Faculty Bio

Jennifer Kennell

Associate Professor of Biology

Research Interests

All cells in an animal contain the same set of genes, yet each cell has unique characteristics based on how those genes are actually used. My research is fundamentally focused on answering questions about how gene expression is regulated in different cell types and tissues throughout animal development and in response to environmental conditions, such as temperature and food availability.  Most recently my research has focused on the role of microRNAs and cell signaling pathways in regulating gene expression during the development of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). 

Vassar students are involved in all aspects of my research.  One current project in my lab involves studying how changes in nutritional status during development affects adult cuticle pigmentation.  We have found that activation of the Insulin/Insulin-like and TOR signaling pathways leads to increased melanin production and we are currently exploring how these pathways might directly regulate key enzymes involved in melanin biosynthesis.  Another project involves studying the role of a microRNA in regulating lipid homeostasis during development and in adults.  MicroRNAs are small, non-coding RNAs that silence gene expression by binding to specific mRNAs and preventing translation or decreasing mRNA stability.  Finally, previous students in my lab have conducted a genetic screen to identify regulators of the Wingless signaling pathway in flies.  The Wingless/Wnt pathway is highly conserved in animals and plays crucial roles throughout development;  misregulation of this pathway can lead to certain cancers and other diseases.  Students will be involved in characterizing the novel regulators of this important pathway that we have identified in the genetic screen.

Teaching Interests

Genetics, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Epigenetics

Courses taught:  BIOL 105 Genetically Modified Organisms, BIOL 106 Introduction to Biological Investigations, BIOL 238 Molecular Genetics, BIOL/CHEM 272 Biochemistry Laboratory, BIOL 323 Seminar in Cell and Molecular Biology (Focus on Epigenetics) & STS 131 Genetic Engineering: General Principles and Ethical Questions

Selected Publications

Asterix after name indicates Vassar student author