IGB Fellows Program

The Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a number of fellowships for truly exceptional young scholars who have completed their Ph.D. within the last several years, and are looking for a stimulating and supportive interdisciplinary environment to carry out independent and collaborative research in the field of genomic biology.  IGB Fellows will typically spend two years conducting research in one of several research themes in the Institute, and ideally this research will also overlap with two or more of these thematic areas.  A personalized mentoring plan will be developed for each Fellow. Annual salary is $50,000.


Appplications are now closed.

Learn more about the specific Fellowship opportunities by research theme, or view previous IGB Fellows.


Current IGB Fellows

Justin McGrath

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Justin McGrath received his Ph. D. in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2009 under the direction Elizabeth Ainsworth. His dissertation research was focused on the effects of elevated carbon dioxide and ozone concentrations on leaf growth and canopy architecture in crop species. He was a post-doctoral scholar at Stanford University in the Center on Food Security and the Environment under the direction of David Lobell from 2009 to 2011. His research examined the effects of climate change on crop yield globally by developing statistical models using historical yield and climate data sets.
He became an IGB fellow in the Genomic Ecology of Global Change theme in October 2015, where he will provide guidance to develop a high-throughput mobile crop-phenotyping robot that will be applied to sorghum in genome wide association analysis. He will also use data collected from the robot to develop crop models to identify high-yielding genotypes. The robot system will greatly speed up the crop-breeding pipeline, providing both more energy and food to meet the quickly increasing demand caused by population growth.


William Montgomery

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Will Montgomery received his Ph. D. in Chemistry for the University of Texas in 2016 under the direction of Stephen Martin. His dissertation research was focused on the synthesis of novel tetracyclic indole containing compounds as potential cancer therapeutics.  Will joined the Anticancer Discovery from Pets to People (ACPP) Theme in August 2016, where he will work to develop novel chemotherapeutics for the treatment of companion animals (dogs and cats) with cancer. The work will be heavily guided by genomics and comparative tumor oncology, and therapeutics that show promise in these advanced animal models will be further translated to human clinical trials.


Dipti Nayak

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Dipti Nayak received her Ph.D. from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in November 2014 under the guidance of Professor Christopher J. Marx. Her dissertation focused on using experimental evolution to study metabolism and stress response in microorganisms that grow on reduced single-carbon compounds (methylotrophs). By growing bacteria, which reproduce rapidly, in flasks, it is possible to understand evolutionary processes as well as the physiology and genetics of the bacteria.

Nayak joined the Biocomplexity (BCXT) theme in December 2014. She will study the physiology and evolution of methanogenic archaea. Specifically, she is interested in syntrophy, the phenomenon where two species come together and each lives off the products of the other. The archaea can eat only a limited number of compounds so they form a "consortium" with bacteria that can eat complex carbon substrates and break them down into compounds that the archaea can eat. In return, the archaea draws down the concentration of the gas that becomes toxic to the bacteria.

For her research, Nayak will use genetic engineering to create archaea that can eat complex carbons and compare it to a synthetic consortium of a bacteria and archaea, thus using experimental evolution to understand the costs/benefits of each system by evolving them simultaneously in the same environment.


Priyadarshini Pantham

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Priya Pantham received her PhD in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand in 2014 under the direction of Larry Chamley. Her dissertation utilized an integrated –omics approach - transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics - to identify molecular mechanisms of increased placental death in response to antiphospholipid antibodies, a risk factor for the obstetric syndrome preeclampsia. She was a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus under the direction of Thomas Jansson and Theresa Powell from 2014 to 2016. Her research was focused on investigating the placental mechanisms of developmental origins of adult diseases, using a baboon model of maternal undernutrition, and primary human placental trophoblast culture techniques.

She became an IGB fellow in the Computing Genomes for Reproductive Health (CGRH) theme in May 2016, where she will use high-throughput approaches to test hypotheses and identify genes involved in the pathophysiology of major obstetrical syndromes, such as preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). Her research will also apply a comparative genomic approach to elucidate the evolution of the placenta, specifically in humans and nonhuman primates, in order to identify the placental causes of obstetrical disorders in an evolutionary context. This research will contribute to the theme’s long-term goal of creating predictive models that can be used to develop personalized medicine-based treatments and interventions to improve pregnancy outcomes in the short and long term.


