Lab News

This site provides periodic updates of lab activities: publication of papers, awards, graduations etc.

Cacao Somatic Embryo Induction Paper Publishes

posted Aug 10, 2017, 12:42 PM by Wayne Curtis

Thanks to the great mentoring of Sergio Florez, and the persistence of Morgan Shires to follow up the extended effort to show the ability to use this rather sophisticated induction system to activate transcription factors for somatic embryogenesis.  The paper is available in Biotechnology Letters as Open Source thanks to the Gates Foundation:  Inducible somatic embryogenesis in Theobroma cacaoachieved using the DEX-activatable transcription factor-glucocorticoid receptor fusion.  
Dexamethasone inducible transcription factor

Congratulations Andrew Sell - Winning 'Firecracker 4K'

posted Jul 7, 2017, 7:12 AM by Wayne Curtis

For those of you not aware that Andrew Sell is a very serious runner ... he won this ~20 min race by a minute !  Inexplicable why we have not been seeing him on the PSU varsity cross-country.  

Curtis named Wiley Research Fellow

posted May 30, 2017, 5:51 PM by Wayne Curtis

Dr. Curtis has been named as a Wiley Research Fellow--the 19th to date--at Pacific Northwest National Lab's "sister" facility, the Environmental Molecular Scientific Laboratory (EMSL). With his 2016-17 sabbatical at PNNL, EMSL quickly realized that Dr. Curtis' breadth of knowledge, hypothesis-driven experimental design, and intensity made him well-suited to continue in an advisory capacity; Wiley fellows, so named for William A. Wiley who conceptualized the EMSL national scientific user facility, are designated with the responsibility to "expected to actively contribute to the success of EMSL as a user facility including support of EMSL and the user program beyond their own specific research projects. Examples include participation on EMSL advisory committees, participation on partner proposals for development of new capabilities, acting as a scientific consultant for users, advocacy for EMSL and its capabilities in the scientific community and assistance/support of a broad range of EMSL user activities."

PNNL announcement HERE
Penn State re-announcement HERE

CurtisLab is Hiring! Seeking Intense, Multidisciplinary Postdoc Summer 2017

posted May 30, 2017, 1:43 PM by Wayne Curtis   [ updated May 30, 2017, 1:43 PM ]

The CurtisLab ( is seeking a postdoctoral researcher (PSU job #71758) to work on a highly transdisciplinary project aimed at protecting mature plants in the field using insects to deliver beneficial genes via viral vectors. Working with the Project Director (Dr. Curtis), this postdoc will play a key role in the generation of virus/insect/plant systems designed to facilitate both viral uptake by insects and beneficial gene delivery to plants to improve the plants’ response to stressors. This post-doctoral experience offers a unique opportunity to learn from a research program that spans plant molecular biology, micro-RNA technologies, drought stress physiology, and even insect genetic engineering and viral epidemiological modeling. The applicant must have experience with cloning, where plant transformation and regeneration would be good experience, but are secondary to organizational and communication skills, multi-tasking, and being excited about working in a very intense research environment. If you are a 9-5 molecular biologist, please do not apply.

The project provides for interaction with a diversity of ongoing projects within the CurtisLab and collaborations that include an NSF/Gates-funded project on African food security, algae biofuels, wastewater treatment technology, Neuorospora circadian metabolic flux study, and a host of exploratory undergraduate research projects such as cyanobacterial transformation and multi-organism (consortium) bioprocessing. This highly diverse laboratory environment emphasizes cross-training in diverse skills such as electronics prototyping, equipment fabrication (machining), and lab automation (Arduino and open source interfacing and programming).

The laboratory team typically includes a dozen highly motivated undergraduates, many of whom devote 3-4 years to honors thesis work that supports the primary research projects, providing ample opportunity for breadth of learning and publication.

