Lab Members – Edit


Rachel O'Neill

Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D.

Professor O’Neill received her BA with Highest Honors in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1992 and her PhD in Genetics and Human Variation from La Trobe University in 1997. Currently a Professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Director of the Center for Genome Innovation within the Institute for Systems Genomics and Co-Director of the iPS Cell and Chromosome Core, Dr. O’Neill has built her career on understanding how genomes maintain stability over time. Her research group at the University of Connecticut uses molecular, cytogenetic, and computational approaches to study genomic conflict involved in retroelement transcription and centromere function and the role of novel small RNAs in chromosomal and genome stability. Her lab uses a comparative genomics approach encompassing both traditional and non-traditional model systems, including human, non-human primates, rodents, marsupials, and several marine species of relevance to environmental genomics. Over the past 20 years, her laboratory has established a suite of genome-scale techniques for their research, including in situ hybridization, cytogenetics, molecular genetics, genetic engineering, artificial chromosomes, bioinformatics, cell assays, and next-generation sequencing methods (10X genomics, Oxford Nanopore, Bionano Irys, Illumina, pyrosequencing, sequencing by ligation, Ion Torrent). Her lab is also involved several international genome sequencing efforts, including human genome resequencing, several wallaby species, the koala, the recently extinct Tasmanian Tiger and the Antarctic salp.

Judy Brown

Judy Brown, Ph.D.

Dr. Judy Brown is an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut and a certified clinical specialist in human cytogenetics and molecular biology. She is co-director of the University of CT Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell and Chromosome Core. Her research is the examination of chromosome interactions at evolutionarily conserved, cancer-prone breakpoints. Dr. Brown also collaborates with Dr. Rachel O'Neill (Genetics and Genomics in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology) in the investigation of chromosome instability, retroviruses and evolution in a number of model systems including human, primate, mouse, marsupials and species hybrids.


Christine McCann

Christine McCann, Research Assistant

Chris has a BS in Medical Biology and is an ASCP certified MT who worked in several hospital clinical labs and at Newport News Shipbuilding. She received a PSM in Applied Genomics from UConn in 2012. While in grad school she gained experience working in the Campellone lab, and completed an internship with Heather White PhD from the department of Animal Science. In the O’Neill lab, Chris performs DNA and RNA fluorescent in situ protocols and helps lab members with molecular techniques and cell culture.

Nicole Pauloski

Nicole Pauloski, Research Associate

Nicole received her B.S. in Biotechnology from Rutgers University and her M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from UNH.  She started her career in industry, working for Pfizer, Inc, Bayer Healthcare and Unilever, before moving to UConn.  She has experience with multiple molecular and cell biology techniques and immunoassays.  In the O'Neill lab, Nicole experiments with the MinION and Promethion from Oxford Nanopore, in situ hybridization, as well as, assisting lab members with various projects.  Nicole is an adjunct faculty member of the Professional Science Masters program at UConn.

Graduate Students:

Emry Brannan

Emry earned a B.S. in Biology at Florida Gulf Coast University in 2017 and completed an M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of New Haven in 2020. At UNH, Emry studied the regulation of unstable mRNAs during embryogenesis in zebrafish. Following graduation, Emry entered the Molecular and Cellular Ph.D. program with a specific interest in Genetics and Genomics. After joining Dr. Rachel O'Neill's lab, their current interests lie in marsupial chromosome evolution.

Emily Fuller

Emily Fuller earned a Bachelors of Science (B.S.) in Biology, a B.S. in Forensic Science and a Minor in Chemistry at the University of New Haven in 2014. She began her industry career in 2013 when she interned at a local biotech start-up company, AxioMx, and subsequently was hired on full-time post-graduation. In collaboration between UConn and Abcam (AxioMx was acquired in 2015), Emily is currently pursuing her PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology. In Dr. Rachel O’Neill’s lab, she is studying alternative splice variants that are up-regulated in disease/cancer and developing antibody tools against them.

