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A Newsletter for Biochemistry, Genetics and Cell Biology, and Microbiology Alumni & Friends College of Veterinary Medicine | Molecular Biosciences News

Fellowship Helps Fund a Love of Pathogens

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04


In a light-filled laboratory, Nick Negretti grows bacteria.

“I love pathogens,” says Negretti, who is a graduate student in the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences. “They are so interesting. In each of us, there are more bacterial cells than human cells,” he says. “And while most bacteria are helpful, there are a few that make us sick.”

Negretti works in the lab of WSU professor Mike Konkel, a leading expert on the food-borne pathogen Campylobacter jejuni. Often found in the intestines of chickens, C. jejuni is the most common bacterial cause of human food poisoning in the world. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that can sometimes result in death. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control estimate 1.3 million people are infected each year. By understanding how bacteria make people ill, Konkel and Negretti’s work could help develop new therapies for disease prevention.

But like most university labs, Konkel depends on grant money to fund ongoing, long-term research. When he learned there would be a gap in funding because of timing between grants, his lab was able to continue research without interruption because of funds from the Charles and Audrey Drake Fellowship*.

“The funds from the Drake Fellowship really helped,” says Konkel. “This type of bridge funding is critical because preliminary research is necessary to apply for grant money.” Konkel and his team are now funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For Negretti, who began his undergraduate studies in the STARS program, it meant that he could continue his research and stay on track to graduate  in 2019. STARS, which stands for Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, gives exceptional undergraduate students the opportunity to begin doing research their first year and finish their doctorate in as few as seven years.

“Coming to college I knew I wanted to do research, and the STARS program is a good way to get involved in research right from the beginning,” he says.

Negretti came to WSU in August 2011 right out of high school, and had applied to the STARS program. “I didn’t get in my first semester,” he says. Undaunted, he applied again, was accepted, and went on to finish his bachelors of science in just three years. Now a graduate student, he has worked in Konkel’s lab almost from the beginning. “The best way to learn is to jump in feet first,” he says.

In August 2016, Negretti and Konkel will visit the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Virginia where they will use one-of-a-kind, high-definition microscopes to understand better how C. jejuni bacteria bind to the host cells in the intestine.

Host cells change their behavior because of the bacteria, says Negretti, and the only way to understand the tools bacteria use to get a cell to do something it wouldn’t normally do is with a high-definition microscope.

“Nick is addressing questions that can only be answered using a highly specialized microscope,” says Konkel. “We are lucky to go to the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia.”

Negretti is hoping to learn more about how bacteria bind to the host cells in the intestine and how that interaction changes both the host cell and the bacterial cell. “It will give us a better idea how it [bacteria] manipulates the cell,” he says. “This is a very valuable piece of information.” That information will lead to new questions and answers. “Letting the science happen,” he says.

After he graduates, Negretti wants a postdoctoral research position. After that, “I will see where life is,” he says. And where life and science take him.

Fall/Winter 2016-17 – Message from the Director

Jonathan Jones, director of the School of Molecular Biosciences

Nick Negretti’s comments in the accompanying news item remind me of why my job is such a pleasure. Nick’s enthusiasm for his work and his excitement about his project studying how Campylobacter jejuni manipulates its host cells to cause disease in humans is undeniable. It is also a credit to his project supervisor, Dr. Konkel. It should be apparent that Nick and our other SMB students are the driving force of our research enterprise. Supporting their efforts by providing research funds and stipends will ensure that these young eager students can translate basic science into cures of disease.

Join us in Congratulating Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Genetics and Cell Biology Graduates!

153041-SMB-newsletter-infographicAt spring commencement, we had the pleasure of congratulating 38 graduates from our three majors: microbiology, biochemistry, and genetics and cell biology. It was one of our largest graduating classes. We have witnessed tremendous growth and now have roughly 450 students, nearly doubling in size since 2012. The accomplishments of these and previous graduates speak to the strong programs we offer. Over the past five years, six of the 10 National Goldwater Scholarship recipients at WSU were majors in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Our students are also accepted annually into top tier graduate programs and professional schools in the health sciences.

DSC_9803Our programs have continued to grow through the introduction and expansion of innovative fast-track programs like STARS (bachelor of science to doctorate degree) and the new Microbiology 3+4 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Biochemistry 3+4 Pharmacy tracks. Keep checking back in because exciting things are always developing in the Molecular Biosciences!

Bill Davis
Go Cougs! — Bill Davis, associate dean of undergraduate education

Message from the Director

Jonathan Jones, director of the School of Molecular Biosciences

Congratulations to all our graduates! Since coming to Pullman in 2013, I have been impressed with the undergraduate program and our exceptional students. Don’t take my word for it, please come visit us to see for yourself.

Student News

Kudos to sophomore Seth M. Schneider who won the annual Barry M. Goldwater scholarship. The merit-based awards go to college sophomores and juniors in science, engineering, and mathematics who intend to pursue a career in research. Sophomore Angela R. Rocchi received honorable mention. Schneider has worked in WSU microbiologist Cynthia Haseltine’s lab and is currently working with genomicist Kelly Brayton. Rocchi has worked in WSU bio- chemist Joseph Harding’s lab.

