Newswise — WASHINGTON, DC – April 8, 2013 -- The Genetics Society of America (GSA) and the Drosophila community of geneticists are pleased to announce nine undergraduate student winners of the Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Travel Awards. The awards were used by these students to attend the 54th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Washington, D.C., April 3-7, 2013. These students are juniors or seniors in college and doing research using the Drosophila as a model organism or using the tools of Drosophila research to study other insects. Among the topics researched by these young scientists are cell death, immunity and neural development and communications.

2013 Victoria Finnerty Awardees

Susanna E. Brantley, senior, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia Title: JAK/Stat signaling in the D. melanogaster cellular immune response (578B) (Poster) Description: Using the tools of Drosophila genetics, I show that diverse species of parasitic wasps can affect activity of the JAK/Stat pathway, a conserved signaling pathway important for the fly's cellular immune response. Author: Susanna E. Brantley, Nathan Mortimer, Todd Schlenke Principal Investigator: Todd Schlenke, PhD

Gina D. Castelvecchi, junior, University of Wisconsin - Madison Title: Identification of novel regulators of apoptosis during metamorphosis (271A) (Poster) Description: The research involves characterizing mutants in flies that cause defects in cell death. Author: Gina Castelvecchi(1), Yunsik Kang1, Anne Sapiro2, Sarah Ives1, Arash Bashirullah1. 1) Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America; 2) Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America. Principal Investigator: Arash Bashirullah, PhD

Robert W. Fernandez, senior, York College, City University of New York, Jamaica, Queens, New York Title: A Step Closer to Understanding Social Behavior: Social Interactions and Dopamine in Drosophila melanogaster (417C) (Poster) Description: We are examining how dopamine, a chemical involved in communication between neurons and associated with behavioral disorders, affects social interactions in the fruit fly. Author: Robert W. Fernandez(1), Adesanya A Akinleye1, Marat Nurilov1, Zulekha Rouzyi1, Anne F Simon1,2. 1) School of Arts And Sciences, Department of Biology, The City Univ New York, York College, Jamaica, NY; 2) York College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Principal Investigator: Anne F. Simon, PhD

Michelle A. Frazer, senior, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Title: Repeat Associated Non-AUG initiated Translation mediates neurodegeneration in a Drosophila models of Fragile X-associated Tremor Ataxia Syndrome (441C) (Poster) Description: This research uses the fruit fly as a model system to investigate the relative contributions of toxic RNA and toxic proteins to the neurodegeneration experienced by individuals with adult-onset fragile X syndrome, a well-known genetic disorder. Author: Michelle A. Frazer(1), Fang He2, Peter K. Todd2. 1) Cellular & Molecular Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; 2) Neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Principal Investigator: Peter K. Todd, MD, PhD

Samuel Hutton Friedman, junior, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee Title: Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein Regulates Trans-Synaptic Signaling (419B) (Poster) Description: This research shows the discovery of defects in the cell-to-cell communication driving nervous system development in Fragile X Syndrome, the most common heritable cause of intellectual disability, which could ultimately lead to a better understanding of the developmental deficiencies present in autism spectrum and other developmental disorders Author: Samuel H. Friedman, Neil Dani, Kendal Broadie Principal Investigator: Kendal Broadie, PhD

Robert A. Gingras, junior, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York Title: The Control of Lipid Metabolism by mRNA splicing in Drosophila (766B) (Poster) Description: This work focuses on determining the role of RNA processing in fat storage in fruit flies. Author: Robert Gingras(1), Bijal Kakrecha3, Nicole Chichearo3, Spencer Ng2, Justin DiAngelo1, Alexis Nagengast2 1) Dept Biol, Hofstra U, NY; 2) Dept Biochem, Widener U, PA; 3) Dept Biol, Widener U, PA. Principal Investigator: Justin R. DiAngelo, PhD Gary Iacobucci, senior, State University of New York at Buffalo Title: Spatial and temporal analysis of axonal transport in primary neuronal cultures from Drosophila larvae (211 A) (Poster) Description: Using neural tissue from Drosophila larvae, we have developed a system to record and understand changes in the patterns of both normal and perturbed transport of vital cargoes within the nerve over time. Author: Gary Iacobucci, Noura Abdel Rahman, Aida Andrades Valtueña, Shermali Gunawardena Principal Investigator: Shermali Gunawardena, PhD

