In July, NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., welcomed two tenure-track scientists to NIEHS to lead new in-house laboratory research groups. Anne Marie Jukic, Ph.D., leads the Fertility and Reproductive Health Group as a researcher in the Epidemiology Branch. She comes from the Yale School of Public Health, where she was an assistant professor.
Joseph Rodriguez, Ph.D., is an tenure-track researcher in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory (ESCBL). Rodriguez comes from the National Cancer Institute, where he was a postdoctoral fellow.
Jukic — influences on early pregnancy
Jukic focuses on factors that influence fertility and the early pregnancy stages of conception, implantation, and early placentation. She is interested in exposures that can influence these poorly understood biological events and how these events are related to pregnancy outcomes.
After receiving her Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009, Jukic completed a postdoctoral fellowship at NIEHS in 2015. During that time she received a Pathway to Independence Award to study vitamin D and reproductive function in a group of women attempting to become pregnant.
Earlier this year, Jukic reported a link between vitamin D status and menstrual cycle length and fecundability, which is the probability of becoming pregnant in a given menstrual cycle, while attempting to become pregnant. She is conducting a pilot for a clinical trial to follow-up on these observational results. The study examines menstrual cycle hormone changes resulting from vitamin D treatment.
Jukic is also a co-investigator on a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant examining the interaction between vitamin D and toxic metal levels during pregnancy.
Epidemiology Branch Chief Dale Sandler, Ph.D., said that Jukic maintained strong collaborative ties with NIEHS researchers Allen Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D., and Donna Baird, Ph.D., in the Epidemiology Branch, and Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D., in the Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch.
“Jukic is the second reproductive epidemiologist to join the branch in recent years,” Sandler said. “Her interests complement those of Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., who studies the impact of chemical mixtures on early pregnancy events.”
Rodriguez — gene regulation in live cells
Rodriguez uses live-cell imaging to study how mechanisms that influence DNA can regulate RNA diversity in single human cells. “My previous work showed that genes can be inactive for several days in live cells, and I want to understand precisely how genes are regulated,” he said. “Single molecule imaging allows us to observe molecular processes in real time.”
Previously, Rodriguez studied RNA processing and gene expression dynamics during circadian, or daily, rhythms. “During graduate school, I became fascinated with how daily organismal behavior and cellular processes were in tune with their environment,” he said.
At NIEHS, Rodriguez will study the seemingly random distribution of RNA expression, particularly a state with little RNA expression, called the deep repressive state. His ability to track single molecules in live single cells, referred to as single molecule tracking studies, will bring state-of-the-art technologies to the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research.
ESCBL Chief Trevor Archer, Ph.D., expressed excitement at bringing Rodriguez on board. “We could not hope for a better colleague,” Archer said. “He brings novel and technologically sophisticated approaches to bear on important problems, and he further strengthens our current efforts in transcription and RNA biology.” Archer added that the new approaches will allow for important mechanistic experiments.
“Joe was also selected as a member of the recently established National Institutes of Health [NIH] Distinguished Scholars Program, which is a small cohort of outstanding new tenure track investigators in the Intramural Program,” Archer said.
Citation: Jukic AMZ, Wilcox AJ, McConnaughey DR, Weinberg CR, Steiner AZ. 2018. 25- Hydroxyvitamin D and long menstrual cycles in a prospective cohort study. Epidemiology 29(3):388–396.
Lenstra TL, Rodriguez J, Chen H, Larson DR. 2016. Transcription dynamics in living cells. Annu Rev Biophys 45:25–47.
(Cody Nichols, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Genetics, Environment, and Respiratory Disease Group.)