Interested applicants, should fill out the online application ( If you do not get a response within three days, send a simple note to with “Insect Allies Post-doc” in the heading. The application website allows you to provide a URL as an option for providing resume, manuscripts in preparation, etc. (anything you feel is relevant). I will be asking for three letters of recommendation from those being seriously considered (though you do not need to have that information in hand to initiate the inquiry). The application process will include:
  • An initial phase to touch base to assess your expertise and compatibility with the project;
  • Acknowledgement and request for more details (names/contacts for recommendation, manuscript drafts not available online);
  • A video-chat interview.
The laboratory website ( offers a wide range of information describing our research and philosophy of utilizing the latest web tools (and focus on ‘Open Source’ and ‘Maker Mentality’).

This project will begin in Summer 2017. Therefore, we are excited to identify our next research team leader as soon as possible.

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Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to minorities, women, veterans, disabled individuals, and other protected groups.

Dr. Curtis presents talk to Undergraduate Research Society

posted Mar 28, 2017, 8:29 AM by Wayne Curtis

Dr. Curtis doles out highlights of undergraduate research over the past 25+ years, particularly related to algae biofuels and plant propagation, as well as his overall philosophy to research. Teaching has been a linchpin of Dr. Curtis' research career, noting that Dr. Curtis hosted the National Science Foundation's (NSF) first ever Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), which is now a national program. The value of undergraduate research is that it inherently allows higher risk projects since success and/or completion of a project is not required for an undergraduates' graduation. 

Check out the slides to get a glimpse into CurtisLab. 

Study Break - Geek Snowman

posted Feb 8, 2017, 7:00 AM by Wayne Curtis   [ updated Feb 8, 2017, 8:35 AM ]

During last weeks snow ... Dr. Curtis took a break with his daughter Jennifer to make a 'scientist snowman' on the quad in PSU Eastview Dorms.  Complete with PPE including a tie-dye lab coat and ice-bucket hat.

Happy Thanksgiving (Eat Yams!) and Welcome Baby Erbakan!!!

posted Nov 30, 2016, 8:25 PM by April Hile

This Thanksgiving (and Turkish Teacher's Day!) welcomed Mustafa Erbakan's (PhD '14) and his wife, Jackie's son, Ali Aydin "Aidan" Erbakan! Now the only question is... who has more hair?! (I think we all know the answer.) ;)
P.S. Speaking of Thanskgiving... do you know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?!?! Yams are what we research!! Check out our open-source Github website,  

DARPA Insect Allies Proposers' Day: the Men who Stare at...

posted Nov 30, 2016, 8:11 PM by April Hile

...plants?!? (Catch the reference?)

Dr. Curtis attends DARPA's Biotechnologies Office Insect Allies Proposers Day in Washington D.C. on November 18th, 2016. The goal of Insect Allies is to develop a vector-mediated mofification technology for mature plants to rapidly counter environmental and biological threats to crops. Beyond Dr. Curtis' long history in applied plant biotechnology and relevant consulting (e.g. consulting/collaborations for/with Monsanto, Agracetus, Weyerhauser, DOW Agrosciences, Nunhems), the project nicely ties into a number of CurtisLab projects on transient expression as well as some (yet) unpublished preliminary undergraduate research by Ben Woolston (now finishing PhD at MIT) and Amalie Tuerk (PhD '16, University of Delaware). 

Surprisingly, the conference revealed a BAA do in January... one guess how Dr. Curtis will be spending his holiday?

CurtisLab takes 1st & 3rd at AIChE National Poster Competition!

posted Nov 30, 2016, 7:01 PM by April Hile   [ updated Dec 8, 2016, 7:49 AM by Wayne Curtis ]

At the 2016 National AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) Conference held in San Francisco, both CurtisLab undergraduate student posters placed in their division at the National level! 

Penn State AIChE, to which Dr. Curtis also serves as the Chapter Advisor, also had an impressive showing! 
Left to Right: Lucas Nugent (3rd place), Adam Uliana (2nd place), & Ryan Jones (1st place)

Read all about it! PSU e-newsletter highlights CurtisLab NSF/Gates project

posted Nov 30, 2016, 6:10 PM by April Hile   [ updated Nov 30, 2016, 6:32 PM ]

Penn State Engineering e-Newsletter showcases CurtisLab NSF BREAD/Gates Foundation African Food Security project here

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