Jihyun Irizarry, senior, California State University, Los Angeles Title: FGF mutants exhibit pleiotropic ovariole phenotypes relating to loss of epithelial sheath (172A) (Poster) Description: The main objective of this study has been to elucidate the roles of FGF signaling during Drosophila ovarian morphogenesis. Author: Jihyun Irizarry(1,2), Angelike Stathopoulos1 1) California Institute of Technology, Division of Biology, Pasadena, CA; 2) CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program, California State Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA. Principal Investigator: Angelike M. Stathopoulos, PhD

Sierra K. Mosticone-Wangansteen, senior, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia Title: A Genetic Screen Identifies Myo-V as a Component of Abl Signaling Pathways (702A) (Poster) Description: This research looks at the effects that expressing a mutant protein, Bcr-Abl, which causes chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), has on cell migration during development. CML is a bone marrow stem cell cancer that affects about 4,600 new patients every year. This research will help identify components of the Bcr-Abl pathway that could potentially need to new treatment options for CML. Author: Sierra K. Mosticone-Wangensteen, Traci L. Stevens Principal Investigator: Traci L. Stevens, PhD

For many of these students this is the first time they have attended a professional scientific research conference where they are describing their research to other undergraduates, doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and principal investigators, including Nobel Laureates, from research laboratories all over the world.

“A fundamental part of science is the presentation of one's work to fellow scientists. This travel award enhances the research experience of undergraduates by giving them the opportunity to present their work at the annual Drosophila Conference,” said Helen Salz, PhD, Chair of the Finnerty Award review committee and a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

“It was inspiring to read these applications. The number of extraordinary undergraduates conducting significant research far exceeded the number of awards we had available,” said Dr. Salz. “We at GSA have no doubt that the future of genetics is strong with such talented young people leading the field,” added Adam Fagen, PhD, GSA Executive Director.

The Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Travel Awards were established in 2011 in memory of its namesake, who was a long-time GSA member, a dedicated undergraduate educator at Emory University for 35 years, and an active member of the Drosophila research community and the genetics community at large. This is the second year the Victoria Finnerty awards have provided funding for undergraduates to attend the annual Drosophila Research Conference. In the two years of the awards existence, more than $10,000 has been distributed to 15 undergraduates enabling them to attend GSA’s Annual Drosophila Research Conference.

ABOUT THE GSA DROSOPHILA RESEARCH CONFERENCE: Nearly 1,500 researchers attend the annual GSA Drosophila Research Conference to share the latest research using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and other insect species. Many of findings from these model organisms have broad application for the study of human genetic traits and diseases. For more information about the conference, see

ABOUT GSA: Founded in 1931, the Genetics Society of America (GSA) is the professional membership organization for scientific researchers, educators, bioengineers, bioinformaticians and others interested in the field of genetics. Its nearly 5,000 members work to advance knowledge in the basic mechanisms of inheritance, from the molecular to the population level. The GSA is dedicated to promoting research in genetics and to facilitating communication among geneticists worldwide through its conferences, including the biennial conference on Model Organisms to Human Biology, an interdisciplinary meeting on current and cutting edge topics in genetics research, as well as annual and biennial meetings that focus on the genetics of particular organisms, including C. elegans, Drosophila, fungi, mice, yeast, and zebrafish. GSA publishes GENETICS, a leading journal in the field and a new online, open-access publication, G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. For more information about GSA, please visit Also follow GSA on Facebook at and on Twitter @GeneticsGSA.