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.  This triggered my interest in biology at the molecular level, which led me to go to graduate school at USU (Logan, UT).  At USU I earned a Master of Science in Biochemistry after studying the mechanism of biological nitrogen fixation as catalyzed by Vanadium and Iron-only nitrogenases from Azotobacter vinelandii.  After earning my graduate degree, I worked at SLCC’s Biotech department for 10 years, where I played a key role mentoring students in the field of Biotechnology.  I did this at InnovaBio, an SLCC organization that provides internship opportunities to Biotech majors and serves as a contract research organization for local Biotech companies.  During my tenure at InnovaBio I also had the opportunity to hone my skills in protein chemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology by working on various contract projects.

Projects:  I am currently carrying out cloning, molecular biology, and protein chemistry work for the Rothenfluh lab.  The cloning work is for producing the various DNA elements required to test hypothesis that are being explored in the lab.  The molecular biology and protein chemistry work is for optimization and execution of ATAC-seq (Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin with high throughput sequencing).  This assay is now routinely applied in various labs for mapping chromatin accessibility genome-wide.  ATAC-seq is applied in the Rothenfluh lab within the context of fly behavior and how it relates to gene expression regulation within the cells that participate in neuronal networks.

Ins: I am inquisitive by nature.  I like observation of 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.  Copy and paste on your browser the following link to see my paintings https://delineavit-alejandro.com/

Outs:  My inquisitive nature drives me to explore the outdoor, which in Utah is outstanding.  I enjoy a great deal to cook and to have quality conversations and experiences with my beloved family and friends.

Collin Merrill Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Fellow

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, with particular focus on dopamine neurons. 

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, I love Jim Butcher and Brandon Sanderson novels, Star Trek, and nostalgic ‘80s movies. 

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). 

Diana Woller B.S.

Lab Specialist

Travis Philyaw B.S.

Ph.D. Student

Background: I studied molecular biology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia before moving to Salt Lake City for the UoU’s Bioscience PhD program. Currently, I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy.

Project: I’m actually trying to get my flies addicted to cocaine.  While genetic factors account for ~50% of the risk related to the development of addiction, the identity of genes specific to cocaine abuse disorder is unknown.  Flies are an efficient model for identifying the role of individual genes in complex behaviors, and allow dexterous genetic manipulation at the organismal, circuit, and cellular level.  My goal is to establish Drosophila as a genetic model of cocaine use disorder and identify how individual genes and specific neural pathways influence cocaine addiction.

In-Takes: sweet lake biscuits and limeadexenolinguistics, and Andrew’s (tough) love.

Out of the lab I enjoy searching the desert for energy vortexes to assist in astral projection and contact with extradimensional entities from beyond the third density.

Daniel Lathen B.S.

Ph.D. Student

I am a graduate student in the University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. While obtaining a B.S. in Neuroscience at Brigham Young University, I discovered my passion for unraveling the mysteries of addiction, which I now pursue in the Rothenfluh lab. Our relatively minuscule understanding of this disease is grossly disproportionate to the enormous devastating effects it has on the world and humanity. My projects revolve around the role of histone demethylases KDM3 and NO66 (epigenetic modifiers) in alcoholism susceptibility. I am attempting to uncover the specific mechanisms that allow these enzymes to modulate alcohol sensitivity and tolerance, including possible modulation of amino acid metabolic pathways. Fascinatingly, I found that simply feeding flies different concentrations of amino acids is enough to change alcohol sensitivity and tolerance. I am also developing novel Drosophila behavioral assays to test anxiety and alcohol withdrawal.

Addison Reed B.S.

Lab Technician

Background: I received my B.S. in Biology at Colorado State University in 2013. After graduation, I worked for the USDA for 2 years researching the genetic mechanisms of resistance to Rhizoctonia solani and Fusarium oxysporum in Beta vulgaris (sugar beets). I have since moved to Utah where I am currently in the Medical Laboratory Science program in addition to working in the Rothenfluh lab.
Projects: I currently work on a project in which our goal is to better understand the actin cytoskeletal pathway’s role in innate aversion to alcohol in the Fan-Shaped body of the Drosophila melanogaster.
In-takes I like are a good IPA (hard to find in Utah), things I cook on my smoker, zoning out to just about anything on tv, and beating Andrew in NHL19.
OUT of the lab, I like to ride my motorcycle, go skiing/snowboarding, and play/ref hockey.

Andrew Butts B.S.

Lab Technician

Background: I am a bachelor’s trained biologist with a wide-range of scientific interests.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of New Hampshire focusing on developmental biology, genetics, and molecular biology.  During my training, I studied predator induced phenotypes in Ambystoma mexicanum, the Mexican Axolotl.  We found that axolotl embryos raised in the presence of predators inhibit growth and have a wider variation of pigmentation. Upon graduation in May of 2017, I moved to Salt Lake City and joined the Rothenfluh Lab.
Project(s): Currently I am investigating the role of the Whir gene in the Drosophila central nervous system in response to ethanol intoxication.  Mutations in Whir alleles lead to ethanol induced sedation resistance, and humans who are resistant to the intoxicating affects of alcohol have a higher propensity for developing addiction.  Therefore, understanding the link between mutations to Whir and their resistance to ethanol intoxication may help inform studies investigating human alcohol addiction. I also work closely with Travis on our cocaine project. The goals of this project are to establish a model of cocaine addiction in Drosophila, and develop a transgenic fly that will self administer cocaine.
IN-takes: I enjoy keeping up-to-date on scientific advancements; specifically in the fields of neuroscience, theoretical physics, and personalized genomic medicine.  Beyond the science, I’m a sucker for a good superhero show/movie, a book that makes you think, and a cold beer or warm bourbon.  I am also a proponent of mindfulness meditation, being aware of your attention can change your life.
OUT: Outside of the lab and my intakes, I love being outdoors and taking full advantage of this great state.  Whether it be rock/ice climbing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, or snowboarding; there is always something to do outside in every season.

