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Faculty Profile

Erin KelleherErin Kelleher

Associate Professor
Department of Biology and Biochemistry

Office: Science & Research 2, 421D
Contact: - (713) 743-3640

Education: Ph.D., University of Arizona, B.S./B.A., University of Virginia

Google Scholar Profile

Dr. Erin Kelleher is interested in the relationship between transposable elements (TEs) and their hosts’ genomes. TEs are genetics parasites, that cause deleterious mutations, DNA damage and genetic instability. They are also associated with the onset and progression of many tumor types. A broad range of organisms, from humans to bacteria, regulate the activity of transposable elements through small RNAs. Despite these ill effects, TEs are enormously successful in an evolutionary sense, inhabiting nearly all genomes and recurrently invading new genomes through horizontal transfer. Kelleher’s lab uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model to examine how small RNA mediated silencing evolves to maintain genome integrity.

Figure 1

Piwi-Argonaute Proteins Mislocalize in Interspecific Hybrid Ovaries. Interspecific hybrids were compared with their D. melanogaster mothers for the localization of Piwi-Argonaute proteins (grey scale). Merged images are colocalization between each protein examined (green) and Vasa protein (red). DAPI DNA stain is shown in blue. Although Aubergine (Aub) and Argonaute-3 (Ago-3) exhibit perinuclear localization in D. melanogaster, these proteins are dispersed into the cytoplasm in interspecific hybrids, due to functional protein divergence between species. Adapted from Kelleher et a. (2012, P.L.o.S. Biology).

Figure 2

Piwi-Argonaute Proteins Establish Transcriptional and Post-Transcriptional Silencing of TEs in the Drosophila Ovary. Figure from Kelleher (2016, Genetics).

Figure 3

Global Dysregulation of 32 different TE families in Interspecific Hybrids of Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans. Differences in genome-wide expression of TEs was quantified using RNA seq. TE families that were recently horizontally transferred are indicated in red arrows. TE dysregulation reveals interspecific divergence in piRNA-mediated silencing of TEs. Figure is adapted from Kelleher et al. (2012, P.L.o.S. Biology).

Honors and Awards

National Institute of Health National Research Service Award, 2010-2013
Cornell Center for Population Genomics Post-Doctoral Fellow, 2009-2010
American Association for University Women Dissertation Fellowship, 2008-2009
National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, 2007
National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow in Genomics, 2004-2008

Organizations, Outreach, Boards, Memberships


Society for the Study of Evolution, Society for the Study of Molecular Biology and Evolution, Genetics Society of America


Co-Instructor the the University of Houston Fly Genetics Workshop, National Science Foundation Research Experience for Teachers Mentor