BIO Contact Info

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
4301 Jones Bridge Road, C1094
Bethesda, Maryland 20814-4799
Phone 301-295-3550
Fax 301-295-3512

Uniformed Services University

Biochemisty & Molecular Biology (BIO)

Research in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at USU encompasses diverse interests and employs a wide variety of approaches, experimental systems, and techniques. Driving our research is the desire to understand how biological molecules interact to orchestrate highly complex cellular processes.

The diverse environment in the department provides a broad spectrum of expertise that benefits everyone. Research programs include investigations on sphingolipid metabolism, human multi-drug transporters, unusual metalloenzymes in anaerobic metabolism, RNA splicing, mRNA turnover, intracellular organelle distribution mediated by microtubule motors, the mechanisms controlling the distribution of homologous recombination events in meiosis, mitochondrial quality control, secretory pathway protein quality control and protein trafficking, structure and function of the PhoP-PhoR proteins important for Mycobacterium tuberculosis virulence, the mechanism of cerebral cortical neurogenesis and using the cytoskeleton to gain insight into immune cell migration.

Much of the departmental major equipment is shared. This allows students and postdoctoral fellows from different labs to be intermixed and enhances interactions at all levels. In addition, the department has available modern instrumentation for DNA/protein sequencing and synthesis as well as state-of-the-art genetic and proteomic analysis through access to the University's Biomedical Instrumentation Center (BIC).





Department of Biochemistry Invited Speaker Series 2020-2021 (Organizer: Galina Petukhova)

10/27/20 Amy Gladfelter, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Host: Xin Xiang

11/10/20 Saskia Neher, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry and Biophisics University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Host: Prasanna Krishnan

12/01/20 Nihal Altan-Bonnet, Ph.D., Senior Investigator and Head, Laboratory of Host-Pathogen Dynamics National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, NIH. Host: Prasanna Krishnan

12/08/20 Suzannah Williams, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Senior Research Fellow, Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health University of Oxford. Host: Rachel Cox

03/02/21 faculty candidate, 03/16/21 faculty candidate, 03/30/21 faculty candidate, 04/13/21 faculty candidate, 04/27/21 faculty candidate

03/09/21 Daniel M. Raben, Ph. D., Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Host: Teresa Dunn

05/11/21 Yishi Jin, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Division of Biological Sciences, co-director, the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, Univ. California, San Diego. Host: Xin Xiang

05/25/21 Steven Claypool, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Physiology, Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Host: Teresa Dunn 


Department of Biochemistry data club presentations (Organizers: Prasanna Krishnan and Xin Xiang)

12/15/20 Petukhova lab

01/05/21 Dunn lab

01/12/21 Shewmaker lab

01/19/21 Cox lab

01/26/21 Xiang lab

02/02/21 Rotty lab

02/09/21 Feng lab

02/16/21 Vidya Kumar (Senior Staff Scientist, HJF, AFRRI)

02/23/21 Krishnan lab


Bio News/Publications:

The proposal "The mechanistic basis of developmental delay due to mutations in SPTSSA" submitted by Drs. Dunn and Eichler, Pediatric Neurologist, Mass General Hospital has been selected for funding by the Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN). The UDN "is a research study that is funded by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund.  Its purpose is to bring together clinical and research experts from across the United States to solve the most challenging medical mysteries using advanced technologies". 

Galina Petukhova renewed her RO1 grant from the NIH/NIGMS on "Evolution of the homologous recombination mechanisms" (2021-2025). 

New Publication from the Dunn lab: Wang Y, Niu Y, Zhang Z, Gable K, Gupta SD, Somashekarappa N, Han G, Zhao H, Myasnikov AG, Kalathur RC, Dunn TM, Lee CH. Structural insights into the regulation of human serine palmitoyltransferase complexes. Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2021 Feb 8. doi: 10.1038/s41594-020-00551-9. Online ahead of print.PMID: 33558761. Please see News and View by Wattenberg BW. Kicking off sphingolipid biosynthesis: structures of the serine palmitoyltransferase complex. Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2021 Feb 8. doi: 10.1038/s41594-021-00562-0. Online ahead of print.PMID: 33558763 

Dr. Elsa Ronzier (Rotty Lab postdoc) was recently selected to give a platform talk at the 2021 Biophysical Society Annual meeting titled 'The actin cytoskeleton regulates macrophage activation and inflammation'. Dr. Ronzier's work was further highlighted at the meeting when one of her microscopy images (see below) was selected as a finalist in the BPS 'The Art of Science Image Contest'. Congratulations, Elsa!


