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photo of garden volunteers with Leslie Parise

Dear BCBP family, In my final blog, I want to publicly thank all of you for making my time at UNC so wonderful and unforgettable.  My time with you has been an absolute pleasure and has allowed me to learn so much.  I have been humbled by all your accomplishments. I will watch your continued accomplishments from the green mountains of Vermont. I do wish we could say goodbye in person, but COVID-19 is temporarily dashing such hopes. However, I am confident that life will return to a semblance of normal over the next year. The department will be in great hands as we transition to Brian Strahl as the interim chair. Brian and I have been communicating often. Moreover, in this COVID era, I am only a Zoom, FaceTime, WebEx or Teams call away. Despite our currently challenging times, we have many more accomplishments to celebrate. Please enjoy reading through the news from the last 2 months. (Click on blue links to read the full news stories.)

WELCOME new employees:

Amanda Hall

Martha S. Johnson

Martha Johnson PhD

Martha S. Johnson, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Jean Cook’s lab

Holly Shepherd

Holly Shepherd

Holly Shepherd, Student Services Specialist joining us on May 26, 2020


Thesis Defenses and Graduations

Hanna Trzeciakiewicz

Hanna Trzeciakiewicz

3/6 Hanna Trzeciakiewicz (Todd Cohen lab)
Title: “The Regulation of Tau Pathogenesis in Neurodegeneration”

Julia DiFiore

Julia DiFiore

3/13 Julia DiFiore, GMB graduate student (Brian Strahl lab)
Title: “Examining the Role of Histone H3 Lysine 36 Methylation in Preventing Aberrant Transcription”

Graduate Student Julia DiFiore receives her PhD!

Edhirz Siraliev-Perez

Edhirz Siraliev-Perez graduate student

3/27 Edhirz Siraliev-Perez, Biophysics graduate student (John Sondek lab)
Title: “Dynamics of Allosteric Activation of PLC-gamma Isozymes” (Zoom)

Aspen Gutgsell

Aspen Gutgsell at her defense on March 30 2020

3/30 Aspen Gutgsell, Biochemistry and Biophyscis gradaute student (Saskia Neher lab)
Title: “Novel Strategies to Enhance LPL Activity In Vivo” (Zoom)

Jared Baisden

Jared PhD in progress

4/9 Jared Baisden, Biochemistry and Biophyscis gradaute student (Qi Zhang lab)
Title: “Probing Excited Conformational States Involved in microRNA Biogenesis.” (Zoom)

Hashem Meriesh

Hashem defense Zoom photo

4/10 Hashem Meriesh, Biochemistry and Biophyscis gradaute student (Brian Strahl lab)
Title: “Elucidating the Function of the Histone H4 Basic Patch in SAGA-mediated Hiistone H2B Deubiquitination and Histone Acetylation” (Zoom)

Courtney Vaughn defense on 5.06.2020

5/6 Courtney Vaughn, GMB graduate student (Aziz Sancar Lab)
Title, “Exploring the role of DNA damage, nucleotide excision repair, and circadian rhythm on cellular response to platinums” (Zoom)

BCBP First Year Graduate Student Talks on April 28 (Zoom)

8 students presented research talks on April 28 to a large Zoom audience from 11 am – 1 pm.

Abigail Ballard

Abigail Ballard

Abigail Ballard, Bergmeier lab, Biochemistry
“4-D Imaging of Hemostatic Plug Formation”

Matthew Begley

Matthew Begley

Matt Begley, Baker lab, Biochemistry
“Analysis of Microtubule Binding Proteins via Cryo-EM”

Brandy Curtis

Brandy Curtis

Brandy Curtis, Gladfelter lab, Biochemistry
“An investigation of plastic degradation by coral-associated marine fungi”

Dalia Fleifel

Dalia Fleifel

Dalia Fleifel, Cook lab, Biochemistry
“An in vitro system mimicking Osteoarthritis”

Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris, Dominguez lab, Biophysics
“Determination of RNA binding motifs in the histone mRNA stem-loop with SLBP”

