Alwyn and Marco join Smith Lab

Moon-suited up and ready to go!

The Smith Lab are thrilled to welcome Marco Gontijo and Alwyn Ecker officially to the lab as grad students. They have done the high containment safety “bootcamp” and are embarking on their various projects leveraging diverse mice, macrophages and M. tuberculosis strains.  We are excited to see what they discover during their grad careers and beyond!

Smith Lab Summer wrap-up

  • Masked travel was back on the cards with Clare and Oyinda attending the NIAID Tuberculosis Research Unit (TBRU) network kick-off meeting meeting in Bethesda in June. Clare presented our work in the Mouse Core as part of the Myco3V team study Mycobacterial variation, vulnerability and virulence. The Myco3V team includes researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Branch Moody, Jacob Mayfield), Cornell (Kyu Rhee), Rockefeller (Jeremy Rock), University of Cape Town (Val Mizrahi, Digby Warner, Robin Wood) and University of Groningen (Aadrian Minnaard) . It was a great meeting to plan upcoming Myco3V projects and connect with new cross-TBRU collaborations. 
  • Oyinda also travelled to Breckenridge in Colorado and caught up with the latest in TB research at the Keystone Symposia on Tuberculosis in August. 
  • Kaley had a “summer of macrophages” where she got the ex vivo macrophage pipeline up and going in the lab and mentored undergraduate researchers on Mycobacterial and macrophage infections.
  • Rachel wrapped up a manuscript and headed to San Francisco to undertake an internship as a Summer Associate at Analysis Group’s Health Economics and Outcomes Research practice. 
  • Josh Tolliver came onboard as a new research technician. Josh completed his undergraduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill, where he also worked in the lab of Dr. Alan Jones and worked on projects including bacterial genetics and plant pathogenesis. Josh has quickly picked up new mammalian genetics skills in the lab and is going through the BSL3 bootcamp for work at high containment.
  • Paloma Garcia is a Duke undergrad that worked in the lab this summer as part of the MGM SURE fellowship. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Kaley Wilburn to tackle questions of Mycobacterial growth in specific host genetic backgrounds. Here, Paloma learnt Mammalian cell tissue culture and bacterial aseptic techniques. Paloma also presented her project at the annual MGM retreat where she won a poster prize. Fantastic work!

Smith Lab Welcomes Two New Postdocs!

The Smith Lab is thrilled to welcome Oyindamola Adefisayo, Ph.D. and Kaley Wilburn, Ph.D. as our very first postdoctoral associates!

Oyinda joins us from the Glickman lab at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she fully characterized the contributions of the DNA damage response pathways in mycobacteria to antibiotic resistance and mutagenesis. Kaley completed her Ph.D. in the VanderVen lab at Cornell University, where she studied how Mycobacterium tuberculosis utilizes host lipids as carbon sources during infection and sought to characterize mechanisms to leverage these pathways as antibiotic targets.

Both Kaley and Oyinda look forward to leveraging their formidable mycobacterial expertise within the context of genetically diverse hosts, combining next-generation host and bacterial approaches to reveal novel host-pathogen interactions.

Kaley Wilburn, Ph.D. (left) and Oyindamola Adefisayo, Ph.D. (right) on their first day as Smith Lab postdocs!

Early Career Researcher Spotlight on Rachel Meade

Interested in a career in genetics, bioinformatics or infectious disease research? Check out this Early Career Scientist Leadership Spotlight from the Genetics Society of America (GSA) on Smith Lab PhD candidate Rachel Meade as she chats about her work on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, genetically diverse mice and gives perspectives on career options and advancing open science. Nicely done Rachel!

Fall Lab Rotations – Emma Heckenberg

Emma moonsuits up for BSL3 work

The Smith lab hosted Emma Heckenberg as the second rotation student this fall. Emma is a first-year Ph.D. student in the MGM graduate training program.

During her Smith lab rotation, Emma worked on a collaboration with the Coers lab elaborating the role of immunity-related GTPase M (IRGM) genes on tuberculosis pathogenesis. With a passion for wet lab experimentation, Emma dove into biosafety level-3 (BSL3) work, learning mouse husbandry, BSL3 safety and methods, and infected animal experimentation. Throughout her rotation, Emma collaborated with Carissa Harvest in the Miao Lab to kick start a staining protocol in the Smith lab and also garnered a new set of data tidying and exploration skills in R.

The Smith lab will miss Emma’s infectious excitement for science and wishes her well in her future rotations!

MGM Pumpkin Painting Shenanigans!

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!

Rotations in the Time of COVID-19 (Pt. 3)

The Smith Lab concluded a year of excellent rotations by hosting Margaret Gaggioli as a rotation student this spring.

Originally from southeastern Wisconsin, Margaret moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 2015 for her undergraduate education. TB research was not new to her, as she spent 2.5 years in Dr. Christina Stallings’ lab as an undergraduate and post-baccalaureate researcher studying the host myeloid cell response to Mycobacteria tuberculosis infection. During her time at Duke, Margaret is interested in continuing to investigate the pathogenesis of infectious diseases, focusing on host-pathogen interactions.

Margaret took a new angle on her rotation project and made her mark on the direction of investigation. Margaret studied host genetic determinants of tuberculosis tolerance among Collaborative Cross mice and began to ask questions about inflammatory signaling and cachexia during M. tuberculosis infection. After completing her training in the BSL-3 laboratory, she cultured spleens to quantify bacterial burden and conduct QTL mapping to identify causal host genes. After her rotation, Margaret will be joining the Ko lab, and we look forward to all of the things she will accomplish during her time at Duke!

Rotations in the Time of COVID-19 (Pt. 2)

The Smith Lab enjoyed hosting Emily Engeman as a rotation student this spring.

A local to the area, Emily attended North Carolina State University in Raleigh for her undergraduate education, where she studied biology and minored in business administration. After graduating in 2017, Emily moved to Washington, D.C. to research HIV in Dr. Sodsai Tovanabutra’s lab at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research (WRAIR). Her primary research focuses involved investigating HIV mutations and coreceptor usage. In 2019, Emily accepted an ORISE fellowship at WRAIR to work with Dr. Anna Jacobs. In Emily’s fellowship program, she worked to develop a robotic biofilm assay and researched phage antibiotic synergy in vitro and in a mouse wound model. Now pursuing her Ph.D. at Duke, Emily is excited to study host pathogen interactions and investigate potential therapeutics.

How can a host with very low levels of infection look and act like a host with severe TB? This is a question Emily set out to answer in her rotation, which centered on host genetic determinants of tuberculosis tolerance in the Collaborative Cross panel. Throughout her rotation, she studied the immunological dynamics and mechanisms of disease tolerance in mammalian hosts while completing her training in the BSL-3 laboratory. We look forward to seeing the awesome scientific questions she’ll pursue throughout her graduate studies at Duke!