BPS Quantitative Genomics for Space Biology Workshop: Speaker Biographies



Quantitative Genomics with Drosophila

Photo of Sharmila Bhattacharya

Dr Sharmila Bhattacharya: Program Scientist for Space Biology in the Biological and Physical Science Division at NASA Headquarters

Dr. Sharmila Bhattacharya is the Program Scientist for Space Biology in the Biological and Physical Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Prior to joining NASA headquarters, Dr. Bhattacharya served a one-year term as the Space Policy Advisor to the US Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Sharmila has been a Principal Investigator and senior scientist at NASA conducting scientific research on the space shuttle, the International Space Station, and small satellites journeying beyond low Earth orbit. In addition to her research, she has helped develop and test biological habitats and managed science payloads for spaceflight missions on multiple platforms, including the shuttle, Progress, commercial rockets, and autonomous satellites since 1999. Dr. Bhattacharya has received numerous awards, such as the Top-Flight and Nova awards from Lockheed Martin, and awards for Superior Accomplishment, Honor Award, Technology Transfer, and the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA. Before joining NASA, Sharmila Bhattacharya conducted her post-doctoral research work in Neurobiology at Stanford University and earned her Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biology at Princeton University. She received her BA degree in Biological Chemistry from Wellesley College. Her research interests at NASA have focused on the effects of altered gravity and radiation on biological systems.

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Dr Trudy FC MacKay: Self Family Endowed Chair of Human Genetics; Director for the Center for Human Genetics; Professor of Genetics and Biochemistry

Trudy Mackay's laboratory focuses on understanding the genetic and environmental factors affecting variation in quantitative traits, using Drosophila as a translational model system. Her laboratory seeks to identify the genetic loci at which segregating and mutational variation occurs, allelic effects and environmental sensitivities, and the causal molecular variants. Her research utilizes mutagenesis to identify candidate genes and pathways, quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping of alleles segregating in nature, systems genetics analyses to provide biological context and identify transcriptional and genetic networks affecting complex traits; and germline gene editing to prove causal associations. She developed the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel of fully sequenced inbred lines as a community resource for QTL mapping, which has been used to map molecular variants associated with quantitative genetic variation for hundreds of quantitative traits by laboratories worldwide. These studies have revealed that the molecular basis of quantitative genetic variation is highly polygenic and that allelic variants are context-dependent, differing according to sex, environment, and genetic background.

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Dr Ralph J Greenspan: Co-Director of Cal-BRAIN; Associate Director of the Kavli Institute for the Brain and Mind

Ralph Greenspan has done research on the consequences of genetic mutations in the nervous system of the fruit fly Drosophila, the identification of genes causing naturally occurring variation in its behavior, and the genetic analysis of fruit fly sleep and attention.  He has authored:  Fly Pushing: The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics, An Introduction to Nervous Systems, and How Genes Influence Behaviour (with Jonathan Flint and Ken Kendler).  In 2013 he was one of six scientists who sent a white paper to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy proposing a Grand Challenge project that became The BRAIN Initiative. 


Quantitative Genomics with Rodents

Photo of Martha Vitaterna

Dr Martha H Vitaterna: Research Professor and Deputy Directory at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology 

Martha Hotz Vitaterna Ph.D. is Research Professor and Deputy Director, Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on the genetics of mammalian circadian rhythms and sleep, and using genetic approaches to understand how sleep and rhythms may impact health via regulation of mood, metabolism and other systems. While most recognized for single-gene work, i.e., her discovery of the Clock mutant mouse that identified the first gene of the mammalian circadian "clock", Dr. Vitaterna has worked extensively in quantitative genetics, systems biology, and -omics research, including recent population genetics work focused on sleep and circadian interactions with the gut microbiome. She has been an investigator in the NASA Twins Study, Rodent Research 7, and the upcoming Mouse Habitat Unit (MHU) 8 mission.

