Research Focus in the Halo Lab

Transposable elements are recognized as profound mediators of disease and genomic variation. The focus of my lab is directed to understanding the biology and impact of retrotransposon repeats, including active and putatively extinct endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) and the non-LTR long and short interspersed elements (LINE/SINE) in human and non-human systems. My research is driven by two major areas concerning these retroelement groups:

Research Focus 1: The evolutionary processes and functional outcomes of ERV-host interactions

In humans, ERV expression is associated with cancers and other diseases and during viral infection including HIV. Causal links of disease and ERV activity in humans have yet to be established, but it is clear from existing animal models that expression of ERV products cause abnormal cell proliferation, drive tumorigenesis, and invoke or modulate immune responses. The focus of this research is the use of animal ERV models to elucidate the mechanisms and outcomes of ERV-host interactions and to establish links between specific loci/groups and disease.


Research Focus 2: The evolution and retrotransposition mechanisms of SINE/LINE pairs

Members of active SINE and LINE families continue to shape the genomic landscape through copied movement via an RNA intermediate in a L1-driven process: retrotransposition. The biology and impact of one human mobile element pair has been deeply researched: the 7SL-derived SINE (Alu) and its LINE (L1Hs) pair that still mutagenize the germline, resulting in sporadic disease. A mechanistic knowledge of other classes of SINE elements, particularly the tRNA-derived SINEs that predominate many species’ genomes, has not been examined. Other mammalian genomes contain a mobilized tRNA-derived SINE and active L1 pairs. The focus of this research is to elucidate the functional requirements and mechanisms of mammalian tRNA SINE mobilization.

Teaching & Mentoring

I understand that both the classroom and research lab represent environments in which all must feel equally valued and respected, and I ask the same from my own students and trainees. As a teacher and mentor, I am committed to upholding an environment of creativity and critical thinking, encouragement, equality, and excitement in my own classroom and laboratory.


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