Patrick Grady

Patrick earned a B.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in 2013. He worked in Dr. Chris Simon’s lab studying the systematics of an Australian cicada species complex,Physeema quadricincta. In 2015, he completed a M.S. in Entomology from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in Dr. Kevin Johnson’s lab with a project modeling the expansion of bark lice species across the islands of Hawaii. After graduation, Patrick spent 3 years teaching high school biology and genetics at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, CT, and zoology, cell biology, and oceanography at Post University in Waterbury, CT. In 2018, he joined the Ph.D. program in Genetics & Genomics at the University of Connecticut, and after a short time, joined Dr. Rachel O’Neill’s lab. His broad research interests lie in comparative genomics and proteomics with the goal of gaining a greater understanding of evolutionary processes, for which he is studying centromeric protein evolution, retroelement & satellite composition, and comparative genomics of wallaby & kangaroo species.

Gabrielle Hartley

Gabby earned a B.S. in Forensic Science, a B.S. in Biology, and a Minor in Chemistry at the University of New Haven in 2017. At UNH, her undergraduate research involved the persistence and identification of forensically relevant DNA on laundered textiles. After graduation, she entered the Molecular and Cell Biology PhD program at UConn and joined Dr. Rachel O'Neill's lab. Her research focuses on centromere function and evolution using gibbons as a model species.

Laura Holt

Laura earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Connecticut. Soon after, she then completed UConn’s Diagnostic Genetics Sciences (DGS) Program as a post-baccalaureate student. Laura obtained a Master degree in Biology at Hunter College-CUNY while she worked in Clinical Cancer Diagnostics as a Cytogenetic Technologist. Laura joined UConn’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology in the fall of 2021, and Dr. Rachel O’Neill’s lab soon after. Her research is focused on centromeric epialleles, CENP-A assembly at centromeres, and the influence transposable elements have on centromere fitness.

Savannah Klein

Savannah Hoyt (Klein)

Savannah earned her B.S. in Biology from McDaniel College in the Spring of 2015. During her time at McDaniel, she interned in the laboratory of Dr. Xin Chen at John Hopkins University, where she focused on the role of lipid metabolism on Drosophila germ cell differentiation from a stem cell lineage. In the fall of 2015, Savannah entered the PhD program in Genetics and Genomics within the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department at the University of Connecticut, and soon after joined Dr. Rachel O’Neill’s lab. Her research focuses on the role of transcriptionally active transposable elements in centromeric and neocentromeric establishment, maintenance, and function in humans.

Michelle Neitzey

Michelle Neitzey

Michelle earned a Bachelors of Science in Biology at James Madison University in 2016. Her undergraduate research involved evaluating metatranscriptomes of harmful algal bloom samples for nutrient cycling patterns. Before coming to UCONN, Michelle worked a non-profit, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in the Education Department. Michelle joined UCONN’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology in the fall of 2019, and Rachel O’Neill’s lab soon after. She is investigating genomic adaptations of marine organisms, including deep-sea coral, deep-sea tubeworms, and the Atlantic horseshoe crab, to environmental factors.

Undergraduate Students:

Vel Johnston                     Emily Trybulec

Former Members:

Postdoctoral Fellows and Senior Research Fellows (completed):

Chu Zhang, Ph.D.

Current position: Director of Business Development and Biologics Operations, Frontage Laboratories, Inc

Nate Jue, Ph.D.

Current position:  Assistant Professor, Cal State Monterey Bay

Cushla Metcalfe, Ph.D.

Current position: Experimental Scientist, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Dawn Carone, Ph.D.

Current position: Assistant Professor, Swarthmore University

Judy Brown, Ph.D.

Current position:  Associate Professor in Residence, School of Nursing and Institute for Systems Genomics, UConn

Mark Longo, Ph.D.

