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Elizabeth Danka

Assistant Professor of Biology

B.S., University of Richmond (Biology)
B.A., University of Richmond (Spanish)
Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis (Molecular Cell Biology)
SPIRE Postdoctoral Scholar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Programs: Biology

I started at SNC as an assistant professor of biology in Fall 2020. As a microbe-focused cell biologist, I teach introductory and upper-level courses that emphasize cellular and molecular biology, including the first semester of introductory biology, microbiology, medical microbiology, and cell physiology.

In the classroom I embrace active-learning techniques that provide students with opportunities to explore course content more deeply and to apply the content to real life situations. This requires students to engage and struggle with the material, which supports the development of critical thinking skills, and prepares students for a wide variety of careers. The lecture portion of class is supplemented with labs that reiterate concepts from class, use hands-on methods to teach students important scientific techniques and skills, and allow students to practice generating and analyzing data to draw conclusions. I am also very interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), which is aims to improve the ways in which we teach so that we can maximize student learning.

My research focuses on studying bacteria in the context of host-pathogen interactions and defining the mechanisms that bacterial pathogens use to cause disease. Current projects in the lab use the organisms Burkholderia cepacia and uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC). I use a wide variety of techniques (molecular genetics, biochemistry, microscopy, etc) and model systems (including plants, human cell culture, and mouse models) to study disease. This allows me to explore how a particular gene product is impacting the bacterium, and how that gene product affects the development of disease in a host. Students in the lab are exploring several potential B. cepacia virulence factors that were identified in a transposon screen, including LPS-encoding genes, Type VI secretion systems, and novel genes. An ongoing UPEC project is characterizing the roles of outer membrane protein A in binding and invasion of host cells during infection.

Students working in the lab with me learn important microbiological, molecular, and biochemical techniques through mentored research. As students gain experience, they start to expand their projects by developing new hypotheses based on the data they have generated and information gathered from primary literature. Disseminating research findings is a key part of the scientific process, so all students in the lab will present their work at an on-campus research forum and many will also give a poster presentation or an oral presentation at a regional or national scientific conference.

BIOL 120 Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology
BIOL 350 Microbiology
BIOL 360 Medical Microbiology
BIOL 371 Cellular Physiology

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