People

Director
Loren Dean Williams
Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Prinicipal Investigator

School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Georgia Institute of Technology

Co Pis
George Fox
Professor

Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston

Eric Gaucher
Associate Professor

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Steve Harvey
Professor and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Structural Biology

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Nicholas Hud
Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Adegboyega (Yomi) Oyelere
Associate Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Terry Snell
Professor and Interin Chair of Biology

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Roger Wartell
Professor of Biology

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Educational & Public Outreach
Jamila Cola
Academic Professional
Affiliates
Graeme Conn
Associate Professor

Emory University School of Medicine

James Lake
Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

Research Scientist
Shreyas Athavale
Postdoctoral Fellow, Williams Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Magnesium ions are crucial in biology, playing an important role in folding and function of nucleic acids and proteins. The question Shreyas is trying to answer experimentally is whether any other cation is able to truly substitute for magnesium without compromising the stability and function of RNA, and what implications does this have on the question of the origin of life on earth. To that end, his research focuses on studying the effects of various cations on the folding and function of (1) ribosomal RNA, (2) satellite tobaccos mosaic virus, and (3) L1 ligase ribozyme.

Anton Petrov
Research Scientist,

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Anton is performing paleo-quantum mechanical calculations. He is using state of the art computational methods to study the oldest assemblies in biology.

Post Doctoral Fellows
Chiaolong Hsiao
Post-doctoral Fellow, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Chiaolong is engaged in ancestral ribosomal reconstruction, resurrection, and reconstitution. He is reconstructing a model of the ribosome from well beyond the last universal ancestor of life.

Brande Jones
Post-doctoral Fellow, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Brande is interested in the mechanisms by which eukaryotic extremophiles are able to survive environmental stresses.  Microscopic animals from the phylum Rotifera are able to tolerate heat stress, UV irradiation, and near complete desiccation.   Her investigations include examining how their ribosomes are capable of tolerating near complete dehydration, and are then able to engage in translation within minutes of rehydration.

Betul Kacar
Post-doctoral Fellow, Gaucher Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Betul is a NASA Astrobiology Institute postdoctoral fellow interested in understanding the underlying rules that govern molecular evolution. She is fascinated by the role history plays on evolutionary trajectories and currently focuses on combining ancestral sequence reconstruction with experimental evolution to travel in time in the laboratory.

 

Dana Schneider
Post-doctoral Fellow, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dana is interested in the reconstruction of an ancestral ribosome from extant biology. Specifically, she is identifying in vivo interactions between the model ancestral peptidyl transferase center with extant ribosomal proteins as well as model ancestral peptides.

Research Technicians
Eric Anderson
Research Technician, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Jessica Bowman
Research Technician, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Jessica's projects include synthesis of the model ancestral PTC, and systematic regeneration of the modern ribosome from the synthetic ancestral PTC. She also cultures eukaryotic extremophiles and their non-extremophile congeners for biochemical assays.

Eric O'Neill
Research Technician, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Graduate Students
Chad Bernier
Graduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Chad develops new software and methodology to study the origin and development of the ribosome, with special focus on ribosomal proteins and the small subunit. The ultimate goal is to combine new information found by himself and others with existing information to create a more complete model of ribosome evolution. The model can be tested and extended through in vitro experiments using synthesized molecules we design.

Vanessa Cox
Graduate Research Assistant, Gacuher Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Vanessa is reengineering translation factors based on the ancient translation machinery to develop a novel, in vitro translation system, which is compatible with unnatural amino acids.

Po-Yu (Paul) Fang
Graduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Paul is studying the properties and function of the primordial functional biopolymer  (rRNA) under conditions of physical confinement. His central hypothesis is that physical confinement of RNA confers protection from degradation, fosters folding and assembly, and enhances catalytic function.

Burak Gulen
Graduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Burak's research interest is domains of ribosome. Reccently, he is working on drug and protein intereactions with small subunit of ribosome, specifically, decoding center-protein intereactions and drug binding.