Current position: Assistant Professor in Residence, Dept. of Molecular and Cell Biology, UConn


Ph.D. Students (Completed): 

Kate Castellano, Ph.D. 

Thesis: Salps in Bloom: Genome dynamics provide insight into the reproductive success of Salpa thompsoni and Salpa aspera

Current Position: Postdoc Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute

Sarah Trusiak, Ph.D.

Thesis: Evidence for Centromere Drive in Macropus Marsupials

Current Position: NGS Senior Scientist, ThermoFisher, MA

Laura Hall, Ph.D.

Thesis: LINEs, SINEs and Wallabies, the Dynamic Landscape of the Mammalian Centromere

Current position: Lab Coordinator, Biology Degree Coordinator, Hawaii Community College, HI

Mark Longo, Ph.D.

Thesis: Searching for the Mammalian Centromere, Excursions in Genome Space

Current position: Assistant Professor in Residence, Dept. of Molecular and Cell Biology, UConn, CT

Elisabeth Mlynarski, Ph.D.

Thesis: Peromyscus karyotypic evolution in speciation and disease

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Comp Bio UPenn, PA   

Dawn Carone, Ph.D.

Thesis: The Role of Retroviruses and RNA in Mammalian Centromere Competency

Current position: Assistant Professor, Swarthmore University, PA

Gianni Ferreri, Ph.D.

Thesis: An Ultraconserved Retrovirus and its Impact on Vertebrate Genome Evolution

Current position: Product Develop Lead, Roche Tissue Diagnostics, Ventana Medical Systems, AR    

Kira Bulazel, Ph.D.

Thesis: Molecular evolutionary genetics of the macropodinae: phylogenetic resolution of the genus Macropus and analysis of centromere composition

Current position: Bioinformatics Scientist at AgBiome, NC

Judith D. Brown, Ph.D.

Thesis: Evaluation of genetic instability in eutherian hybrids

Current position: Associate Professor in Residence, School of Nursing and Institute for Systems Genomics, UConn, CT      


Masters Students (Completed - internship or thesis): 

Trent Tennyson Meg Marzelli Jennifer Mack Kristen Kosswig
Diana Golden Concetta Marfella Lucas Wright Devika Dhandapani
Chia Wei Lim Lorin Weaver Melissa Harris Zanna Aristarhova
Karina Winiarskyj Lauren Bellizzi Leah Newmann Stan Sulewski III
Nicholas Jannetty Sonya Kapoor Paul Gradie Jean Whalen
Jenny Kwok Jessica Strein Randy Kudra Michael Peracchio
Brianna Flynn Brendan Smalec Nicholas Mosca

Masters Students (Associate Advisor): 42

Undergraduate Students (Completed):
(Honors Scholars*, Holster Scholars^, SURF recipients#)

Elyse Pizzo* Justin Beauchamp Yinka Edwards Mike Wheelock*#
Brianna Flynn Steven Slota*# Mark Longo Sara Bennett*
Dawn Lincinsky Brad Whaley Shannon Callanan* Jeffery Lahrmann*
Kristin Hervey* Aaron Stepanek Laura Hall Melissa Harris
Gianni Ferreri Anagha Sabnis*# Martina Strbunclj* Sharon Pillsbury*
Eileen Kelly* Vanessa Piccullo*# Caitlin Finn*# Kathleen Stewart*#
Cecilia Esteves* Mina Farahani* Leroy Robinson Julianna Crivello
Nicholas Jannetty Katie Ritz*# Parker Sulkowski*# Kristen Hughes*
Christine Nykyforchyn*# Brendan Smalec*^# Jacob Zinn Corbinian Wanner
Alex Tedeschi*# Madeline Gastonguay*^ Melinda Wei* Madelyn Severson*#
Olivia Zhang* Xuechen Chen Chenghong Deng*#  Hannah Smith *#
Paul Isaac*#
Brittany Tagg Darlene Burckson