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Dr Michael M Weil: Professor of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences

Michael M. Weil is a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at Colorado State University (CSU). His research, which takes advantage of murine models of radiation carcinogenesis and leukemogenesis, is focused on understanding how radiation exposure can lead to cancer and why some individuals may be more susceptible than others. At CSU, Dr. Weil teaches a graduate level course in Cancer Genetics and lectures in courses on Cancer Biology, Environmental Carcinogenesis, Principles of Radiation Biology, and the Pathobiology of Laboratory Animals. Dr Weil earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Texas at Austin and was trained in cancer genetics and radiation biology in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Biochemistry and the Department of Experimental Radiotherapy at the UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Weil is a former council member of the Radiation Research Society and has served on NIH, DOD and NASA grant review panels and on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Radiation Research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He is currently the Director of the NASA Specialized Center of Research on Carcinogenesis.

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Dr Leah Solberg Woods: Professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, Molecular Medicine

Leah Solberg Woods, PhD is a Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, Molecular Medicine with a secondary appointment in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from Northwestern University in Chicago followed by a post-doctoral fellowship under Dr. Jonathan Flint at the University of Oxford in England, UK. She had a second post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Howard Jacob at the Medical College of Wisconsin where she then obtained her first faculty appointment. She came to Wake Forest School of Medicine in the fall of 2016. Her research involves genetic mapping of obesity, diabetes and behavioral traits using an outbred rodent model, heterogeneous stock (HS) rats. Using genomic and statistical tools, her laboratory has identified novel genes for adiposity and diabetes traits. Her laboratory is currently conducting studies to understand underlying function of several of these genes. She is also currently funded to identify neuronal genes involved in diet-induced obesity where she will use RNAseq of the brain to identify genes and gene networks altered by diet and that influence adiposity. She has formed several collaborations with investigators who use HS rats to study genetics underlying behaviors involved in drug abuse. Specifically, she is a Core Leader of a NIDA-funded P50 grant (PI, Abraham Palmer), and co-investigator on several NIDA-funded U01 grants.

Photo of Abraham Palmer

Dr Abraham Palmer: Professor & Vice Chair for Basic Research at the Department of Psychiatry

Dr. Palmer earned his undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Chicago. He then earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science at the University of California San Diego, where he studied the interaction of genes and behavior in rats. Dr. Palmer then did a postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral genetics at Oregon Health Sciences University, followed by a second postdoctoral fellowship in genetics and genomics at Columbia University, where he was subsequently promoted to the position of Research Scientist. Dr. Palmer returned to the University of Chicago in 2005 as an Assistant Professor of Human Genetics with a joint appointment in Psychiatry. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012 and to Full Professor in 2015. In 2016 Dr. Palmer moved to UCSD where is now Professor and Vice Chair for Basic Science in the Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Palmer's research uses humans, rat, mice and zebrafish to discover genes that influence variability in behavioral phenotypes (www.palmerlab.org). His use of animal models is intended to elucidate the mechanisms by which particular genes influence behavior at the molecular, cellular and neuroanatomical levels. As of 2020, Dr. Palmer had published over 180 papers, book chapters and reviews. He has received grants from the National Institutes for Drug Abuse (NIDA), Mental Health (NIMH), Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and from foundations including the Schweppe Foundation and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. He is currently the PI of a NIDA-funded P50 National Center of Excellence (www.palmerlab.org) as well as several R01s and U01 grants. Dr. Palmer has received various awards and recognitions, including the IBANGS Senior Investigator Award (2020) and in a fellow of IBANGS, ACNP and AAAS.


Quantitative Genomics with Plants

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Dr Robert Ferl: Distinguished Professor of the Horticultural Sciences Department; Assistant Vice President for Research

Dr. Robert Ferl is a Distinguished Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, and the Assistant Vice President of Research. Rob Ferl’s experimental heritage is the study of plant gene expression in response to environmental change, and that environment includes spaceflight and extraterrestrial habitats. Ferl also conducts ground based science on space-related environmental effects on terrestrial biology and works within planetary exploration analogs. Ferl is the Co-Chair of the Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space for the National Academies of Science Space Studies Board, and will serve the space research community as the Co-Chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's 2023-32 Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space.  

