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Category: CTEGD Blog

Trainee Spotlight: Stephen Vella

Stephen Vella is a Ph.D. trainee in Silvia Moreno’s laboratory. He is originally from Indiana where he received his B.S. in microbiology at Indiana University. In his first year at UGA, he was awarded an Excellence in Graduate Recruitment Award and a Provost’s Scholars of Excellence Award Fellowship. He has also been awarded an Outstanding Poster Presentation at the Molecular Parasitology Meeting in 2016. And in 2017, he was awarded a T32 fellowship from CTEGD.

Faculty search underway for Assistant Professor

faculty with students

The Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy and the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases at the University of Georgia invites applications for a full-time tenure track position at the level of Assistant Professor.

We seek an individual who will build and maintain a strong extramurally-funded research program focused on parasites that applies cutting-edge approaches in chemical biology, molecular pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, or drug discovery. The successful candidate would build on the research strengths of the Department and the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, one of the world’s leading centers for parasite research. A commitment to excellence in teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels within the College of Pharmacy is also required. The position includes a very competitive salary, excellent laboratory space, and a generous start-up package. Applicants must hold a Ph.D. (or MD) degree in a biomedical, biological, or pharmacological science, have at least two years of postdoctoral training and a strong publication record.

Applicants should submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, research statement (up to 3 pages) and teaching philosophy. Three confidential letters of recommendation are required, and applicants should provide email addresses for referees in their application. Application materials submitted in other ways will not be accepted. Review of applications will begin on November 15, 2018, and continue until the position is filled. Contact with questions.

The College of Pharmacy and the University of Georgia is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty and students, and sustaining a work and learning environment that is inclusive. The University of Georgia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation or protected veteran status. Persons needing accommodations or assistance with the accessibility of materials related to this search are encouraged to contact Central HR ( Please do not contact the department or search committee with such requests.

Minimum Qualifications: Applicants must hold a Ph.D. (or MD) degree in a biomedical or biological science, and have at least two years of postdoctoral training.

Applications will be accepted until December 16, 2018.

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Trainee Spotlight: Josh Butler

Josh Butler

New T32 trainee Josh Butler is a third year Ph.D. student in Belen Cassera‘s laboratory. He is from Front Royal, Virginia and completed his B.S. in chemistry at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Butler decided to pursue his graduate degree at the University of Georgia because of the Integrate Life Sciences program which offers the opportunity to explore a range of research topics. The same interdisciplinary aspect is what he found appealing about the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and ultimately why he joined a lab within this department.

“There is no shortage of resources here, ranging from state of the art instrumentation and core facilities to people that are willing to mentor and train successful scientists,” said Butler. “Coming from a smaller institution, I had never really seen anything to this scale and I knew it was something I wanted to experience and become a part of.”

Research Focus

Broadly, Butler’s research is focused on antimalarial drug discovery. More specifically, he is using antimalarial natural products as tools to discover novel drug targets in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

Nearly 220 million people have malaria, and it kills nearly half a million people each year. Plasmodium falciparum causes the most severe forms of malaria, such as cerebral malaria, which can lead to brain damage, coma, and death, and placental malaria, which can be life-threatening to both mother and fetus.

“I chose this research because not only does it contribute positively to the global campaign of malaria eradication, but from a training standpoint it would also provide a solid foundation for a career further researching and developing antimicrobial therapies in general.”

Capstone Experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to pursue a capstone experience. Butler hopes to do an internship with a pharmaceutical industry research group that is actively performing anti-parasitic research to experience how the type research he does as a graduate student can translate outside the realm of academia.

“Private-public collaboration in malaria research has really driven drug discovery research in a positive direction and  I would like the opportunity to experience that first hand and develop acumen to engage in that type of research in the next stage of my career.”

Future Career Goals

“I would like to continue working in a field of scientific research which can positively impact people’s lives, whether it be through a biomedical or biotechnical avenue.”

Advice for Aspiring Scientists

“Don’t be afraid to fail or be wrong. Learn from it and use it to keep pushing forward. Try to find positives in the negatives.”


Support trainees like Josh by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

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Steve Hajduk to give keynote address at Molecular Parasitology Meeting

Hajduk Stephen

Dr. Stephen Hajduk is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia, USA. He has had a long and distinguished career making significant contributions to our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and function of gene expression, RNA editing, human innate immunity to trypanosome infection and the role of membrane nanotubes and extracellular vesicles (EVs) in communication between trypanosomes and with host cells.

He will give the keynote lecture entitled “The Hidden Life of African Trypanosomes” during the 29th Annual Molecular Parasitology Meeting which is currently being held at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA. The address will be on Wednesday, September 12 at 5:30 pm in the Lillie Auditorium.

