Story in the College of Arts & Sciences
Biology professor learns how cells distinguish themselves from one type to another alongside her students.
Biology professor Leilani Miller examines how cells know to differentiate themselves: What triggers a cell, for example, to become a brain cell and not a muscle cell.
In her lab, students assist her research, using nematodes, transparent roundworms favored by cell-development researchers because they are easily studied and their genome has been entirely sequenced. The Miller lab studies transcription factors: proteins that can turn genes off and on. Understanding the way these triggers occur can offer enormous insights.
Miller has had 29 students in her lab over the last 14 years; on average, researchers work with her for two years. They develop lasting friendships, with Miller and with each other.
"The students make this job so great," says Miller. "We work together a lot. It's a real community here."
They have weekly group meetings to discuss research, current scientific articles, and upcoming meetings and poster sessions.
The lab work and the community dynamic can really illuminate the field for future scientists.
"When they're doing research in the lab, it starts to click. I've seen it in so many students," she says. "Science becomes more meaningful."