Current members: Joel Meyer

: Kiersten Bell; Ashley Blawas; Tanner Waters

PhD students
: Claudia González; Rashmi Joglekar (co-advised by Susan Murphy); Tony Luz; Latasha Smith; Lauren Wyatt (co advised by Bill Pan); Tess Leuthner

: Senyene Hunter; Ian Ryde;

: Laura Maurer; Jessica Hartman

Former members:

: Avery Berkowitz (Speed Demon); Kelsey Behrens (FUDR girl); Meryl Colton (Photoxia); Audrey Dinyari (Mitolassie); Lauren Donoghue (Teenage Mutant Tarheel Turtle); Sam Hall (Fluoresca); Sarah Gustafson (Staticia); Jina Kim (DNA Djinni); Sean Lee (Pickstar); Katie Margillo (Ultraviolet Spectre); Anne Martin (GreenGirl) Maddie McKeever (Wildcat); Caroline Schechinger (Sacaga-enviro-wea); Matt Strumph (MacroLeader); Lila Thornton (Shadowcrosser); Dan Wood (Sonic Boom); Zhirui (Ray) Zhu (SYBRman); Tory Harms

Master’s students
: Sharon Luong (Firebird); Krithika Umakanth (Mekanika); Alex Kliminsky (Master Strange)

PhD students
: Amanda Smith Bess (Black Fusion); Maxwell C.K. Leung (Toxic Knight); Jess Lewis (Smoke Slayer); John Rooney (Worm Hunter); Xinyu (Candy) Yang (Nano Ninja)

: Charu Anbalagan (Supertoxgirl); Tracey Crocker (Wonder Worm Woman); Maggie Gustafson (Maggie the White); Alex Ji (Terror Byte); Chris Lord (Green Machine); Victoria Tettehnaa; Elena Turner (Metalhawk)

: Rakesh Bodhicharla (The Hulk); Kirsten Helmcke (Mercuria)


Superheroes caught on camera!

Electrophoresa – Senyene Hunter

After receiving both her BS in Chemistry and PhD in Biological Chemistry from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the fearless Electrophoresa flew up to Connecticut where she worked as a postoctoral research fellow in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at the Yale University School of Medicine.  She then returned to the Research Triangle to accept an Intramural Research Training Award in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS, Research Triangle Park).  In this lab, Electrophoresa first developed her research project in which she daringly pursues the truth about mitochondrial (mt) DNA damage and repair.  Despite serious ideological differences with regard to basketball, the courageous crime fighter crossed enemy lines to journey to the Nicholas School at Duke University and join the Meyer lab as a postdoctoral fellow in early 2009, where she has continued her valiant mtDNA investigations.  Harnessing the energy of lightning, the clout of qPCR, and the might of microinjections, among other fearsome biochemical superpowers, Electrophoresa braves the shadowed worlds of cloning and crossing to unravel the mysteries of mtDNA damage and repair. Most amazingly, she continued this research while attending medical school at UNC (2010-2014), after being inspired to work more closely with patients. Haunting the laboratory in off hours, Electrophoresa continues her laboratory research to this day!

When not heroically pursuing truth at the Meyer lab, Electrophoresa reverts to her anything-but-mild-mannered alter ego, Dr. Senyene Hunter.  Dr. Hunter serves as an adjunt professor at Saint Augustine’s College and has been active with service, especially in mentoring students at a number of levels. Dr. Hunter is married and has one very spirited son.

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Epi-Girl – Rashmi Joglekar

Venturing from the desolate cornfields of West Lafayette, Indiana, EpiGirl recently came to Duke University as a first year Ph.D student to fight the evil forces of environmental toxicants. After becoming familiarized with the exciting world of epigenetics during her BS in Biotechnology at Indiana University, EpiGirl decided to join the Meyer and Murphy Labs and dedicate her superhuman strengths towards discovering the secrets of mitochondrial influence on epigenetics. Although new to the Meyer Lab superhero squad, EpiGirl has begun to investigate the epigenetic effects of rotenone exposure on differentiating PC12 cells.

Apart from conquering the evil forces of environmental toxicants, EpiGirl, also known as Rashmi, enjoys less burdensome pastimes such as singing, playing piano, pretending to exercise, and making Bollywood-esque music videos on YouTube. In an ironic twist, she thoroughly enjoys painting her face with chemicals disguised as colorful cosmetics and warding off evil forces with her bright guises. She is also a self-proclaimed “foodie,” and enjoys sampling the gourmet food of Durham.

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the Free Radical – Ian Ryde

After a shadowy decade and a half spent roaming the frigid wilderness of upper North America, the mysterious Free Radical journeyed south to Ohio, where he earned a BS in Biology at Bowling Green State University.  Next the Free Radical whetted his eco-research teeth for five years in the Duke University lab of Dr. Ted Slotkin, where he studied the effects of pesticides and nicotine in rat and cell models and climbed the ladder from a keen research technician to a truly formidable laboratory analyst II.  In the cold, early months of 2010, the fearless Free Radical ventured a few wings down in the LSRC to join our dauntless defenders in the pursuit of eco-justice and other derring-do.  Here he will study the effects of bulky, persistent damage to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) on RNA expression, mtDNA copy number, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels in C. elegans.  He’s excited to do something new and different as part of our unique and talented eco-team.

