple negative breast cancer."
  6. Kathryn McClelland, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory — "Loss of COUP-TFII (NR2F2) affects fetal testicular development."
  7. Xiaoqiu Wang, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory — "Cistromic analysis and genome editing identify a uterine specific enhancer critical for Indian Hedgehog expression."
  8. Jian Liu, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory — "Lkb1 inactivation drives lung squamous cell carcinoma development governed by JNK1/2 pathway."
  9. Douglas Ganini Da Silva, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory — "Switch of mitochondrial superoxide dismutase into a prooxidant peroxidase in manganese-deficient cells and mice."
  10. Monica Pillon, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory — "Grc3 programs the essential endoribonuclease Las1 for specific RNA cleavage."
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