Dr. Noelle L'Etoile
Though Noelle chose to train as a biochemist in Arnie Berk's lab at UCLA, she had always been fascinated by the human brain. Her first love was literature as she thought it was the clearest window into the functioning of the human brain. Biochemistry, however, provides the physical practical blocks upon which life and the brain are created. She hoped to use the critical, reductionist approaches provided by biochemistry, molecular genetics to study behavioral plasticity at the level of molecular interactions and in this way to understand the brain. In Cori Bargmann’s lab, she was introduced to the charismatic C. elegans. Noelle became enchanted with the worm and started her own lab to attempt to have it all by trying to understand behavioral plasticity at the molecular, cellular and circuit levels. Then, Nando Muñoz-Lobato studying long term memory blew apart this reductionist’s understanding of the world and how to approach memory. Noelle and Nando kept hitting a wall when they ignored the dynamics of the neural circuit. Thus, they were thrilled to collaborate with the Kato and Wittmann groups to try to image the whole worm’s brain as it learns, maintains, and recalls the memory of a smell.
Raymond is from a small apple-pickin’ town in central Massachusetts. At UCSF he is a PhD student in the neuroscience program, and is co-mentored by Dr. Noelle L'Etoile and Dr. Saul Kato. Ray studies the relationship between neural network structure and function. Specifically he’s interested in how flexible but controlled behavior emerges from the comparatively simple worm brain. He hopes his research will lead to a better understanding of fundamental properties of neural dynamics and inform the design of machine learning NNs, but really he just thinks brains are super cool.
Graduate/ Dentistry Student
Trang's project focuses on understanding the biosynthesis of endogenous small interfering RNA (siRNA) in C. elegans. Recently, she discovered that almost 1/3 of the C. elegans genes have RNAs that are anti-sense to the genes and map to their intronic regions. Her current focus is on bioinformatically and biologically identifying the protein machinery associated with these newly identified antisense intronic RNAs that she calls aiRNAs. The aiRNA are also expressed in cancer cells and through this connection, Trang's work in C. elegans is aimed at providing basic insight into the biogenesis, utilization and cellular function of these aiRNA. She hopes this knowledge will contribute to improving diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Fatema Saifuddin is a 4th year TETRAD graduate student who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Biochemistry. She is studying the role of the TRPV-like cation channel, OSM-9, in the context of learning and memory in C. Elegans. Outside of science, she is participating in the GRAD 210 DEI Fellowship where she is building a peer-led mental health program for students, staff, and faculty. In her free time, she takes her cat on walks, eats everything in sight, says she is going hiking every week but never goes, and is learning how to play pool very slowly.
Dr. Rashmi Chandra
Rashmi's scientific career began at the University of Calcutta in India where she earned her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in human physiology and biochemistry, respectively. She then traveled to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where she received her Ph.D. in Dr. Joy Alcedo's lab in 2019. Currently, she works on a variety of projects in the lab. Rashmi has developed an optogenetic system that utilizes the plant derived protein miniSOG that allows her to inactivate cells in the worm's nervous system. This allows her to probe the role of glial cells in sleep, learning, and memory. She intends to further understand exact molecular pathways behind these different relationships.
Dr. Laura Persson
Laura grew up in New Jersey, and stayed on the east coast to recieve her B.S. at Harvard. She moved to the Bay Area to earn her PhD at Stanford and has now transitioned to UCSF. Her research looks at the intersection of RNA interference, DNA repair, and behavior by exploring the role of an RNA interference-related protein, Nrde-2, during DNA damage in human cells and worms. The Nrde-2 null worm also shows a defect in associative learning, allowing us to probe the possible involvement of DNA damage and repair in the process of learning. Outside of lab, she enjoys hitting the slopes and knitting her world-renown sweaters with llamas.
Veronica Maria Valdez
Veronica is the backbone of the L'Etoile lab. She works tirelessly to support the various research activities of the L'Etoile lab by providing the lab with a constant supply of media, reagents, basic lab equipment maintenance, ordering and bookkeeping. She is an integral part of the team and we would not be able to reveal the secrets of biology without her.
Staff Research Associate
Julia is from a south suburb of Chicago, and graduated from The University of Iowa with a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences and a minor in Chemistry. She became interested in microscopy and mapping whole brain network activity during her undergraduate research at Iowa, and continues to explore how the brain changes after learning and memory in the L’Etoile Lab. Specifically, Julia is interested in how calcium dynamics change when a worm is exposed to an odor they have been classically conditioned to avoid, and how this correlates with behavioral changes. She hopes that understanding the decision-making process in a simple system like C. elegans will uncover important insight into learning and memory processes in higher-level organisms. Outside of the lab, Julia enjoys playing violin, dancing, and raising money and spirits for charity as a member of Cheer San Francisco.
Staff Research Associate
Angel grew up in San Bernardino, CA, and graduated in June 2021 from UC Santa Cruz with his B.S. in Molecular Biology. His previous experience in neuroscience research led him to the L'Etoile lab here at UCSF, where he is a part of the Post-baccalaureate Research Opportunity to Promote Equity in Learning (PROPEL) program. Previous research has shown a relationship between sleep and learning and memory. His research intends to examine the relationship between glia and memory, specifically how glial cells may play a role in long-term memory retention. His project will utilize optogenetics to manipulate the worm's nervous system to help answer these questions. Besides research, Angel spends his time taking photos on his film camera, exploring nature through backpacking/camping, and surfing (mostly just falling off the board).
Staff Research Associate
Kevin graduated from SF State in 2021 and is now doing his research at UCSF in the L’Etoile lab, while completing his master’s in Cell and Molecular Biology at SFSU. His research involves looking at worm brains to better understand sleep’s role in creating long term memory. Kevin plans to study synaptic connections downstream of the sensory AWC neuron (responsible for detecting attractive odors) in C. elegans by doing lots of whole-brain imaging. We expect to see differences in these synaptic connections in worms that have the opportunity to sleep after being trained to avoid butanone (a known attractant) compared to those that are trained with no sleep. He hopes this will lead to a better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which sleep regulates the activity patterns required for memory. When Kevin is not in the lab, he can usually be found hiking, baking, or hanging out with his plants.
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Erin comes from Culver City, CA and is currently in her third year as a student at UC Berkeley. She is a double major in Cell/Developmental Biology and Spanish Linguistics. Erin makes the trip to SF several times a week so she can help answer the hard hitting questions in the L'Etoile lab.
Director of Faculty and Lecturer programs in VPTL
Stanford University, California
Former Lab Members
Dr. Bo Zhang
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Clinical Trial Assistant
Myovant Sciences, California
Boehringer Ingelheim, California