When not carrying out vigilante eco-justice in the lab, the Free Radical reverts to his alter ego, Ian Ryde.  Born and raised in the wilds of Canada, Ian naturally learned to play hockey and hunt ferocious beavers at a young age.  Now Ian has a son with whom he spends as much time as possible outside, especially learning to play sports.  In order to be a good role model, he continues to teach his son many important life lessons: to love Ohio State and hate University of Michigan, to love the Toronto Maple Leafs and hate the Ottawa Senators, and to use various dirty words in addition to plenty of perfectly clean ones.  One way or another, Ian spends much of his leisure time watching and playing sports.  His favorite color is blue, and he despises all Jelly Beans for the fiendishly inedible bits of colored wax that they are.  He’s glad to be at Duke, which he has come to know as an excellent place to work and learn and where he hopes to stay for many years to come.

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Invisible Woman – Laura Maurer

Laura is from a big family and grew up in rural Michigan.  She completed her BS in Physiology at Michigan State University.  She then moved on to the University of Michigan for graduate school, where she did her PhD thesis on mitochondrial susceptibility to neurotoxicants during aging.  She makes the lab jealous with her superpower of disappearing while simultaneously impressing everyone with her productivity. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and actively avoiding the North Carolina heat and humidity. See links to her postdocumentary profile and interview (with local middle schoolers)!

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The Catalyst – Jessica Hartman

The Catalyst is a fearsome enzymologist delving into the world of toxicology. After doing a B.S. in Chemistry with a minor in Physics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she did her Ph.D. in Biochemistry studying the intricacies of how a xenobiotic (foreign chemical)-metabolizing liver enzyme (CYP2E1) carries out its enzymatic reactions. CYP2E1 converts many environmental pollutants and drugs into more toxic metabolites that damage cells! Many of these metabolites specifically damage mitochondria, which is how this enzymologist became interested in mitochondrial toxicity. So now she has joined forces with the Meyer lab to look at CYP2E1-dependent toxicities to mitochondria after exposure to neurotoxicants and how this mechanism might contribute to neurodegeneration. For her experiments, The Catalyst is working with mammalian cell lines and the model organism C. elegans.

When not catalyzing progress in the lab, Jessica enjoys cooking many different types of delicious foods, making some mean homebrew wine, oil painting pictures of anything except people, and spending quality time with her brilliant and handsome husband Steven. She is a certified group fitness instructor, and has taught kickboxing, weight lifting, high-intensity interval training and boot camp. She enjoys learning about nutrition and fitness and hopes to one day intertwine these interests with her research. She loves to travel, whether it be exploring North Carolina, going back to Arkansas to see family, or discovering new places. And finally, she loves to hike outdoors (but not sleep outdoors). She is very happy to be in Durham, where there seems to be endless opportunities (for career and fun)!

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MitoMaga – Claudia González

Hailing from the misty tropics of Panama, MitoMaga (or MitoMage) joined us in our mito mission after earning her B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  As an undergrad she worked on a wide variety of topics, from studying marine biology in the tropics to identifying extremophile cave bacteria through PCR and DNA sequencing.  She is fascinated by molecular biology, particularly anything to do with nucleic acids.  As a nature lover, MitoMaga is excited to contribute to the study of toxins that affect environmental health.  She finds mitochondria particularly fascinating and explores the relationship between mtDNA damage and neurodegeneration.

When not wielding arcane arts in the name of green justice, MitoMaga reverts to her alter ego, Claudia González.  Although she misses her family in Panama tremendously, she is very excited to live in Durham because of its diverse community.  She likes to spend time in the water (lake, river, ocean, you name it), reading books and magazines, killing brain cells watching TV, and trying to learn how to play piano.  She’d rather starve than lose internet access, and even tweets!  She classifies herself as a wannabe runner, with the goal of running a marathon someday.  She loves to play sports, but says she’s terrible at them.  Claudia is always on the hunt for a better chair. She also loves to spend time with her husband!  She is very happy to be a Blue Devil – she loves the campus and the Gardens.

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Silver Storm – Lauren Wyatt

Silver Storm toils away in the lab and the field elucidating the impacts of early-life mercury exposure on later-life consequences.  Mercury exposure has an adverse impact on the nervous system, especially the developing nervous system.  Silver Storm seeks the knowledge of how other systems may be impacted from early exposure, focusing on the immune system and DNA damage.  Her work involves the model organism C. elegans and a human population in Madre de Dios, Peru that is exposed to mercury from smallscale but widespread regional  gold mining.  “Artisanal” gold mining—often illegal–uses mercury in the gold extraction process and is an important factor in not only regional mercury exposure, but also in global mercury emissions.

Previously, Lauren completed a MS degree in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire and a BS in Marine Science and Biology from the University of Miami. She is co-advised by Bill Pan.”

