2023 Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship

Roozbeh Arianpour graduated summa cum laude from A&M in the class of 2002. He subsequently earned a Masterʼs from Oxford, then returned to Texas to begin Medical school at UT San Antonio. Tragically, his promising life was cut short when he returned to his hometown of Tyler and was shot and killed by a childhood friend. This scholarship was established by his mother, Farideh Moharer Arianpour, to honor Department of Biology graduate students for excellence in research.

The Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship is to honor overall excellence in research and is open to Biology Graduate Students, please read on to learn about this year’s scholars!

June 21, 2023 | By Jack Lee (jackjackj@tamu.edu)

Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe

profile photo of aishwarya sahasrabudheAishwarya Sahasrabudhe, a biology Ph.D. student from the Menet lab, is one of the two recipients of the 2023 Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship for overall excellence in biology research.

Earning her undergraduate degree from Stella Maris College in Chennai, India and her master’s degree from Pune University in Pune, India, Sahasrabudhe said she gained an interest in her field of research after looking into Texas A&M’s biology department on the internet.

“After I completed my master’s, I had a six month long fellowship before I moved on for a PhD here [at A&M] that I pursued in circadian biology,” Sahasrabudhe said. “So before moving here, for a PhD, I did not really have a background in circadian biology, but the research I did, looking up the department website really got me interested in what [Menet’s] lab did.”

Under Jerome Menet, Ph.D., Sahasrabudhe’s research concerns circadian rhythms, or how the natural 24-hour day and night cycle affects behavior, in humans. Specifically, Sahasrabudhe is interested in the relationship between these rhythms, eating, and the expression of genes.

“My project revolved around studying the role and importance of rhythmic food intake and how that contributed to driving gene expression,” Sahasrabudhe said. “We studied, in particular, the liver in mammalian systems. “We knew in the field that the circadian clock that is present in multiple tissues in the body is important for driving a majority of rhythmic gene expressions. However, there’s been a lot of research carried out in the past decade or so that has shown rhythmic food intake can also be equally, if not more important, at least with regards to the liver, in driving gene expression. So that was my project — identifying what could be the mechanism through which rhythmic food intake drives gene expression.”

Sahasrabudhe has specifically identified an enzyme called mTOR as being associated with how rhythmic food intake induces expression in genes. mTOR, Sahasrabudhe, could even be responsible for the conventional wisdom that eating at night contributes to weight gain.

“My project in particular looked at the role and significance of mTOR, which is an important nutrient sensing kinase in the body, and how that could drive rhythmic gene expression in the liver,” Sahasrabudhe said. “mTOR is a nutrient sensing kinase. The idea being that whenever you’re eating, you have high levels of mTOR. In our case, we tend to be more active during the day than the night, so we’re eating more during the day than night, so we would expect our mTOR activity to be higher during the day. If we start disturbing our rhythms of food intake by eating at wrong times of the day, you kind of disturb the rhythm of mTOR activity. Once the rhythms are disrupted, that could then lead to miss regulated gene expression, which then eventually leads to a lot of disruption in biological functions.”

Such research, Sahasrabudhe, could contribute to improving the health outcomes of night-shift workers. 

One long-term application of our research is for shift workers who have erratic schedules — they are working and hence eating at erratic times,” Sahasrabudhe said. “That could potentially increase the potential for them to develop lifestyle related disorders and several cardiovascular diseases. The knowledge about the mTOR pathway that we have could prevent them from developing those disorders.

Outside of research, Sahasrabudhe works as a teaching assistant for introductory biology courses and anatomy and physiology labs.

“My experience with teaching has been really great,” Sahasrabudhe said. “I feel like it’s a good way to sort of bridge the gap between what you learned at the bench and sharing that with undergraduate students who are new to research itself. I enjoyed the years that I’ve taught.”

Menet said Sahasrabudhe, who is graduating soon, is looking forward to a bright future in biology.

“She’s great and amazing, and she did very well during her Ph.D.,” Menet said. “I don’t want her to leave, but she’s leaving by the end of this week. But I’m happy about what she accomplished during her Ph.D. and I’m sure she will do well, wherever she goes.”

Hailee Nerber

profile photo of hailee nerberHailee Nerber, a biology Ph.D. student from the Sorg lab, is one of the two recipients of the 2023 Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship for overall excellence in biology research.

Nerber, who received her undergraduate degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, said she was always inclined towards research.

“I just always gravitated towards science,” Nerber said. “Like, in high school, I got a microscope for my birthday in ninth grade. And I just always really enjoyed it. I went to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and majored in cell biology. I was in small class sizes because it was a private university, so we really got to interact with our professors quite a bit. I got to hear their stories, and it made me want to do research.”

Under Joseph Sorg, Ph.D., Nerber researches potential treatments for bacterial diseases.

“I work on the small acid-soluble proteins in [the bacteria Clostridioides difficile],” Nerber said. “We’ve been figuring out what exactly they do, because in other organisms, they’ve been found to protect the spores against a variety of different agents like chemicals, UV light. We wanted to see if it did the same as C. diff. And we found a novel phenotype of immature spore formation whenever you knock out the two main small acid soluble proteins, so we’ve been going down that path and trying to figure out how exactly they contribute to sporulation.”

Nerber said her research found that knocking out both of the protein-producing genes in C. diff. had unexpected effects.

“In most spore-forming organisms, whenever you do a double mutant of SSPA and SSPP, which are the two main genes, then you still have spore formation, but instead of having spores that are extremely UV resistant, then they now have a phenotype where you can UV treat them and get rid of them. Also, they are easier to kill with chemicals,” Nerber said. “But for us, whenever we did a double knockout, then now they just didn’t make fully formed mature spores. So something completely different.”

One day, Nerber hopes this discovery could improve public health outcomes. C. diff. is listed by the CDC as a major health threat, causing more than 10,000 deaths a year in the United States.

“We could target the small-acid soluble proteins so that the spores are not able to form and then you don’t have spread of disease,” Nerber said.

At UMHB, which only hosts undergraduate students, Nerber gained experience in teaching biology classes, which she continues to do at A&M.

“At UMHB, I taught freshman biology, microbiology and genetics as well. So there, I basically set up the classroom, answered questions, graded papers, maintained flies for genetics, and just kind of helped out wherever the professors needed me. Here, I taught freshman biology and also microbiology,” Nerber said. “I really do enjoy the small environment of teaching the small class sizes and the curiosity from the students. It’s nice to see that because I’ve also been in that situation where I felt that curiosity and wanted to ask questions.”

Sorg praised Nerber’s work ethic and said no volume of tasks seemed to be insurmountable for her.

“She’s a go-getter. One hundred percent,” Sorg said. “Tackles a project, plans her day so that she can maximize whatever she needs to get done. I think at one point, she was working on three or four projects at once, but she does it all very efficiently with a super positive attitude.”

Congratulations to all and thank you for your hard work this past year!