DEB Student Spotlights

Biotech Research in the Spotlight

Iris Juanico in lab
Iris is investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying regeneration using Hydra vulgaris as a model.

At any given time, the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology (DEB) community is comprised of about 200 creative, hard-working PhD students who are striving to discover new knowledge, grow as scientists and engineers, and make the world a better place. On this page, we highlight a few current students and recent alumni to give our stakeholders an idea of the breadth of biotech-related research on-going at UC Davis. If you are a current or past member of the DEB and would like to "spotlight" your work, please reach out to our team. 

Current DEB Student Spotlights

  • Iris Juanico (Juliano Lab and DEB Student Representative) - In Iris' own words, "I am a BMCDB graduate student in Dr. Celina Juliano’s lab, a CoMeT mentor in the College of Biological Sciences, and a member of the Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee in the grad group. I am interested in the activation of Wnt signaling after injury in the highly regenerative cnidarian polyp Hydra vulgarisThe injury response is conserved across animals but does not always trigger regeneration. For example, while Hydra vulgaris can regenerate its whole body, other animals like us can experience permanent injury and scarring, such as after losing a finger or a stroke. The key difference is that in regenerative animals, injury activates conserved developmental pathways, such as Wnt, that re-pattern and regrow the lost body part. How transcription factors connect the injury response to the activation of developmental pathways is not well understood. I aim to uncover this link in Hydra vulgaris. The project will serve as a basis for regenerative medicine as they study ways to harness the power of developmental pathways in non-regenerative models." 


Abelina Jackson 2022
Abelina Jackson in the greenhouse. Photo credit: Amanda Saichaie, Plant Breeding Center
  • Abelina Jackson (Diepenbrock Lab) - A member of the Plant Biology Graduate Group, Abelina's research focuses on abiotic stress tolerance and crop nutritional quality, including analyses of bioactive plant compounds in leafy greens (e.g., spinach, lettuce). Read more about Abelina's academic interests, current research and future plans in the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center's May 2022 Newsletter
    Houston and Abhaya 2022
    Houston and Prof. Dandekar deep in discussion at the 2022 Annual Biotech Retreat.
  • Elizabeth Lotsof (David Lab) - Liz works on understanding DNA repair mechanisms, specifically the enzyme NEIL in her research. Hear more about her graduate work in this great video produced by the David Lab
  • Reagan Reed (Khanday Lab) - Reagan is passionate about new agricultural technologies and is working on a project to improve tomato seed germination using modern breeding technologies, such as gene editing. Read more about Reagan's interests and research in the UC Davis Plant Breed Center's October 2022 Newsletter.
  • Pallavi D. Sambre (Parikh Lab) - Recently awarded a UC National Laboratory In-Residence Graduate Fellowship, Pallavi will be working on synthetic cell membranes at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Read more about her latest research adventures in materials science and engineering.
  • Houston Saxe (Dandekar Lab) - Houston is studying molecular mechanisms of plant pathology and disease resistance using omics-based approaches in a walnut model system. He is honing computational biology skills and had broad interests in both agricultural and medical biotechnology. Houston was featured in the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center's January 2021 Newsletter. 
  • Kevin Yates (McDonald-Nandi Lab) - Kevin has been working on developing transgenic lettuce that expresses a stable fusion protein (parathyroid hormone plus antibody) that may be used as a bone-less prevention treatment by astronauts on long space missions. The research is supported by the Center for Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES) NASA project and was recently highlighted in the UC Davis article, "Lettuce Could Protect Astronauts' Bones on Mars Trip".

Past Spotlights and DEB Alumni

Many thanks to the Plant Breeding Center Newsletter writer, Amanda Saichaie, and our former Assistant Director, Marianne Hunter, for authoring many of the Student Spotlights linked below.

Cintia Helena Duarte Sagawa 2019
Cintia Helena Duarte Sagawa working with transgenic walnut seedlings in the Dandekar Lab (2019).


Lucas McKinnon
DEB Alum, Dr. Lucas McKinnon, hard at work in the Theg Lab, unraveling the mysteries of photosynthesis (2019). Lucas is currently with Bayer Crop Science.