CTEGD opens lab doors to undergraduates at area schools

Sharon Keller and Makayla Yang

by Donna Huber

When UGA alumna Dr. Sharon Keller accepted the position of Assistant Professor at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the research project she started in graduate school. Since GGC is not a research-intensive institution, Keller approached her Ph.D. mentor Dr. Silvia Moreno, distinguished research professor in the department of cellular biology and member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD) at the University of Georgia, about continuing the project in her free time. It was during this conversation, that they came up with a way of not only keeping Keller in the lab but helping to solve a problem that many undergraduates in the biological sciences face – gaining independent research experience in an NIH-funded laboratory.

“The opportunity to be involved in a collaborative research project was very exciting and an experience that I knew would be attractive to GGC students who might be interested in this type of research,” said Keller.

In 2014, with matching support from Franklin College’s Office of the Dean, the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases sought to increase diversity in graduate education by offering independent research opportunities to faculty from local non-research intensive institutions. Originally, it was meant to be a 1-month summer sabbatical for these faculty. However, during her conversation with Keller, Moreno saw an opportunity to expand the program.

“Students get very excited when they experience independent research,” said Moreno. “But at some of the smaller schools in the area, they don’t have the opportunity to experience this level of research.”

Many undergraduate teaching labs consist of well-prepared protocols and information on the expected result. The experiments they conduct are supposed to work. That’s not how it happens in real life. In a research lab, a student develops a different skill set from those they learn in a teaching lab. They use critical thinking, problem-solving, and result analysis skills to tackle real-world problems.

“As an instructor, I see the disconnect students can have between a learned concept and the application of that concept,” said Keller.

Keller agreed it was a great idea to include her undergraduates and began the process of selecting students shortly after their initial conversation. Makayla Yang, a student lab assistant in the biology department at GGC, was one of two students selected to accompany Keller 2 – 4 times a week to the laboratory of Dr. Roberto Docampo, the Barbara and Sanford Orkin –GRA Eminent Scholar in Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

“Working with trypanosomes at UGA was one of the greatest learning opportunities I have experienced,” said Yang. “It made me see the bigger picture of my work that it was not just an undergraduate research opportunity, but it was a contribution to science and what could be a future health solution.”

It is the hope of the program that by giving faculty and undergraduates from area schools real-life research experience more students will apply to graduate school and have the same competitive edge as students from research-intensive institutions.

For Yang, the experience has her thinking more about pursuing research and a Ph.D.  “I was able to discover my true passion for lab bench work,” concluded Yang.


If you are a faculty member at a Georgia non-research intensive institution and are interested in participating in this program, please contact Silvia Moreno (


Your financial gift will help us expand this program, giving even more area undergraduates hands-on research experience.

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Newly published study shows that temperature has effect on Zika transmission


Zika was once thought of as a problem contained to tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. Today we know better – with 3.9 billion people in 120 countries around the globe at risk of contracting some type of arboviral disease – Zika and related diseases like dengue and chikungunya are spreading, opening up the threat to more and more of the world’s population as our climate changes.

In a new study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers from the University of Georgia, Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of Florida have found that temperature is a driving factor in the transmission of the Zika virus. The team, led by Dr. Courtney Murdock, an assistant professor of infectious disease and ecology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and Odum School of Ecology, and Blanka Tesla, a graduate student at UGA, measured the effect of temperature on the probability of transmission from an infectious mosquito to a human, how quickly the virus spreads throughout the mosquito’s body, allowing it to get into their saliva and become infectious, and areas in the world most suitable for Zika transmission.

They discovered that temperature had a strong effect on mosquito infection and survival traits, and that the least optimal temperatures for transmission were the highest and the lowest temperatures they tested. Thus, as temperatures edge upwards due to climate change, increasing urbanization, or with time of the year, the environmental suitability for Zika transmission should increase. This would result in an expansion of Zika further north and into longer seasons. In contrast, areas that are already permissive or near the thermal optimum for Zika transmission are predicted to experience a decrease in overall environmental suitability.

They then compared the Zika transmission model to one used to predict dengue. Here they discovered that Zika is transmitted more readily at warmer temperatures than dengue virus, which means that current estimates on the global environmental suitability for Zika transmission using dengue as a surrogate are vastly over-predicting its possible range.

“While there are certainly other factors that need to be examined when it comes to the transmission of Zika, this study established that temperature plays a very important role,” said Courtney Murdock assistant professor of infectious disease and ecology at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and Odum School of Ecology. “As climate change continues to evolve world-wide, this shows us that we need to keep a watchful eye on how rising temperatures impact the spread of these types of disease.”

The full article was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on August 15, 2018.


This story was originally posted at the College of Veterinary Medicine on August 23, 2018.