Christopher Shelby

Christopher Shelby, Kuhlman lab, Biophysics
“Microbiome Engineering”

Aubrie Weyhmiller

Aubrie Weyhmiller

Aubrie Weyhmiller, Kuhlman lab, Biophysics
“Modeling Protein-DNA Interactions In MATLAB”

Anna Wheless

Anna Wheless

Anna Wheless, Neher lab, Biochemistry
“Nanobodies for Enhancing LPL Activity”

Bagel Breakfast on March 4th

BCBP Bagel Breakfast first Wednesdays at 9:30am GMB 3rd floorbagel breakfast students sitting

Our graduate students hosted a Bagel Breakfast on March 4th before the social distancing begun. We had a large turn out!

BCBP Synergy groups met in mid-March

bcbp synergy meet up one group meeting

BCBP Synergy groups met up again for networking in mid-March. We hope to start these back up in the Fall. 

4/02 All Department Town Hall

On April 2, our department met to discuss Q & A regarding guidance and resources for these COVID-19 times.

GMB building

4/03 Admin Meeting

Lynn Ray, Associate Chair for Administration, hosts first virtual administrative staff meeting in our history over Zoom to discuss projects in the areas of grants, human resources, accounting, events, and communications.

admin meeting over Zoom on April 3 2020Marsha Lynn Ray

4/03 Student Town Hall

Our BCBP graduate students and administrators met for our Spring town hall meeting to discuss the courses all going virtual and for Q & A.

student town hall

4/14 BCBP Research in Progress Seminar

BCBP Research in Progress Seminar: Aleksandra Skrajna, PhD (Postdoctoral Researcher, McGinty Lab) “Deciphering the Nucleosome Interactome” (Zoom). 

Aleksandra Skrajna

Aleksandra Skrajna PhD

April Student Seminars

student seminar seriesRodney Park

Our Student Seminars resumed on April 16  with presenters:  Adil Muneer (Chen lab) and  Rodney Park  (Kuhlman lab)

This series was abruptly paused last month because of Covid19. Special thanks to Odessa, Amelia, and Rodney who worked out  the new  schedule through May.

4/17 Admin Business Meeting

Happy administrative professionals’ day to our office staff (and to others not shown here). Thank you for all you do to help our department run smoothly from business management & finance, accounting, grant administration, communications & development, to event coordination & executive assisting. We wish everyone a good day, hope that all of you are healthy and safe. Thank you for all of your hard work, patience, loyalty and dedication that you give to our department each day! Marsha "Lynn" Ray, Associate Chair for Administration; John Hutton, Post-Awards Administrator; Steven Torchio, Human Resources Consultant; Carolyn M. Clabo, Director of Communications & Development; Jamie DeSoto, Executive Assistant to the Chair. Not pictured here: Jesse Arp, Post-Awards Administrator; Meg DeMarco, Pre-Awards Administrator; Leah Combs, Accounting Technician. To all our fabulous undergrads who work in our business office: Sean Raycroft, Madia Brown, and Yazmine Nixon, here's a big thank you for all you do everyday!

Our business staff met virtually this Spring. Lynn said they will celebrate Administrative Professionals Day when they all return to their offices in the future. Thank you staff for all you do!

4/21 BCBP Seminar: Neil King, PhD (UW)

Neil King PhD UW 4.21.2020 seminar

On April 21, our seminar speaker presented over Zoom to a large audience. Talk title, Computational Design of Protein-based Nanomaterials for Medical Applications”

Speaker: Neil King, PhD Assistant Professor, Institute for Protein Design University of Washington, Host: Brian Kuhlman

Neil is at the Protein Design Institute at the University of Washington and has done some beautiful work designing proteins that self-assemble into multi-subunit protein cages.  They are using these for a variety of applications including scaffolding proteins from SARS-CoV-2 for use as vaccines.
Our seminar went virtual special thanks to Jamie DeSoto.

