Bioluminescence Research Group 2016

Pictured above, left to right: Catherine Florentine, Demetria DeBartolo, Emma Henricks, Bruce Branchini, Franceine Welcome, and Tara Southworth. Not pictured: Danielle Fontaine.

Tara Southworth, B.S., Senior Research Technician
B.S., Molecular and Cell Biology,  University of Connecticut, 1996, and a post-baccalaureate Certificate in Diagnostic Genetic Sciences.
I have previous experience in solid tumor research, cytogenetics, and molecular genetics. Some projects I am working on are cloning a new luciferase gene from an uncharacterized species of firefly, determining the bioluminescence properties of mutants of P. pyralis and L. italica luciferases for dual analyte reporter gene applications, and evaluating a newly cloned luciferase. Outside of the lab, I enjoy running with my dog, reading sequels based on Jane Austen’s books, and spending time with my two sons.

Danielle Fontaine, M.A., Research Technician
B.A.,  Molecular Biology, Susquehanna University, Pennsylvania, 1999; M.A. in Cell and Molecular Biology, Boston University, 2002.
I was a laboratory instructor for introductory biology labs as well as anatomy and physiology lab coordinator at Boston University. My current research focuses on creating new P. pyralis mutants and characterizing a newly cloned luciferase. Outside of lab I enjoy reading, being outdoors, salt and freshwater fishing, and sports.

Demetria DeBartolo, M.A., Research Technician
B.A., Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Connecticut, 1996; M.A. in Biology, Brown University, 2002.
I was a research technician at Pfizer for 10 years and joined the bioluminescence research group in September 2015. I am currently working on determining the bioluminescence properties of mutants of P. pyralis and L. italic luciferases. Outside of lab I enjoy spending time with my three children, reading, gardening and karate.

‌Leah Salituro '17, Undergraduate Research Student

I am an ACS Chemistry major at Connecticut College and after I graduate I hope I am able to go to graduate school for research and to possibly obtain my PhD. I have been working in the Bioluminescence Research Group since the beginning of summer 2014. My interests lie in the organic synthesis aspect of this research and I work on synthesizing and purifying adenylates, with the goal to develop new substrates and reagents for reporter applications and for use in our bioluminescent research. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. Besides being in lab, I am also on the Connecticut College women's soccer team. When I am not at soccer or studying, I enjoy going running, reading books, and eating. Fun Fact: my dad and my uncle used to do research with Professor Branchini back in the day! (Leah is pictured at right.)

Franceine Welcome ’19, Undergraduate Research Student
I am currently a sophomore at Connecticut College majoring in ACS Biochemistry and have been working with Professor Branchini since February of 2016. After getting my undergraduate degree I plan on getting my Ph.D. in biochemistry. Currently I am working on a mutagenesis project to make the best red enzyme. Outside of lab, I enjoy reading and hanging out with my sisters.

Catherine Florentine ’19, Undergraduate Research Student
I am an ACS Biochemistry and Dance double major and Mathematics minor at Connecticut College. After I graduate, I hope to attend dental school and ultimately pursue a career as an orthodontist. I began working in Dr. Branchini’s lab during the second semester of freshmen year, and in addition to learning about bioluminescence of firefly luciferase, I have also learned how to use several laboratory instruments. Some of my favorite tasks in the lab include mini-preps, freezing proteins in liquid nitrogen, Quick Change reactions, Synergy assays, and most importantly, calibrating the pH meter! Outside of the lab, I spend most of my time dancing, both teaching students and performing on campus.

Emma Henricks, ‘19. Undergraduate Research Student
I am a Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology major at Connecticut College hoping to attend medical school or conduct research in graduate school. I began working with Professor Branchini during February 2016 to gain research experience and expand on my interest in the medical applications of bioluminescence. I am particularly intrigued by the use of bioluminescence for imaging, which is the ultimate goal of the project I am currently involved in. Outside of the lab and my studies, I enjoy dancing, open water swimming, boxing, and playing the violin.

Past BRG Members  

Kristin Russo, Research Technician, B.S. Biology, Southern Connecticut State University 2014
I joined the bioluminescence research group in May, 2015. Currently, I am working on familiarizing myself with the instrumentation and methods used in the analysis of bioluminescent systems. Outside of the lab, I enjoy kayaking, knitting, and sewing.

Alex McGurk ’17, Undergraduate Research Student
I am currently majoring in ACS Biochemistry at Connecticut College with the goal of attending medical school afterwards. I have been working with Professor Branchini since October of 2014, specializing in the biochemistry portion of the research he conducts. I began working in this lab to better understand how proteins work and how to manipulate them to create a desired effect. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. A fun fact about me is that I love dogs and will hopefully own at least one for the rest of my life, and my current dog’s name is Toby.

Deniz Yetil '18. Undergraduate Research Student
I am a BCMB Chemistry Major at Connecticut College. I hope to go to medical school upon graduation, working in the U.S. Army soon after. I began working in the Bioluminescence Research Group in the beginning of Summer, 2015. I am interested in chimeric protein analysis and the expression of firefly proteins in kidney cell lines. My research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. I enjoy fixing objects, learning about new scientific advances, and hanging out with my friends. Fun fact: I play rugby for Connecticut College.

Rakhshi Qureshi ’18, Undergraduate Research Student
I am an ACS Chemistry and Anthropology double major at Connecticut College. After I graduate, I hope to attend graduate school and continue my studies to possibly attain a PhD. I wish to work toward a career in either Forensic Toxicology or as a Researcher. I was first introduced to bioluminescence in my high school by Professor Marc Zimmer. I continued to learn about bioluminescence with Professor Marc Zimmer in his freshman seminar class, during which we visited the bioluminescence bay in Puerto Rico. This deepened my interest of learning more about bioluminescence and motivated me to join the Bioluminescence Research Group to not only learn more, but also to become familiar with the different experimental techniques and gain experience in conducting research. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. Aside from being in lab, I love to play volleyball, read, and eat.

Alea Wittenski, summer research student intern
I am currently a student at Three Rivers Community College and Middlesex Community College with majors in Biotechnology and Biomolecular Science. I joined Professor Branchini’s bioluminescence research group as an intern for my AS Biotechnology program and to gain job experience in the biochemistry laboratory field. My role in the project is the assaying of luminescence proteins and evaluating the bioluminescence from a luciferin analog. Currently, I am considering transferring to Connecticut College to major in ACS Chemistry. I am interested in synthetic chemistry as well as stereochemistry and nuclear chemistry. My long term goal is to work with an international chemical company like BASF, Bayer, or Nestle in one of their branches in Eastern Europe. Fun fact: I am an ex-SAG-AFTRA actress and had background roles in films like Labor Day and Exeter: The Movie. Also, at age 16, I performed at the Tansill Theater right here at Connecticut College!

Munya Talukder '16, Undergraduate Research Student
Munya at the NURDS conference 2015 I am currently an undergraduate student at Connecticut College pursuing an ACS chemistry major with aspirations to attend Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I have recently joined professor Branchini’s research group not only to acquire experience conducting research but also to gain exposure to the various experimental techniques utilized in molecular biology. I wanted to explore a new field in which I would have the opportunity to learn material outside of my current field of study. My research project has been funded by the National Science foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. It involves engineering luciferase variants for improved dual color reporter assay and bioluminescence imaging. The major objectives of this project is to develop green- and red-emitting luciferase mutants that express well in mammalian cells and produce two well separated bioluminescent signals. Outside of lab, I tutor chemistry through the science leaders program. During my free time I like to go on long walks, watch movies, paint, and go shopping with my sisters. (Munya is pictured at right.)