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Snarf – Tony Luz

Sustaining himself with chicken and sweet potato lunches and egg sandwich dinners and training with twice-daily crossfit, Tony is a master of efficiency (poaches two eggs in 90 seconds). His super-raccoon powers include a highly developed ability to smell free food and pry it out of apparently secured locations (raccoons, it should be noted, have opposable thumbs). Happily for the world of science, he sniffs out the secrets of mitochondrial poisoning even more adeptly than cookies.

When not uncovering culinary or scientific secrets, Tony plays a mean game of soccer and has a mischievous sense of humor. Hailing from the wilds of Schoharie (aka middle-of-nowhere) NY, Tony obtained his BS in Biology from Cornell, and loves the beer but hates the sweet tea in the South.

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Toxic Rogue – Latasha Smith

Recruited from distant Raeford, NC, home of the turkey festival (where turkey tastes like ham), Toxic Rogue is our resident problem-solver, fixer of broken things, and mistress of invisibility. She obtained her BS degree in Biology from UNC Wilmington, and is our first recruit from the pharmacology and cancer biology department at Duke.

When not investigating the effects of chemicals on mitochondria, Toxic Rogue binge-watches Netflix, which allows her to revert to Latasha. Ask her about Game of Thrones.

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Aquagirl – Ashley Blawas

Hailing from the suburban south that is Raleigh, NC, Aquagirl has travelled from the red vertex of the Triangle to the dark blue one to study Biomedical Engineering (BSE, expected May 2018). Also working towards completing a certificate in Marine Science & Conservation Leadership, Aquagirl has taken a swim down to the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort for the summer and upcoming fall to work on projects in ocean energy and marine algae industrialization. Aquagirl feels privileged to join such an esteemed group of Enviro-Superheros in the Meyer Lab and is prepared to channel her superpowers towards studying XXX (the effects of particulate matter in C. elegans?). Outside of the LSRC headquarters, she has assisted former lab member Dr. Jess Lewis on her work relating to household air pollution, including PM 2.5, to cooking methods in rural India. This winter Aquagirl is looking forward to combining her engineering coursework and her work in the Meyer Lab by travelling to India to work on a low-cost sensor project and measure particulate matter and several other air pollutants.

Outside of the realm of scientific exploration, Aquagirl reverts to her alter-ego, Ashley Blawas. A Dukie born and bred, Ashley enjoys trying to take videos of cool things with her GoPro, exploring the NC coast, and reading biographies.

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Super-enviro-man – Joel Meyer

Our fearless leader, Super-enviro-man, graduated from Juniata College with a dual degree in Environmental Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies.  He then lived in Guatemala for five years, where he worked a variety of jobs and learned to speak Spanish and to control his growing superpowers.  These jobs included international observer/accompanier for political refugees (a friend’s book that documents some of the refugees’ history can be found here:, coordinator and interpreter for a small NGO involved in language instruction and development/appropriate technology projects (; a related and wonderful education-focused project is Education and Hope), and middle and high school teacher.  Upon his return, Super-enviro-man obtained a PhD in Environmental Toxicology at Duke University and valiantly battled the forces of eco-evil during three years of postdoctoral research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  In 2007, this legendary graduate of the Duke ITEHP program took up his current position at the Nicholas School of the Environment and began to build his not-so-secret-anymore team of bold environmental champions.

Super-enviro-man coordinates the overall heroic efforts of the laboratory, with very occasional forays into actual benchwork.  He applies his insatiable scientific curiosity, which makes him impervious to despair or defeat, to discovering the effects of dastardly toxic agents on health.  He has currently focused his considerable intellectual brawn on understanding the mechanisms by which devious environmental agents cause DNA damage, the molecular processes that organisms employ to prevent and repair DNA damage, and the genetic differences that may lead to increased or decreased sensitivity to DNA damage.  Mitochondrial DNA, and mitochondrial functions in general, are a particular obsession. To this end, he leads his noble ecotox team in the study of DNA repair and other responses to DNA damage via molecular and genetic as well as genomic and systems biology approaches.  In addition to these mighty powers, he also wields unlimited instant recall of every paper he has ever read, but is careful only to use his strength for good, never evil.  Super-enviro-man also pursues broader interests in environmental issues through teaching and outreach activities.  Courses he teaches include Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy, Environmental Toxicology, Mechanisms in Environmental Toxicology, and Environmental Health. He currently serves as Director of Graduate Studies for the Environment PhD program.

A current CV and additional work details are here.

In the few moments he can spare from fighting the good eco-fight, Super-enviro-man reverts to his alter-ego, Dr. Joel Meyer, who enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, sports, and gardening.  He also loves reading (try Madeleine L’Engle and Khalil Gibran) and music, with too many favorites to list. He enjoys dance vicariously through his brother’s dance theatre Khecari and trying to keep up with his daughter’s activities at Carolina Friends School (daughter’s wonderful school). His son Dani attends Juniata College, his own alma mater. He has a lot of fun with thinking and talking about science and religion, and written some thoughts on the subject here: Eruditio et Religio

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