4/22 Student Town Hall

Our BCBP graduate students and administrators met on April 22 to discuss COVID-19 updates and to address questions for the close of the Spring semester. 

student town hall

4/24 Admin Happy Hour with games

admin games 1st on 4.24.2020

Lynn Ray lead the admin staff in a happy hour. They competed in on-line games while discussing business projects.

4/30 Genome Stability Group Meeting

Dale Ramsden

photo of Dale Ramsden, Ph.D., UNC Prof. and Dir. of Graduate Studies for Biochemistry & Biophysics

April Genome Stability Group Meeting hosted by Dale Ramsden. Our speakers were: Andrea Kaminski, “Polymerase μ:  A rigid scaffold for dynamic DNA substrates,” and

Jessica Williams, “DNA Ligase 1 regulates the fidelity of DNA replication.”

5/09 Doctoral Hooding was postponed.

Wolfgang Bergmeier, PhDMessage from Wolfgang Bergmeier, PhD, Director of Graduate Studies

UNC 2020 Hooding ceremony for our department’s newly minted PhDs: We are all very sorry that this fun and important event to celebrate our new PhDs cannot happen as planned! We are proud of you, CONGRATULATIONS again! Hi everybody. Please see the message below by Jean Cook concerning the postponed 2020 Hooding Ceremony! We are all very sorry that this fun and important event to celebrate our new PhDs cannot happen as planned! We are proud of you, CONGRATULATIONS again!


photo of Jean Cook PhD Professor of Biochemistry and BiophysicsMessage from Jean Cook, PhD, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, School of Medicine

Among the many disappointments of our current situation is the fact that the doctoral hooding ceremony that would have been this weekend has been postponed. I know that many of our recent graduates, their friends, and their families had been looking forward to walking across the stage in the Smith Center in full regalia to mark this career milestone. We are so incredibly impressed with these graduates’ accomplishments and discoveries, and we are enormously proud to have contributed to their development as scientific leaders and professionals. They join the ranks of UNC PhD alumni who are pushing the boundaries of research, teaching the next generation of science students, developing new tools, leading policy, communicating the importance of science, and filling many other important roles in scientific society.

There may be additional ways to celebrate as a campus community in the future, but in the meantime please receive these heartfelt congratulations from the School of Medicine leaders. This link is a 30 second “Virtual Applause” from the Deans, Chairs, and Center Directors.

virtual applause 2020 PhD hooding

5/10 2020 UNC Commencement – Virtual watch party

graduation tassels
Virtual watch party was held on Mother’s Day. See link below to view the 20 minute video tribute to UNC graduates.

Youtube video. Graduates can celebrate their achievements with a video watch party on Sunday May 10th; plans in the works to host graduation ceremony at a later date. Read more here, “Marking a milestone.”

5/11 Postdoc Town Hall

postdoc townhallpostdoc appreciation lunch 2019

At our virtual postdoc town hall, administrators addressed important Q & A from research scholars and postdoctoral fellows during these changing times in our research labs.

All of our university meetings occurred virtually instead of in-person these over these last two months, such as, Weekly Monday meetings for Researchers with the VCR COVID-19 Q&A, Weekly Graduate Student Circles hosted by the Graduate School, university Communications meetings, Human Resources meetings, Grant Administration, Accounting, & Business Administrative meetings all shifted to online. Our department has been very busy and productive even through the challenges that faces us all. Thank you all for your quick learning of these new technologies and for your flexibility and resilience. Please see the end of this blog for more research resources, health and wellness resources for COVID-19 and other useful inks.


5/13 Virtual Happy Hour and Farewell Party

Leslie Parise flier for farewell party 5.13.2020

On May 13, we will be gathering to toast and share stories over the past 13.5 years.

May Student Seminars

student seminar seriesphoto of Nicholas Martinez, graduate studentProfile picture of Shu ZhangGage Leighton

5/14 Student Seminars for students only –  Nicholas Martinez (Campbell lab),  Shu Zhang (Dohlman lab), and  Gage Leighton (Williams lab) Please contact Rodney Park for Zoom details for the May 14 meeting at 12 noon.