Masa Miscevic B.S.

Lab Technician

Background: Intrigued by a molecular biology and genetics class which I took my senior year of high school, I decided to start a journey in the fascinating world of scientific research by moving from my home town of Nis, Serbia, to The University of Mississippi, where I obtained my Honors Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with Emphasis in Biochemistry degree in May 2018. Amongst taking a variety of classes in chemistry, biology, and neuroscience, I also did research work in Dr. Susan Pedigo’s biochemistry research lab. My research and Honors senior thesis focused on developing analytical methods for milk protein analysis to propose in vitro models for stomach and intestinal processing of milk products in adults and infants. I found my way to Rothenfluh lab and a position as a lab technician as I was looking for a way to have more practical experience in molecular biology and genetics research. I hit the jackpot as I have always been interested in brain and behavior, and working in this lab has been allowing me to experience both molecular and behavioral sides associated with it.  

Projects: I am currently working on the role of phospholipase D (PLD) in insulin receptor pathway associated with alcohol responses, and effects of cocaine and methamphetamine on sleep patterns of dopamine active transporter (DAT) knock-out flies, both accompanied by learning how to maintain my own fly stocks 🙂 

IN-takes I like include cuddling with my aunt and uncle’s dogs Lexy and Cookie (sometimes even with the cat appropriately named Kitty!), singing the biggest Broadway hits in the shower, and reading international classics.  

OUT of the lab, I enjoy hiking, ice skating, admiring the view of the mountains during the morning commute, and discovering the theatrical and musical repertoire of Salt Lake City.  

Shany Yang B.S.

Lab Technician

Background: I received my B.S in Biology with an emphasis in Neurobiology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2018. I joined Dr. Dudley Lamming’s lab as an undergraduate and worked there as a Research Intern after graduation. I studied mTOR signaling and nutrient-responsive signaling pathways in relation to age-related diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes and Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome. My main project focused on the effects of recombinant methioninase administered via oral gavage and methionine deprivation on the metabolic health of high-fat diet-fed C57BL/6 mice. Though I love studying metabolism and physiology, I decided to move to Salt Lake City and deepen my knowledge of neuroscience by joining the Rothenfluh lab.

Project: TBD

In-takes: I secretly enjoy watching cheesy reality shows on a lazy day. I’m a huge soccer fan and I’m also very passionate about music; whether it’s singing in the shower, listening to my favorite tunes or playing the piano, I love it all.

Out of the lab: I enjoy being outdoors and Utah seems to be the perfect state for that. I’m looking forward to going on hikes and exploring Salt Lake City and its surroundings.

Austin Montgomery B.S.

Lab Technician

Background: After moving to Salt Lake City from Atlanta, Georgia to begin my collegiate basketball career at the University of Utah, I transferred to Dixie State University in St. George to play my final three years. While there, I became the first ever graduate of the newly implemented Bioinformatics program. Due to the local presence of Precision Genomics at Intermountain Healthcare, I was able to participate in multiple internships in cancer bioinformatics. During the summer of 2018, I was an intern in the Hanlee Ji lab at Stanford University where I worked closely with Dr. Charlie Xia to develop a pipeline for analyzing the microbiome and its effects on response to cancer immunotherapy. In the spring of 2019, I worked under Dr. Sharanya Raghunath of Precision Genomics to validate a tool for the detection of microsatellite instability (MSI) in tumor samples. After graduation in May 2019, I hung up my basketball shoes due to injury and moved back to Salt Lake City to join the Rothenfluh lab.

Project(s): Currently, I am helping Collin lead out the analysis of ATAC-seq data, both bulk and single-cell. Recent emphasis has been on dopamine neurons but we expect this toolkit to expand to other cell types as the best practices and pipeline for analysis becomes well established. 

IN-takes: My Spotify app is always running whether it’s Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, or the Dissect podcast.  I enjoy reading all the books I lost out on during high school and college. Recent selections include a multitude of Jane Austen novels (Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Emma) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I spend way too much time on Twitter and I eat eggs in all of their glorious forms. Statistics is an interest of mine as well due to its application to a variety of fields. 

OUT: I still lift weights and condition so I can be good at my new sport of choice, pickleball. I volunteer coach a local high school basketball team and am a TA for Human Physiology here at the University of Utah. I enjoy hiking in nice weather but stay indoors as much as possible once winter hits.

Puskar Mishra

Undergraduate Researcher

Background: I am an undergraduate student at the University of Utah working toward a degree in biomedical engineering. I chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a goal to create inexpensive diagnostic devices that can be used in developing countries by untrained health care workers.

One year ago, I joined the Rothenfluh lab to assist in the completion of a project and to do research for my senior thesis.

Project: Currently, I’m working on a project to better understand motivation in Drosophila with external and internal genetic manipulation. In order to run motivation experiments, we developed a completely new feeding assay that uses electronics to detect feeding events.

IN-takes: I love learning new things and staying updated on new technologies. On my lazy days, I enjoy watching movies, especially Bollywood movies.

OUT: I like to be in nature and outdoor. Recently, I have started to hike different trails in Utah and really enjoy it.