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The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department announces the promotion of four of its faculty

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9/6/18 - The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department is pleased to announce the promotion of four of its faculty: Drs. Lu Bai, Santhosh Giririjan, Melissa Rolls and Wendy Hanna-Rose.  Drs. Bai and Giririjan who were Assistant Professors have now been made Associate Professors.  Drs. Rolls and Hanna-Rose who were Associate Professors have been promoted to Professors.  Join the department in congratulating these faculty for their achievements and the impacts they have made upon the department.  Learn more about each faculty below:

Lu Bai:


Dr. Bai is an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Department of Physics at Penn State University. She received her Ph.D. in biophysics from Cornell University under the supervision of Dr. Michelle Wang.  She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University under the supervision of Dr. Fred Cross and Dr. Eric Siggia, using cell-cycle genes as a model to understand how promoter architecture and nucleosome positioning regulate gene expression in single cells. Dr. Bai moved to the Penn State University to start her own lab in 2012.

The Bai Lab uses a variety of strategies to understand the mechanism of gene regulation by chromatin structure at different levels. Currently, they are working on two main projects: (1) to identify and characterize factors that can lead to nucleosome depletion and (2) to mechanistically dissect long-distance chromosomal interactions that regulate gene expression. They measure gene expression in single live cells to probe how these chromatin features affect gene expression in terms of the average level, cell-to-cell variability (noise), and dynamics. They are using budding yeast as our primary model system, but we are venturing into the mammalian cells as well. Method-wise, they use a combination of imaging, genetics, genomics, and computational methods. The lab is also developing new genetics and genomics tools for the projects above.

Besides her dual appointment at BMB and Physics, her group is also part of the Penn State Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation, which provides a highly interactive environment for the study of chromatin and gene regulation.

Santhosh Giririjan:


The primary focus of his research is to understand the genomic basis of phenotypicheterogeneity associated with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and intellectual disability, with a special focus on pathogenic copy-number variants (CNVs), or duplications and deletions in the genome.

His research combines gene discovery and dissecting phenotypic heterogeneity using large-scale genomic studies with studying the molecular functions and mechanisms of CNV pathogenicity in model systems and developing algorithmic methods for genomic  and functional data analysis. His long-term goal is to develop computational, genomic, and functional methods to identify disease-defining and disease-modifying genes using large-scale human genomics studies and interaction studies in model systems, in order to connect genotype to phenotype in developmental disorders.

Melissa Rolls:

Melissa was born in Oxford, England and moved to Baltimore, Maryland where she attended the Bryn Mawr School for Girls. She majored in biology at Yale University where she worked in Jack Rose’s lab. During the summers, she worked in Carolyn Machamer’s lab at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Melissa went on to pursue her PhD at Harvard University in the laboratory of Tom Rapoport. After her PhD, she moved to University of Oregon as a post-doctoral scholar in Chris Doe’s lab.  In 2007, Melissa joined Pennsylvania State University as Assistant Professor where she was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013 and Professor in 2018.

She is interested in how neurons generate axons and dendrites with different functions and constituents. To address this problem she focuses on the role of cytoskeletal organization and polarized trafficking. Currently, she is working on identifying mechanisms and proteins that control microtubule orientation in neurons. She uses genetics and live imaging in Drosophila to investigate the basic cell biology of neurons in their normal environment.

As neurons must last our entire lifetime, she is also interested in understanding how they survive stress and injury. She has been using the tools and ideas developed from her polarity studies to investigate both degeneration and regeneration.

Melissa is the Director of the Center for Cellular Dynamics (CCD) at the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, the Chair of the MCIBS graduate program as well as Associate Director of the Penn State MSTP program. Check out more information about the CCD here.


Wendy Hanna-Rose:

The overarching goal of her research is to understand how very specific perturbations to the vast metabolic network result in physiological and behavioral outcomes.

She focuses on inborn errors of purine metabolism to try to figure out how loss of activity of specific enzymes involved in synthesis of purines, results in muscle ataxias, behavioral deficits, and reproductive dysfunction.  She also studies how manipulations of biosynthetic pathways for synthesis of the central metabolite NAD+ result in specific sensory and developmental phenotypes.  For her studies, she makes use of a small microscopic nematode called C. elegans.

Using C. elegans, she can manipulate both the genome and gene expression, monitor resultant changes in metabolism and asses the behavioral and developmental outcomes. She uses genetic tools, such as CRISPR and RNAi, to manipulate the function of genes that encode metabolic enzymes, mass spectrometry to measure the effects on metabolic pathways and physiology, and microscopic observation, learning and chemotaxis assays to assess outcomes. C. elegans has been a valuable model for probing both developmental mechanisms and the impact of metabolism and environment in aging and health, and principles deduced in this system are relevant to higher organisms, including humans.