7/2 Virtual Student Thesis Defense: Stephan Kudlacek (Campbell lab)

Please save-the-date for Stephan’s Defense. Tentatively scheduled for 3:30 pm.

Stephan T Kudlacek graduate student

Fall Seminars

fall 2020 BCBP fall seminiar series UNC biochemistry and biophysics

Announcing our BCBP Fall 2020 Seminar Series. Stay tuned, in person or virtual Zoom meetings will be announced as we approach event dates.


Student Awards

Congratulations to our excellent graduate students!

7 students mentioned

Aspen Gutgsell
Aspen Rene Gutgsell, graduate student
Hanna Trzeciakiewicz
Hanna Trzeciakiewicz

Hanna Trzeciakiewicz was selected to receive the 2020 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in the area of Biological and Life Sciences.

Hanna Trzeciakiewicz also received the 2020 Horizon Award.

Faculty Awards and Honors

Robert H. Lee

Bobby H. Lee 2019 Bergmeier lab

Congrats Robert H Lee, Brinkhous Early Career Investigator Award winner at  American Heart Association’s Vascular Discovery 2020!

Ron Swanstrom

Ron Swanstrom PhD

Meet UNC School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Research Heroes

Jack Griffith

Jack Griffith

Jack Griffith Wins Photographic Society of America’s Progress Award!

Past winners of the award include Walt Disney, Ansel Adams and Nick Woodman.
Griffith’s lab at UNC focuses on DNA-protein interactions combining electron microscope, biochemistry, genetics, and modern molecular approaches. Here he answers a few questions about his work.

Funding Announcements:

chancellor virtual message

Chancellor’s Message to Students, Research Community

Guskiewicz Announces UNC COVID-19 Research Accelerator Fund

COVID-19 Funding Opportunities


Pengda Liu

photo of Pengda Liu PhD

Breast Cancer Alliance awards Pengda Liu 2020 Young Investigator grant

Guochung Jiang

guochun jiang

Guochun Jiang received a Traditional CFAR Developmental Award for the project “HIV reservoirs in the central nervous system.”

Jonathan Fay, Patricia Maness, Brian Strahl, and Qi Zhang

Jonathan Fay Research Assistant Professor UNC BCBP 2019Patricia Maness PhDBrian StrahlQi Zhang, PhD

SOM Biomedical Research Core Voucher Program – FY20 Awarded Projects

Congratulations to 4 faculty who received grants: Jonathan Fay, Patricia Maness, Brian Strahl, and Qi Zhang! Read more at the link above.

Saskia Neher and Qi Zhang


Congrats Qi Zhang and Saskia Neher on Teams Receiving Emerging Challenges Grants

Ash Tripathy

Dr. Ash Tripathy

MacInFac Wins NCBC IIG Grant (Ash Tripathy)

Dale Ramsden

photo of Dale Ramsden, Ph.D., UNC Prof. and Dir. of Graduate Studies for Biochemistry & Biophysics

Congrats to Dale Ramsden (in advance) who has a large grant announcement coming soon.

Noteworthy research:

(Please click blue links to read the full news posts.)

UNC Ranked Highest U.S. University in Coronavirus Research

Kathryn Gunn, PhD, postdoctoral researcher, and Ben Roberts, graduate student

Kathryn Gunn and Ben Roberts

Neher lab publishes CryoEM structure in PNAS

Sharon Campbell and Wolfgang Bergmeier

Sharon Campbell and Wolfgang Bergmeier

Campbell and Bergmeier labs collaborative research makes cover of JTH!

Megan Justice, graduate student in Dowen lab

Megan Justice

Grad student Megan Justice in Dowen lab first-authored paper in Cell Reports!

Gaorav Gupta, MD, PhD.

