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. See my paintings on Instagram @delineavit.alejandro.

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.

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, 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). 

Iris Titos Ph.D.

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, and a Trainee on the University’s Genetics Training Grant. While obtaining a B.S. in Neuroscience at Brigham Young Universitydiscovered my passion for unraveling the mysteries of addiction. Our tiny understanding of this disease is grossly disproportionate to its enormous devastating effects. My current projects revolve around the role of the histone demethylase KDM3 in alcoholism susceptibility. I am uncovering the specific mechanisms by which KDM3 modulates alcohol sensitivity and rapid functional tolerance, in hopes of revealing pathways and molecules that contribute to these alcoholism phenotypes. I have discovered novel connections between alcoholism, epigenetics, and cellular metabolism centered around 1-carbon metabolism. For instance, amino acid feeding and manipulations of Glycine N-methyltransferase (GNMT) alter alcohol phenotypes in ways that consistently suggest that levels of S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) control rapid functional tolerance formation.

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!