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MCB Welcomes New Faculty Member Carolyn Elya!

MCB Welcomes New Faculty Member Carolyn Elya!

MCB is thrilled to announce that Carolyn Elya will join the department as Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology. Her appointment will officially begin on January 1st, 2024.

As a self-declared “zombiologist,” Elya studies how a fungal pathogen called Entomophthora muscae turns its fruit fly host into a “zombie” that still exhibits complex behaviors. She began this work as a graduate student in Michael Eisen’s lab at University of California Berkeley and has continued it as a postdoc in Benjamin de Bivort’s lab in OEB (Organismic & Evolutionary Biology) at Harvard.

Fruit flies infected with Entomophthora muscae always climb to a high “summit” before the fungal spores burst out of their carapace, but the complex behavior of climbing requires the insect’s nervous system to be intact, even in the late stages of zombification. Elya is interested in the molecular underpinnings of how the fungus controls its victim’s behavior and will continue this zombiological research in MCB.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the vibrant intellectual community of MCB,” Elya says. “I can’t imagine a more inspiring set of colleagues or a more exciting place to forge my independent research group to understand the mechanistic underpinnings of zombie behavior in fruit flies.”

The search committee –which included Catherine Dulac, Nick Bellono, Polina Kehayova, Richard Losick, Kara McKinley (SCRB), Max Prigozhin, Dustin Tillman, Jessica Manning, and Victoria Woodward– was impressed by Elya’s creativity, her teaching acumen, and her ability to navigate multidisciplinary questions. “The breadth of her scientific interests ranging from fly behavior analysis and neuroscience pursuits to fungal cell and genomic analysis is a great fit for MCB,” says MCB faculty Catherine Dulac, who headed the search committee. “We were also very impressed by her commitment to teaching and mentoring a diverse population of students, and we are delighted to have Carolyn becoming our new colleague.”

The MCB community is enthusiastic about Elya joining the department and looking forward to learning more about her unique research.

“Weird and extreme adaptations in biology often expose fundamental principles,” says MCB Chair Sean Eddy. “We’re excited to have Carolyn join MCB because we think that her work on ‘zombie flies’ is likely to expose principles of how neural circuits produce behaviors, as she works out how a single-celled fungus can forge molecular signals to essentially take over the fly’s behavior.”

Elya’s colleagues would like to wish her a warm welcome as she wraps up her postdoctoral work and begins setting up her lab on the second floor of the Biological Laboratories.

“I’m super excited Carolyn is joining MCB,” adds MCB faculty and future neighbor of the Elya Lab Nick Bellono. “She brings a creative approach along with an unusual and unexpected question, which is often where one finds new biology. Importantly, her science and enthusiasm are perfect fits for MCB’s tradition of infectious curiosity about the natural world.”

Please join us in welcoming Carolyn Elya to the MCB community!

Carolyn Elya’s website

Carolyn Elya

Carolyn Elya