Bieger BD, Osmani AH, Xiang X, Egan MJ (2021) The spindle pole-body localization of activated cytoplasmic dynein is cell cycle-dependent in Aspergillus nidulans. Fungal Genet Biol2

A new publication from the Grahame lab:  Gencic,S. and Grahame, D.A. (2020) Diverse Energy-Conserving Pathways in Clostridium difficile: Growth in the Absence of Amino Acid Stickland Acceptors and the Role of the Wood-Ljungdahl Pathway J. Bacteriol, 202(20), e00233-20.

Luthers CR, Dunn TM, Snow AL (2020) ORMDL3 and Asthma: Linking Sphingolipid Regulation to Altered T Cell Function. Front Immunol. 11:597945. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.597945. eCollection 2020.

Xin Xiang and Rongde Qiu (2020) Cargo-medaited activation of cytoplasmic dynein in vivo (review). Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology  |

A new publication from the Shewmaker lab: Owen I, Rhoads S, Yee D, Wyne H, Gery K, Hannula I, Sundrum M, Shewmaker F. (2020) The prion-like domain of FUS is phosphorylated by multiple kinases affecting liquid- and solid-phase transitionsMol. BiolCell, Sep 2:mbcE20050290. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E20-05-0290. Online ahead of print.

A new publication by Jeremy Rotty: Rotty JD (2020)  Actin Cytoskeleton: Profilin Gives Cells an Edge. Curr Biol. 30:R807-R809. 

A new publication from the Dunn lab:  Gonzalez-Solis A, Han G, Gan L, Li Y, Markham JE, Cahoon RE, Dunn TM*, Cahoon EB*. (2020) Plant Cell 32: 2474-2490  Unregulated Sphingolipid Biosynthesis in Gene-Edited Arabidopsis ORM Mutants Results in Nonviable Seeds with Strongly Reduced Oil Content. 

A new publication from the Xiang lab:  Qiu, R., J. Zhang, and X. Xiang. (2020) The splicing-factor Prp40 affects dynein-dynactin function in Aspergillus nidulans. Mol. Biol. Cell, 31, 1289-1301

A new publication from the Cox lab:   Sheard KM, Thibault-Sennett SA, Sen A, Shewmaker F, Cox RT. (2020) Clueless forms dynamic, insulin-responsive bliss particles sensitive to stress. Dev Biol. 459(2):149-160.

Xin Xiang became a 2019 ‘Fellow of the American Society for Cell Biology’. (

A new publication from the Xiang lab:  Qiu, R., J. Zhang, and X. Xiang. (2019) LIS1 regulates cargo-adapter-mediated activation of dynein by overcoming its autoinhibition in vivo. J. Cell Biol. 218:3630-3646.

Jeremy Rotty was awarded an R01 award from NIH/NIGMS titled "Extracellular matrix sensing in cellular signaling, migration and wound repair" (September 2019).

Prasanna Satpute-Krishnan was awarded an R01 award from NIH/NIGMS titled "The mechanistic basis of selective er-export of misfolded secretory pathway proteins" (Sept 2019)

Frank Shewmaker Joined our department. His work is supported by an R35 awrad from NIH/NIGMS "Using naturally-occurring fungal prions as models of neurodegenerative protein misfolding"

Saibal Dey became the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Director of Graduate Education.

Sundaresan Tharun became the Director of the Molecular and Cellular Biology grauate program. 

Rachel Cox was awarded an R01 award from NIH/NIGMS titled "Clu forms a dynamic new ribonucleoprotein particle directly involved in mitochondrial function" (July 2019)

Galina Petukhova's group published "Extensive sex differences at the initiation of genetic recombination" in Nature. (Sept. 2018)

David Grahame was awarded a 2-year NIH RO3 grant from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for studies on energy metabolism pathways in Clostridium difficile (March 2018).

Rachel Cox won the 2018 Outstanding Biomedical Graduate Educator Award. This is the highest academic award that the School of Medicine (SOM) can bestow in recognition of excellence in graduate education. 

Agnes Karasik (Muzsik) (Markos Koutmos lab) defended her Ph.D. thesis “Precursor tRNA processing by Protein Only RNAase Ps and its connection to mitochondrial diseases” (Mar 20, 2018). Congratulations Agnes!

