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

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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Reaching for the STARS

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ‘04

Travis Kent 1
Travis Kent

When Travis Kent was still a high school student in Boise, Idaho, Washington State University was one of his top choices. But it was on a visit to the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences when he was told about STARS, a fast-track program where students can begin as undergraduates and earn a doctorate in seven years, when he knew this was the place for him.

“I was excited about getting into the lab early and that shifted my decision to come to WSU,” said Kent, who in 2016 will earn a doctorate in genetics and cell biology.

With STARS, or Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, students can begin their laboratory training their first year. Each semester and over the summer students receive stipends and the funding allows them to spend time doing their own research, rather than working off-campus.

“Without the STARS program, I wouldn’t have been able to work in a lab over the summer,” said Kent. “I would have been further behind in my research.”

Because he had done lab rotations as an undergraduate, by the time he entered graduate school he was able to focus more on research and he was ahead of other graduate students entering the program.

“I’ve been working in the lab for six years,” said Kent. “I feel better prepared for my exams and I was ahead in my coursework as well.”

Kent’s research is on how abnormal levels of vitamin A, or retinoic acid, can affect fertility in men. A fat soluble vitamin, retinoic acid levels are affected by an individual’s metabolism.

“Half of all infertility cases are men,” said Kent. “But in about 50% of those cases, they don’t know the cause.” His research could lead to different advice by doctors who may prescribe vitamin A to treat acne if it could cause infertility later on.

“I’m passionate about reproductive biology,” said Kent.

When he finishes graduate school at just 24 years old, he will have many options in front of him.

“Whether I work in academia, government, or for industry, I haven’t decided,” said Kent. He is currently planning to pursue three to five years of postdoctoral training after he earns his doctorate.

“After that, I am keeping my options open,” said Kent.

For more information about supporting the STARS program visit