Adrian Rothenfluh Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Background: I have worked with Drosophila for over 25 years.  First, studying the bicoid morphogen at the University of Basel in Switzerland, and then as a graduate student, investigating the circadian clock at Rockefeller University in New York City.  Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with flies’ behavior.  For my postdoc I switched coasts, to study responses to drugs of abuse in Drosophila at UCSF.

After that, I ran a lab for 9 years at UTSW, in Dallas, and then moved here to the U in the fall of 2016.  My primary appointment is in Psychiatry, but I’m also an adjunct in Human Genetics and Neurobiology & Anatomy.  I’m part of the Molecular Medicine Program, and the Neuroscience Graduate Program.

Projects: The molecular and neural mechanisms of behavior, and how it goes wrong. But see the individuals below for some specifics.

IN-takes I like include research seminars, binge-worthy Netflix offerings, home-made potato gnocchi with butter and Gruyere cheese (a lot of work, but worth it), and I like a martini, the dirtier, the better.

OUT of the lab, I like to enjoy the mountain views, and getting beaten by my kids at Clue and backyard badminton.

Alexandra Seguin Ph.D.

Research Associate

Background:  I got my PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Paris Diderot (France) in 2010. I studied in yeast the role of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in iron metabolism. Following my interest in the iron field, I moved to the University of Utah to be a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jerry Kaplan and Diane Ward. For 6 years, I was involved in multiple research projects related to mitochondrial biology and iron metabolism and using yeast and cell culture as models.
Two years ago, I joined the Rothenfluh lab and I am now learning about Neurobiology and Drosophila (and I have a LOT to learn!).

Projects:  Arf6 is a small GTPase involved in actin dynamics and membrane trafficking. Flies lacking Arf6 are sensitive to ethanol sedation and do not develop tolerance. I am trying to figure out in which part of the Drosophila brain and in what type of neurons Arf6 is important for these alcohol phenotypes. I am also studying the role of Arf6  in the insulin pathway and testing Arf6 regulators (cenG1A and ArfGAP3) for alcohol phenotypes.

IN-takes I like include research seminars, watching every episode of Friends for the 100th time, reading murder mysteries books (I love Agatha Christie or Harlan Coben) and eating Nutella.

OUT of the lab, I like dancing salsa and bachata, hiking and just being outdoors.

Alejandro Pabon M.S.

Research Scientist

Background:  I earned a “Licenciatura en Biologia” in ULA-Venezuela, where I studied hexokinase from the parasite Leishmania mexicana.  I afterward went to USU, where I earned a Master of Science in Biochemistry studying the mechanism of biological nitrogen fixation carried out by nitrogenases from Azotobacter vinelandii.  After earning my graduate degree, I worked at SLCC’s Biotech department for 10 years, where I mentored students in the field of Biotechnology.

Projects:  I am currently carrying out behavioral and molecular biology experiments to test hypothesis that are being explored in the lab. The behavioral work entails assays to determine changes in alcohol related phenotypes after altering the expression level of specific transcription factors and elements from GTPases signaling pathways. Molecular biology work will then help us test our hypothesis at the molecular level, which will provide a mechanistic understanding of the role transcription factors and GTPases play on alcohol sedation and tolerance.

Ins: I am inquisitive by nature.  I like observing the natural world.  To some extent I re-interpret the natural world in experiments and in paintings.  I am a professional researcher, and also have a big passion towards inwards exploration and painting. See my paintings on Instagram @delineavit.alejandro and https://delineavit-alejandro.artcall.org/

Outs:  My inquisitive nature drives me to explore the outdoor, which in Utah is outstanding.  I enjoy cooking a great deal and enjoy having quality conversations and experiences with my beloved fellow human beings.

Collin Merrill Ph.D.

Research Instructor

Background: Ever since taking undergraduate anatomy and physiology, I have been fascinated with neurons and how they work. Following that interest, I earned a Ph.D. in Physiology and Developmental Biology at Brigham Young University, where I studied gene expression within single neurons in the hippocampus and ventral tegmental area. From there, I did a postdoc at University of California, Irvine, where I studied lipid metabolism in single neurons. During that time, I developed a novel lipidomic assay using single-neuron patch clamp electrophysiology coupled with UPLC-MS/MS to study the lipid composition of single neurons before and after physiological stimulation. After that, I came back to Utah to pursue a second postdoc with Adrian Rothenfluh. I am currently working on single-cell ATAC-seq in Drosophila. 

Interests: Single-neuron physiology and gene expression, dopamine reward systems, and effects of drug abuse in the brain 

IN-takes: I really enjoy cast-iron cooking and trying new foods. Omelets are a particular weakness—I could eat one every day. For mental intakes, TV and movies from the ‘80 and 90s are my favorites.  I’m also expanding my favorite authors list–Will Wight is a particular favorite.

OUT of the lab: Golf, skiing, cooking (but not baking), playing with my kids, and making them listen to the music I grew up with (my daughter loves it; everyone else not so much). 

Iris Titos Ph.D.

Maggie Chvilicek B.A., B.S.

Ph.D. Student

Background: I earned a B.A. in Humanities and a B.S. in Psychology from Seattle University in 2017. After graduating, I worked as a Research Associate at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. My interest in studying the neurobiology of addiction led me to Utah and the Rothenfluh Lab, where I am a PhD student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program.
Project(s): My current project is focused on understanding how exposure to alcohol affects sleep behaviors in Drosophila. Flies are the perfect organism for this project because their behaviors around both alcohol and sleep are remarkably similar to humans! Lots of existing research (mainly in humans) has shown that alcohol negatively impacts amount and quality of sleep, but we don’t know much about the neurobiology of these effects. I have found that in Drosophila, even a single experience with alcohol negatively impacts sleep for several nights, and I’m working on identifying some of the genes and neurotransmitter mechanisms mediating these effects.

IN-takes: I love music, especially curating highly specific Spotify playlists (“songs to listen to while getting fruit flies drunk,” for example), and hanging out with my attention-greedy cat, Bean. I also love to read and very nerdily maintain my book tracking spreadsheet.

OUT of the lab: I enjoy running, biking, hiking, camping, and pretty much any other mode of exploring Utah! I also like crafts, DIY projects, playing piano, and vegan cooking, none of which I excel at but all of which I have fun with!

Pearl Cummins-Beebee B.A.

Ph.D. Student

Background: I earned a B.A. in Psychology from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2021 While working towards my undergraduate degree, I was also an SDSU Advancing Diversity in Aging Research Scholar where I worked in a lab at the University of California, San Diego. Through my experiences at SDSU and UCSD, I developed a passion for neuroscience, especially the neurobiology of addiction, and was drawn toward the Rothenfluh lab at the University of Utah. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program.

Project(s): My current project is focused on understanding the neurocircuitry underlying specific behaviors (e.g., impulsivity and Anhedonia/hedonic tolerance) associated with different stages of addiction and how drug exposure impacts this circuitry.

In-Takes: I love listening to music and murder mystery/paranormal podcasts, reading novels, and watching the occasional series (i.e., rewatching The Office or Supernatural for the hundredth time). I also enjoy spending time with my family and fur babies (cats), Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones.

Out of the lab: I enjoy hiking, skateboarding, and swimming. I also enjoy playing the flute and piano, going to concerts and symphonies, and traveling.