Brian San Francisco

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Brian San Francisco received his Ph.D. in Plant and Microbial Biosciences from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 under the direction of Robert Kranz. His dissertation research was focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying the biosynthesis of cytochrome c, a protein that carries electrons in respiratory pathways and that appears in all organisms and all species.

He became an IGB fellow in the Mining Microbial Genomes (MMG) theme in January 2014 and is working alongside members of the Enzyme Function Initiative (EFI), a large collaborative consortium funded by NIH that includes the University of California-San Francisco and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The goal of the EFI is to develop strategies for the rapid and accurate annotation of genomes and gene sequences.

San Francisco works with John Gerlt, who leads the EFI, to identify and characterize new microbial metabolic pathways. He is focusing on identifying novel bacterial pathways for metabolism of ethanolamine, an important molecule found in a variety of microhabitats in nature. Ethanolamine is the second-most-abundant head group for phospholipids, a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes. Using high-throughput screening to determine which proteins bind to this substrate and then using computational biology and bioinformatics techniques to examine the genomes of all organisms available, the team was able to find the genes that allowed them to assemble a new pathway.


Michael Saul

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Michael Saul received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May of 2014 under the direction of Stephen Gammie. His dissertation research used neurobiological, genomic, and computational tools to elucidate molecular pathways contributing to the behavioral phenotype of a complex animal model for bipolar disorder.

Saul joined the Gene Networks in Neural & Developmental Plasticity (GNDP) theme as an IGB Fellow in the summer of 2014. He has two primary lines of research. For the first, he is working on a Simons Foundation project with Lisa Stubbs, Gene Robinson, Alison Bell, Saurabh Sinha, and Jian Ma to determine what happens to the genomics inside the brain during or shortly after certain social circumstances–specifically, social challenge and social opportunity for honeybees, mice, and stickleback fish.

His second project builds on his Ph.D. research, which involved working with a line of mice that was selectively bred for certain behavioral characteristics. Theme affiliate Justin Rhodes, who works at the Beckman Institute, has large datasets from work with mice that have been selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running behavior. These high-runner mice have been used to study exercise addiction, but they might also be used to gain insights on motivation. The project compares brain gene expression in the high-runner mice to that of control mice with the same breeding history and no selection.


Tong Si

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Tong Si received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2014 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under the direction of Professor Huimin Zhao. His dissertation was focused on the development of metabolic and genome engineering tools in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast) for biotechnology applications. He developed the RNAi-assisted Genome Engineering (RAGE) method to construct comprehensive genome-scale libraries for continuous improvement of yeast strains.

He became an IGB fellow in September 2014 in the Biosystems Design (BSD) theme. He is working on developing an automated genome engineering platform. For this, he is using the Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing (iBioFAB) integrated with high-throughput analysis such as mass spectrometry imaging to create and screen for microbial mutants that overproduce value-added chemicals.

This work will make an important contribution to the theme's research activities. The effort on lab automation may enable a paradigm shift in the field of synthetic biology by greatly accelerating the cycle of design, build and test in engineering biological systems.


Daniel Urban

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Daniel Urban received his Ph.D. in Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016 under the direction of Professor Karen Sears. His dissertation research focused on the evolutionary transition of postdentary elements in the reptilian jaw into the middle ear of mammals. He created a developmental series of micro-CT scans for an extant marsupial and demonstrated that they effectively recapitulate the transitional stages observed in the fossil record. He also sought to determine the underlying cellular and molecular drivers responsible for this change. Laser capture microscopy followed by RNA sequencing narrowed down the responsible genes, which were then verified via knock down of target gene expression during key developmental periods. 

He became an IGB outreach fellow in May 2016 to help promote both the cutting edge work conducted here and a better appreciation of science in general. In this capacity, Daniel will collaborate in managing the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Citizen Scientist Program and the annual IGB Art of Science exhibition. He will also assist in planning and implementing summer and after school outreach activities aimed at elementary children through mature adults. In addition, he will be continuing postdoctoral research in the Sears Lab with a focus on uncovering the developmental mechanisms responsible for generating the novel membranes of bat wings. This dual role combines his interests in large-scale evolutionary changes with his passion for public engagement and generating awe through scientific discoveries.