The USU’s Board of Regents has endorsed the selection of Dr. Sarah Thibault-Sennett (a former Ph. D student in the Petukhova lab and currently a postdoc in the Cox lab) to receive the University’s Graduate Student Board of Regents Award for 2018. A Board of Regents Award is the highest honor a graduating USU student can receive. The recipient must achieve a record of superior academic performance and professional excellence in his or her program while demonstrating a strong commitment to serving fellow students and the larger community through personal service and leadership.

Saibal Dey was named Dean’s Fellow to work in the Office of Academic Affairs on curricular integration (2018).

Jeremy Rotty, a cell biologist (from Univ. North Carolina) who uses the cytoskeleton to gain insight into immune cell migration, has joined our department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor (Dec. 11, 2017). Welcome  Jeremy!

Yuanyi Feng, a developmental cell biologist (Northwestern Univ.) who studies the mechanism of cerebral cortical neurogenesis, has joined our department as a tenure-track Associate Professor (Nov. 13, 2017). Welcome Yuanyi!

Sarah Thibault (Petukhova lab) defended her Ph.D. thesis “The Molecular Mechanism of PRDM9 during Meiosis in mouse” (Oct. 25, 2017). Congratulations Sarah!

Teresa Dunn was awarded a 5-year grant from the collaborative Health Initiative Research program (CHIRP) (a precision-medicine-based collaborative effort between the NIH and DoD) to study the connection between sphingolipid biosynthesis and human asthma (2017).

Xin Xiang won the USUHS 2017 Henry Wu award for excellence in the basic sciences, which recognizes the paper "HookA is a novel dynein–early endosome linker critical for cargo movement in vivo" published in the Journal of Cell Biology in 2014.

Rachel Cox and Xin Xiang were awarded with Dean’s impact award recognizing excellence in teaching or research (2017).

Saibal Dey won the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine annual faculty teaching award (August 1, 2017). This award was given by the Dean in recognition of outstanding performance as an educator during the preceding academic year.

Xin Xiang was awarded an RO1 grant from the NIH/NIGMS on "Regulation of cytoplasmic dynein in vivo" (May 2017).

Rachel Cox was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure (August 2016). Congratulations to Rachel!

Saibal Dey was awarded with Dean’s impact award recognizing excellence in teaching (2016).

Prasanna Satpute-Krishnan, a cell biologist from the NIH, joined our department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor (June 27, 2016). Welcome Prasanna!

Galina Petukhova was awarded a UO1 grant from the NIH/NIGMS on "Evolution of the homologous recombination mechanisms" (March 2016).

Rachel Cox (PI) and Markos Koutmos (Co-PI) were awarded a grant from the collaborative Health Initiative Research program (CHIRP) (a precision-medicine-based collaborative effort between the NIH and DoD) on "Identifying mitochondrial proteinaceous RNase P mutations linked to hypotension" (March 2016).

Markos Koutmos (PI) and Rachel Cox (Co-PI) were awarded an RO1 grant from NIH/NIGMS on "Structural and functional basis for protein-based eukaryotic RNA processing" (Feb. 2016).

Rachel Cox was awarded with Dean’s impact award recognizing excellence in research (2015).

Saibal Dey was awarded with Dean’s impact award recognizing excellence in curriculum development (2015).

Aditya Sen et al (Cox lab) published in Disease Models and Mechanisms their finding that the protein Clueless physically and genetically interacts with the Parkin-PINK1 mitophagy pathway (June, 2015).  This work was featured on the journal's cover(link is external)(link is external).

Rachel Cox was awarded an R21 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) entitled "Elucidating the mechanism of mitochondrial quality control in Drosophila" (March 2015).

Teresa Dunn obtained the R21 grant "Orm protein regulation of sphingolipid biosynthesis in yeast and mammals" from NICHD/NIH (April 2014)

Xuanli (Lia) Yao (Xiang lab) et al. published in Mol. Biol. Cell (MBoC) "FHIP and FTS proteins are critical for dynein-mediated transport of early endosomes in Aspergillus", and the paper is highlighted by MBoC (July 15, 2014)

Jun Zhang, Rongde Qiu (Xiang lab) et al published in the Journal of Cell Biology (March 17, 2014) their finding of a protein that links dynein to early endosomes. The results are highlighted by JCB(link is external)(link is external)

Galina Petukhova won the USUHS 2013 Henry Wu award for excellence in the basic sciences, which recognizes her recent work "PRDM9 directs genetic recombination away from functional genomic elements" published in Nature.

Markos Koutmos was awarded the Scientist Development Grant from the American Heart Association (National Center) on "B12-dependent enzymes and B12-transport proteins in homocysteine metabolism".