Photo of Wolfgang Busch

Dr Wolfgang Busch: Professor of Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology; Hess Chair in Plant Science

Wolfgang Busch is Professor and holder of the Hess Chair in Plant Science at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Dr. Busch aims to understand which genes, genetic networks, and molecular processes determine root growth and its responses to the environment. He is also co-director of the Salk Harnessing Plants Initiative that develops plant varieties with enhanced carbon sequestration capabilities for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, thereby counteracting climate change. Dr. Busch studied Biology at the University of Tübingen, Germany, and obtained his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. He received his postdoctoral training at Duke University before he joined the Gregor Mendel Institute in Vienna, Austria as a group leader. In 2017, he joined the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Dr. Busch has published more than 70 scientific papers, many of them in world-leading top scientific journals and received several international awards, including the Genome Web Young Investigator Award in 2014 and the SEB president’s medal in 2015.  

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Dr Marcio Resende: Lead of UF Corn Genomics and Breeding Lab; Assistant Professor at the Department of Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida

Dr. Resende’s research has focused on methods to accelerate the breeding process by combining statistical algorithms and DNA molecular markers to predict complex phenotypes. He has collaborated with different groups to evaluate the performance of these tools in trees, corn, forages, fruits, cassava, sugarcane, among others. He joined the University of Florida as an Assistant Professor in 2017, and currently leads the Corn Genomics and Breeding Lab. Dr. Resende’s research program currently combines theoretical and applied genomic research to breed and develop elite sweet corn lines that are adapted to Florida. The overall research goals of his research group are to 1) characterize and understand the genetic mechanisms underlying traits relevant to sweet corn production, 2) Discover, develop and apply molecular marker information to advance plant breeding through marker-assisted selection and genomic selection and 3) Translate the developments of our research program into our breeding program to increase genetic gains and accelerate the development of sweet corn lines.  


Moderators and Organizing Committee

Photo of Anna-Lisa Paul

Dr Anna-Lisa Paul: Director of the UF Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research; Research Professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences

Anna-Lisa Paul is the Director of the UF Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research and a Research Professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. She is a plant molecular biologist who studies the responses of plants to novel environments. The primary platforms for her research are the spaceflight environment of the ISS, and extreme terrestrial environments that can serve as planetary exploration analogs. International collaborations with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the German Space Agency (DLR) that have taken her research to both polar environments - including the Haughton Mars Project in the Canadian High Arctic, and the Neumayer III Station in Antarctica. Paul is a Fellow of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) and is the Past President of that society. Paul is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and the NASA Award for Most Compelling Science on the ISS.  

Photo of Aubrie Orourke

Dr Aubrie Orourke: Project Scientist at NASA Kennedy Space Center

Dr. Aubrie Orourke is a resident NASA microbiologist in the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) space crop production group working on both space crop production and with water system related microbial issues.

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Dr Jonathan Galazka: Project Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center

Dr. Jonathan Galazka became the NASA GeneLab Project Scientist in 2017, joining the Space Biosciences Research Branch in 2015. Before this, he was a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at NASA Ames Research Center studying the genetic and epigenetic response of yeast to microgravity exposure and a Postdoctoral Scholar at Oregon State University, where he studied the mechanisms of heterochromatin establishment and the role of heterochromatin in maintaining genome structure. Jonathan attained his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, studying biomass degradation and conversion by filamentous fungi and yeasts at the Energy Biosciences Institute.  

Photo of Lovorka Degoricija

Dr Lovorka Degoricija: NGS Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center

Lovorka Degoricija is currently working for the GeneLab project at NASA as a next generation sequencing (NGS) scientist and joined the team in summer of 2020. Prior to working at GeneLab, she held several positions within Thermo Fisher Scientific to include working in R&D where her focus was on collaborations and managing full operations of an NGS lab, to technical marketing where her focus was on NGS applications. Her NGS experience spans all three major sequencing platforms to include, Illumina, Ion Torrent and SOLiD. Lovorka finished her BS in Chemistry at Santa Clara University and PhD in Polymer Chemistry at Boston University.