Researchers implicate gene in DNA errors in aggressive breast cancer (Gaorav Gupta, MD, PhD)

Test could simplify cervical cancer screenings (Gaorav Gupta)

Wolfgang Bergmeier

wolfgang bergmeier

Wolfgang Bergmeier, Ph.D., in Collaboration With A Multi-Institutional Team, Publish In Science Advances

Anna Wheless

Anna Wheless

Graduate student Anna Wheless writes for NC DNA Day program: “A Portrait of a protein”

COVID-19 Research:

Ron Swanstrom

Ron Swanstrom PhD

Meet UNC School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Research Heroes (Ron Swanstrom)

Michael Johnson

michael johnson in lab

Our Alumnus Michael Johnson in the news: Identifying prevention or treatment strategies for COVID-19: Could Copper Disable the Virus Behind COVID-19?

Disseminating Coronavirus Research

Carolina Digital Repository

Disseminating Coronavirus Research

Working remotely from their home offices, the University’s librarians are helping the world’s virologists fight coronavirus by making faculty research more accessible online through the Carolina Digital Repository.

Work from home #WFH Fun and activities:

Some department members shared WFH photos, virtual meetings, online socials, and other activities they did unrelated to the coronavirus.

Juanita standing desk
Grad student Juanita Limas got creative & made a standing desk. “I guess ironing boards are good for other things besides ironing.” Thanks Juanita for sharing your tip of the day!
Carolyn Clabo remote work set up
Carolyn Clabo sets up her remote work from home desk for the department’s communications and development.
Jean Cook Two of my work supervisors 3.26.2020
“Two of my work supervisors,” – Jean Cook
3.25 Cook lab meeting
Lab meetings go virtual.- Jean Cook
Cook lab April17 game time online meeting
Jean Cook plays online games with her lab weekly to build morale & help with social isolation. – (Juanita highlighted this on her Twitter.)
HHMI group with Juanita Limas April 2020
Juanita Limas hanging out with her Howard Hughes Medical Institute #HHMI #Gilliam fellows over Zoom.
Jill Dowen disney movies
Jill Dowen signed up for Disney + and watched Disney movies with her kids.
Judy won a t-shirt contest
Judy Bond won a t-shirt decorating contest at The Cedars.
Silvia bread making April 2020
Silvia Kreda enjoys making bread from starter yeast she made herself.
Bill Marzluff enjoys Strawberry picking
Bill Marzluff went strawberry picking at Waller Farm.

COVID-19 Resources:

If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, please contact the UNC Health COVID-19 Helpline: 1-888-850-2684 for assistance.

Virtual UNC Health Coronavirus Self-Assessment and Resource Tool

Request or Offer Help through the UNC SOM Support Exchange Website

The stress and anxiety of uncertainty and the isolation that can come with social distancing measures can impact your mental and physical health.

SOM Mental Health, Emotional Support Resources

UNC Student Resources: CV19 Student Care Hub

UNC Teaching Resources: Keep Teaching

UNC COVID-19 Website

UNC COVID-19 dashboard

School of Medicine’s Intranet FAQs and Resources Webpage

Other UNC Healthcare COVID-19 resources

UNC Healthcare Resources for coping with COVID-19

UNC HR: COVID-19: FAQs for Faculty and Staff

BCBP Mental Health and Wellness Resources

UNC Research: COVID-19 Updates for Researchers

UNC Global health resources

Global & National COVID-19 tracker with maps– Most up-to-date data with live updates throughout the day, interactive maps including by U.S. county with hospital bed capacity and other data tracked and analyzed by the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Click on the United States at the top of the list on the left to get live US totals. The US Map page provides US County data. Update May 4: Lists on World Map page now include cumulative death and recovered counts for US States.

The Active Cases tab below the world map, shows totals for confirmed cases, deaths, recovered and active cases for US States and other countries. When you click on an orange circle on the map, a data window opens up.

COVID-19 in the US

US Covid-19 Case Updates – CDC website

Information about COVID-19 in the United States – on the CDC website

Symptoms & testing – on the CDC website

Other Live Updates on Covid-19 in NC

NC Coronavirus Live Updates on Raleigh News & Observer – includes live updates on coronavirus cases in NC, including a map by county, and other data

Live updates on NC and US Covid-19 counts and has Announcements by the Governor on Raleigh News & Observer – usually on the front page

NCDHHS NC Case Count, updated daily at 11 am.