Rajan Lab: July 2019- From Right - Michelle (top); Ava, Terry, Camille and Akhila.

Rajan Lab: July 2019- From Right - Michelle (top); Ava, Terry, Camille and Akhila.


Akhila Rajan

Curious about how organs communicate alterations in nutrient supply I modelled this question in fruit flies. This led me to identify how fruit flies fat cells communicate, stored energy supplies, to brain circuits. Remarkably, the molecule used by fruit flies to perform this feat of inter-organ communication, is the same one we humans use to communicate our overall fat stores to our brain circuits. Having discovered that surplus signaling mechanisms in flies are evolutionarily conserved, my lab's goal is to understand how 'over-nutrition' causes systemic breakdown of energy metabolism.

Away from the bench, I am an amateur food enthusiast. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes and reviving traditional ones from southern India.


Ava Brent/ Staff Scientist

The broad focus of my research is the genetic and environmental influences that affect every facet of life, from embryonic development to adult homeostasis, from human disease to evolution. Working with a variety of invertebrate as well as vertebrate systems, I have considered a number of specific questions: What developmental processes underlie early embryonic patterning in insects, and how have these processes changed over the course of evolution? What are the mechanisms by which the various components of the vertebrate axial musculoskeletal system are specified and organized during development such that proper form and function are ensured? How did the vertebrate axial skeleton evolve from an invertebrate chordate ancestor?

In the Rajan lab, my focus is to understand how genetic and environmental inputs converge as an organism senses and responds to its internal and external environment in an effort to maintain energy homeostasis. What consequences arise when that maintenance program becomes dysfunctional? And, of particular interest to me, how are peripheral inputs received and interpreted by neural circuits, and then translated into systemic instructions that bring about physiologic change throughout the organism?

When I’m not thinking about such questions in the lab, I can be found playing and exploring with my two lively little boys.


Michelle Poling/ Research Technician

During my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis, where I graduated in 2017 with a B.S. in Biotechnology, I focused on the idea of using biological systems to create products. Working in Dr. Justin Siegel’s lab I designed plasmids with specific mutations that when transformed into bacterial cells would result a multitude of different physiological changes such as in enzymatic activity, thermostability etc.,

I am eager to take the molecular biology skills I have learned in my previous lab experiences and apply them here at the Rajan lab. Attempting to answer the fundamental questions surrounding why metabolic disorders occur is something that hits close to home for many people, myself included. I am passionate about the problems we are trying to solve and excited to make an impact.

Originally from California, I love rooting for the Giants during baseball season. When I’m not on the bench, I can be found playing tennis, watching movies, and practicing photography.


Camille Sullivan/ Research Technician

June of 2018 I graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in molecular biology. While at Princeton I worked in Dr. Bonnie Bassler’s laboratory, focusing on questions about quorum sensing proteins in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Quorum sensing is the density dependent chemical communication system that regulates gene expression and virulence among bacteria. After spending the summer of 2017 working full time in the Bassler laboratory, I realized that research was something that I was passionate about. Working in the Rajan laboratory is a fantastic opportunity to expand my technical skills and to contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms of homeostasis in fruit flies. Specifically by determining the effects of nutrient surplus on neuronal mechanisms, as well as the manner in which adipocytes and brain neurons communicate. I am excited to be returning to the West Coast where I spend most of my time with my extended family. While at Princeton I also played varsity lacrosse and so I look forward to helping grow the game here in Seattle and playing a variety of pickup sports.