Kathryn Lanier
Graduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kathryn is focused on Domain 0 of the LSU rRNA. She will test the hypothesis that Domain 0, when isolated from the rest of the ribosome, folds autonomously, and can spontaneously assemble with other ribosomal components. 

Tim Lenz
Graduate Research Assistant, Hud Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Tim's research is centered around probing RNA secondary and tertiary structure and the effects of cations on RNA folding. He is employing SHAPE analysis on several RNA systems, including the model ancestral PTC in an effort to confirm the model secondary structure. He is also examining the thermodynamic stability of the aPTC RNA through UV-thermal denaturation studies in the presence of various stabilizing agents, including monovalent and divalent cations and certain ribosomal peptides.

Lively Lie
Graduate Research Assistant, Wartell Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Lively is developing an RNAse H digestion assay, which will be used to help determine secondary structures of complex RNAs such as the ancestral PTC. My other projects include chemical ligations of short nucleic acids under freezing conditions which hopefully will transition to the self-ligations of nucleic acids, particularly ones with enzymatic activity.

Denise Okafor
Graduate Research Assistant, Hud Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Denise is investigating the binding of Mg2+ and Fe2+ to various RNAs. She is comparing the RNA structural changes induced by these metals and is characterizing the highest affinity metal binding sites.

Maxim Paci
Graduate Research Assistant, Fox Lab

Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston

Maxim is attempting to unwind the history of ribosome dynamics and to provide insight to the relative evolutionary age of various regions of the rRNA. He hypothesizes that it will be possible to relate the relative age of the various motions to other events in ribosome evolution such as the inferred addition of ancient expansion sequences. 

Quyen Tran
Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston

Quyen Tran is studying the early evolution of the ribosome with special emphasis on the evolutionary origins of the peptidyl transferase center.

Arren Washington
Graduate Research Assistant, Oyelere Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Undergraduate Students
Amirta Banerjee
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

 

Max Gluck
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Max has utilized his recursive PCR, cloning, and cell cultures skills to contribute to multiple research projects over the last two years. Most recently, Max is working to optimize the efficiency of our in vitro RNA
transcription process.

Gautam Goel
Undergraduate Reseach Assistant, Williams Lab

Gautam is a second-year math major and is currently developing method to perform molecular superposition using fuzzy algorithms.

Kaylee Goss
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kaylee is working with Jessica on systematic regeneration of the modern ribosome from the ancestral PTC by recursive PCR.

Ivan-Thibault Pham
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ivan assists Jessica with recursive PCR, DNA cloning, in vitro RNA transcription, and general lab management.

Josh Raimist
Undergraduate Reseach Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Josh is Physics major working with Derrick to resolve crystal structures of RNA and protein from x-ray diffraction data.

Collaborators
Lena Adams
Summer High School Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Vanessa Chem
Summer High School Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Martha Grover
Associate Professor

School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Aaliyah Harris
Summer High School Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Sara Hojjatie
REU Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Blanca Quinones
REU Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Tatyana Sampson
Summer High School Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Justin Williams
Summer High School Student, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Alumni
Ava Afshar
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ava clones native and synthesizes non-native DNA sequences by recursive PCR for RNA transcription.

Hassan Ali
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Investigating the nature of interactions of catalytic RNAs with Cytochrome C

Deanna Boyd
2011 Georgia Intern-Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT), Williams Lab
Josh Canzoneri
Graduate Research Assistant, Oyelere Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Josh focuses on characterizing novel peptide-macrolide conjugates via cell free transcription/translation assays and ribosomal footprinting. The goal is to probe the specificity of the ribosomal exit tunnel and peptidyl transferase center with these novel molecules.

Megan Cole
Post-doctoral Fellow, Gaucher Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Megan is interested in the evolution of the amino acid alphabet and early peptides. She is examining the basic characteristics of peptides with different amino acid compositions to better understand the nature and potential functions of the earliest proteins.

Janetta Greenwood
2010 Georgia Intern-Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT), Williams Lab
Anna Hong Le
REU Student ,Williams Lab

Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC

Kanav Jain
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Wartell Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kanav is developing Matlab code to investigate the effect of mutating segments of an RNA on RNA-RNA interactions using RNA secondary structure prediction programs.

