Fall Lab Rotations – Jessica Portillo

Time to moonsuit up! Jessica in full PPE ready to go into the BSL3 lab

The Smith lab were excited to host Jessica Portillo as a rotation student this fall. Jessica came into the lab through the MGM graduate training program and as a Duke BioCoRE scholar.

In her Smith Lab rotation, Jessica was fearless in pursuit of learning the tools and approaches we use to answer questions about host-pathogen interactions in tuberculosis. She combined both wet and dry lab expertise by developing bioinformatic pipelines for data visualization and conducting M. tuberculosis infections in Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) conditions. Her work on “non-tolerant” Collaborative Cross strains of mice uncovered new cytokines and inflammatory pathways driving hyper-inflammation during TB infection. She has created plenty of new ideas for future follow-up! 

Jessica’s long list of rotation accomplishments includes the successful completion of a week-long BSL3 biosafety bootcamp, completion of a coding bootcamp, and submission of a fellowship application. Her dedication to BSL3 work and rigorous safety protocols led to her successful completion of the Duke BSL3 mentored training on her pathway to independence. We look forward to seeing all that Jessica will achieve at Duke!

Biosafety bootcamp training: a training program to introduce lab members to safe working practices and SOPs. Pictured here are (left to right) Emma Heckenberg, Erika Hughes, Jessica Portillo and Mollie Sweeney. Pictured in (front) is (100kg) test dummy used in emergency drills.
Ladies of Mycobacterium. (left to right) Jessica Portillo, Rachel Meade, Miranda Lumbreras, Aruna Menon, Mollie Sweeney, Anne Yu, Erika Hughes.

Rachel is officially a PhD candidate!

A huge congratulations to Rachel Meade for passing her qualifying exam in July 2021. She is now an officially minted UPGG PhD candidate – CHEERS!!!

Rachel’s prelim document and outstanding presentation focused on her work investigating host-pathogen genetic and immunologic determinants of Mycobacterium tuberculosis susceptibility. A big thanks to the many department trainees who encouraged and provided feedback throughout the process and committee members Dr. David Tobin, Dr. Doug Marchuk, Dr. Craig Lowe and Dr. Dennis Ko. We are looking forward to seeing the next steps in her exciting thesis work!

OPEN Postdoctoral Positions: host-pathogen interactions

Calling all current/recent grad students thinking about a postdoc – the Smith Lab at Duke have an open postdoctoral position in our newly established lab within the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department at Duke.

Whether you are a mammalian geneticist, bacteriologist or immunologist, this is a great opportunity to combine genetically diverse mouse models with cutting edge bacterial genetic technologies to understand tuberculosis pathogenesis and protective immunity. Check out our recent bioRxiv paper to get an idea of the scope of potential projects on both the host and bacterial perspectives.

Interested applicants should apply online, complete with a CV and cover letter explaining your scientific interests, your specific interests in our work, career goals, along with names and contact info of three references. Specific email enquires welcome and check out this link for further details and how to apply directly

New Collaborative MGM Papers!

In this first year while getting our Mycobacterial and mouse work up and going, we are thrilled to have been a part of some cool work with our MGM friends, including a new SARS-CoV2 BioRxiv preprint with the awesome Heaton Lab and co.

Also check out a beautiful Trends in Microbiology review led by Jeff Bourgeois from the Ko Lab, where we dive into current trends in defining host-bacterial interactions at the genome-wide level, including screens that harness CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing and natural genetic variation. So whether you are into viral or bacterial pathogenesis or host resistance, these MGM collabs have you covered. Check them out!



Erin Flash-Talks It Up

In this year’s pandemic virtual edition of the MGM retreat, we heard from the latest department research effort on COVID19, fantastic trainee talks, the annual Joklik Distinguished Lecture from Dr. Susan Weiss, alumni career panels and a fabulous talk from Dr. Gustavo Silva to close the conference. Instead of the traditional posters, trainees had the challenge of 1 min flash-talks to showcase their work. A big congrats to Smith Lab grad student Erin Curtis who received one of the awards for Best Flash Talk!

Come join us!

We are currently recruiting a research technician and a postdoctoral fellow to join the team.

If you are interested in working on host and pathogen genetics, with a sprinkle of immunology, please apply at the links below and feel free to contact Clare for more information: