Bioluminescence Research Group 2020

2020 Research Group, left to right, Brian Huta, Danielle Fontaine, Dawn Kohrt, Bruce Branchini, Allison Racela, and Ben Fort.

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 carrying out a directed evolution study to identify luciferase-substrate analog pairs that emit near IR light. Outside of lab, I enjoy reading, gardening, salt/freshwater fishing, and chasing my son around!

Brian Huta, Ph.D., Research Technician
Ph.D., Chemistry, Syracuse University, 2014
B.S., Molecular and Cell Biology; Chemistry, University of Connecticut, 2009

My previous research experience includes the total synthesis of the retinal analog, 8,16-methanoretinal, as well as the cloning, expression, purification, and characterization of membrane, soluble, and antibody fusion proteins. In the Branchini lab, I have been fortunate to work on the purification of new luciferase mutants and the synthesis of novel luciferin analogs. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, astronomy, sports, and spending time with my family.

Dawn Kohrt, Ph.D., Senior Research Assistant
Ph.D., Pharmacology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
B.A., Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
My primary area of work has been in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a focus on protein expression and interactions in living cells. In the Branchini lab, I am using live cells for testing luciferase mutants and analogs with the goal of improving bioluminescent imaging for live animal studies. Outside of the lab, I enjoy watching my daughter play volleyball, reading, and spending time with my family.

Allison Racela '22, Undergraduate Research Student 
I am a junior at Connecticut College majoring in Biological Sciences. I began working with the Branchini research group in May of 2019, and I was involved in testing the activity and intensity of luciferin variants in live cells. Other than working in the lab, I tutor chemistry through the science leaders program and I enjoy running, skiing, and spending time with my friends on campus. Plans to continue research were interrupted due to the college closing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Ben Fort '22, Undergraduate Research Student
I am a junior and I plan on majoring in Biochemistry. I began conducting research in Professor Branchini’s lab in March 2019. Primarily, I’ve focused on the synthesis and purification of luciferin analogs. I use a variety of analytical techniques such as NMR, LCMS, and flash chromatography. Recently, I synthesized amino-naphthyl luciferin, a highly efficient luciferin analog originally synthesized by Promega, through a novel synthetic pathway. In the future, I plan to pursue either an M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. In my free time, I enjoy snowboarding, hiking and biking. Plans to continue research were interrupted due to the college closing during the COVID-19 pandemic.