Troy Kleber
High School Student, summer researcher, Williams Lab

Troy is cloning native DNA sequences encoding ribosomal RNA to plasmids for transcription, and synthesizing non-native sequences by recursive PCR.

Phillip Link
2012 SURE student, Williams lab
Peter Macaluso
Undergraduate Student Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Peter is a GT undergrad working with the astrobiology summer camp for high school students under the SURE program.

Emily McManus
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Emily is working with Jason on crystallization of the ancestral ribosome and on making fusion proteins of ribosomal protein components.

Jason Murrary
Undergraduate Reseach Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Jason Murray is an undergraduate studying both Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry. He is working on a project to synthesize, crystallize, and determine the structure of the model ancestral ribosome. Additionally Jason is making fusion proteins of various ribosomal protein components.

Annette Parrott
2010 Georgia Intern-Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT), Williams Lab
Jessica Peters
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Jessica is working with Chiaolong on ancestral ribosomal reconstruction.

Caitlin Prickett
Research Technician, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Caitlin's research uses the fragmented ribosomal RNA of Euglena as a model to determine the ability of the extremophile, Thermus thermophilus, to accommodate fragmented rRNA. She uses in vitro transcription, RNAase H footprinting and activity assays.

Poorna Roy
Graduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Poorna is interested in the evolution of the domain architecture of the ribosome. She studies the in vivo and in vitro interaction of ribosomal proteins and their fragments with small elements of rRNA. Additionally, she studies the interactions of magnesium and iron to tRNA using biophysical methods.

Krista Staskevicius
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Krista is working to optimize and improve the repeatability of in vitro transcription and comparative gel mobility assays for long RNAs.

Joshua Stern
Graduate Research Assistant, Gaucher Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Joshua is working on deep-time ancestral sequence reconstructions of the 50S bacterial ribosome. Extant ribosomes carry around ~3.8 billion years of evolutionary baggage. The ancient peptidyltransferase activity that we synthesize will explore William Faulkner's observation that the past isn't dead and buried; it isn't even past.

Lucrece Tiengwe
2012 SURE student, Williams lab
Catherine Trippe
Undergraduate Research Assistant, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Catherine is currently (once she gets back from Europe) making fusion proteins of various ribosomal protein components. In addition, she is conducting calorimetry of magnesium-RNA interactions.

Taylor Updegrove
Graduate Research Assistant, Wartell Lab

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Taylor's research involves analyzing how the bacterial RNA binding protein Hfq recognizes sRNA and mRNA targets and facilitates sRNA-mRNA duplex formation. Our goal is to generate a plausible model of how Hfq recognizes, binds to and brings together target RNAs in order to modulate post-transcriptional gene expression, and to facilitate rapid adaptive response to environmental changes.

Sara Imari Walker
Post-doctoral Fellow, Hud lab (2010-2011)

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Sara is interested in evolveability of chemical systems. She develops theoretical models of life's ancestral chemistry to study how the coupling between chemical kinetics and environmental factors might drive self-organization and complexification leading to the first 'life-like' cooperative chemistries. The goal is to study the emergent properties of such systems for a wide-range of model parameters to better constrain what types of chemistries/environmental conditions may have led to the first living systems.

Derrick Watkins
Post-doctoral Fellow, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Derrick is involved in the study of RNA-cation interactions. Particularly he is studying metals that could mimic magnesium in RNA binding and catalysis.

Michele Williams
Research Technician, Williams Lab

School of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology

Michelle evaluates small molecule thermodynamics using calorimetry. She also clones native and synthesizes non-native DNA sequences by recursive PCR, and performs in vitro RNA transcription.

Yuzhen Xue
Postdoctoral Fellow, Grover Lab

School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Yuzhen is interested in the general areas of systems, control, and signal processing. She is developing methods for hierarchical deconstruction and modeling of ribosomal origins and evolution.