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Congratulations to 2015 Wiley Expo winner Natalie Peer (right) with her mentor Dr. Kwanhee Kim. Natalie was the second place winner in the medical and life sciences category for her oral presentation. She received a $500 scholarship.

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Natalie Peer and Dr. Kwanhee Kim




Eighteen earned a degree in biochemistry, six in genetics and cell biology, and twenty in microbiology. GO COUGS!

Message from the Director

Jonathan Jones, director of the School of Molecular Biosciences

Summer is the time when I get a chance to review the accomplishments and changes that have occurred in SMB since the academic year began (way back in the fall of 2014!). I can tout the faculty’s success in obtaining grants, no mean feat these days. Congratulations to Drs.Pat Hunt, Terry Hassold, Jon Oatley, Susan Wang, and Eric Shelden who were awarded new or renewed funds for their research. Several of our senior faculty also retired this year. We wish John Nilson, Ray Reeves, and Nancy Magnuson the very best and thank them for their outstanding service to SMB and WSU over many years. All three now hold emeritus status so they will continue to be involved with the life of the school although, obviously, a little less directly!

Ray and Nancy were on campus in May during the events that accompanied the three day Reeves/Smerdon Symposium. This symposium was a major success and attracted internationally renowned scientists from around the world to Pullman. The scientific aspects of the symposium were focused on DNA repair mechanisms although it also celebrated the remarkable scientific and teaching careers of Drs. Mick Smerdon and Ray Reeves. Indeed, we were very fortunate to welcome back a number of Smerdon and Reeves trainees, some of whom talked at the symposium. I will add my thanks to Diane Smerdon, who not only organized the entire event, but also made sure that it went off without a hitch. The symposium success was certainly due to all of Diane’s hard work.

Last summer we welcomed two new faculty, Drs. Alan Goodman and Steven Roberts. It has been a great pleasure to see them establish their labs and get their research programs off the ground. During the year we also undertook a new recruiting cycle and successfully hired two new faculty members: Drs. Joy (Wipawee) Winuthayanon and Rey Carabeo. Dr. Winuthayanon will join us from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina as an assistant professor. Joy’s research focus is hormonal regulation in the oviduct during fertilization, pre-implantation embryo development, and embryo transport. Dr. Carabeo was recruited from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where he serves as a senior lecturer in their microbiology program. Rey is a cell biologist working on Chlamydia pathogenesis. He will be an associate professor and will bring with him several of his current lab colleagues.

As we move into a new academic year, I also wish undergraduate co-ordinator Biddy Bender well on her retirement. She has been assisting all of our undergraduates since 1999. We will miss her larger than life personality and warm welcome in our office.


Faculty News

Nancy Magnuson and John Nilson Retire

This spring the School of Molecular Biosciences said farewell to esteemed faculty members Drs. Nancy Magnuson and John Nilson.

Nancy S. Magnuson - 2010

Nancy Magnuson was one of the first to identify how the PIM-1 gene, a proto-oncogene, contributes to cancer development. Over nearly 30 years, she also worked with dozens of students, undergraduate and graduate, to help them achieve their academic and professional goals. Magnuson earned her doctorate from WSU in 1978 and joined the WSU faculty as a research assistant professor in 1981. She also served as the director of the NSF funded ADVANCE grant program that promotes the careers of women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines in academia. In 2010, Magnuson was selected by her peers to give the WSU Distinguished Faculty Address, one of the University’s highest honors, recognizing the achievements of one faculty member in research, scholarship, and teaching. The Dr. Nancy Magnuson Immunology Scholarship was established to support students pursuing a degree in immunology and to honor one of the college’s most esteemed faculty members.

For more information on how you can support this scholarship, visit


John Nilson headshot 12.10

John Nilson joined WSU as Edward Meyer Distinguished Professor and director of the School of Molecular Biosciences in 2003. He served as director for a decade before stepping down in 2013 to focus on developing a new umbrella graduate pro-gram in the college titled Integrated Programs in Biomedical Science. This summer, he was named a fellow of the Consortium of West Regional Colleges of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Academy. Dr. Nilson, whose research has been funded continuously by the National Institutes for Health for over 34 years, has had a longstanding interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in temporal, spatial, and hormone-regulated expression of the genes in the pituitary that encode reproductive hormones. He has served as the editor-in-chief of Molecular Endocrinology and as president of the Society for the Study of Reproduction. He received the Beacon in Reproductive Research Award from the Frontiers in Reproduction Program and the Sidney H. Ingbar Distinguished Service Award from the Endocrine Society. Under his supervision, 14 students completed graduate degrees, and he has trained 19 postdoctoral scientists. Almost all have gone on to successful careers in academics or biotechnology companies. Dr. Nilson plans to retire to Taos, New Mexico.


1st Biennial Chromatin-DNA Repair Lecture Honored the Distinguished Careers of Drs. Raymond Reeves and Michael Smerdon

To honor Drs. Smerdon and Reeves and their long careers and innovative research on how DNA in chromatin influences basic cell functions, the School of Molecular Biosciences hosted the “Smerdon/Reeves Symposium on DNA Repair in Chromatin: The First 40 years (and Beyond)” May 21-23, 2015.

Reeves and Smerdon
Raymond Reeves and Michael Smerdon

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