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Jennifer Kennell

Associate Professor of Biology

B.A. 1998 Biology, Luther College, Decorah, IA

Ph.D. 2005 Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Posdoctoral Fellow 2005 - 2008 Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan

Research Interests

All cells in an animal contain the same set of genes, yet each cell has unique characteristics based on how those genes are actually used. My research is fundamentally focused on answering questions about how gene expression is regulated in different cell types and tissues throughout animal development and in response to environmental conditions, such as temperature and food availability.  Most recently my research has focused on the role of microRNAs and cell signaling pathways in regulating gene expression during the development of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). 

Vassar students are involved in all aspects of my research.  One current project in my lab involves studying how changes in nutritional status during development affects adult cuticle pigmentation.  We have found that activation of the Insulin/Insulin-like and TOR signaling pathways leads to increased melanin production and we are currently exploring how these pathways might directly regulate key enzymes involved in melanin biosynthesis.  Another project involves studying the role of a microRNA in regulating lipid homeostasis during development and in adults.  MicroRNAs are small, non-coding RNAs that silence gene expression by binding to specific mRNAs and preventing translation or decreasing mRNA stability.  Finally, previous students in my lab have conducted a genetic screen to identify regulators of the Wingless signaling pathway in flies.  The Wingless/Wnt pathway is highly conserved in animals and plays crucial roles throughout development;  misregulation of this pathway can lead to certain cancers and other diseases.  Students will be involved in characterizing the novel regulators of this important pathway that we have identified in the genetic screen.

Teaching Interests

Genetics, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Epigenetics

Courses taught:  BIOL 105 Genetically Modified Organisms, BIOL 106 Introduction to Biological Investigations, BIOL 238 Molecular Genetics, BIOL/CHEM 272 Biochemistry Laboratory, BIOL 323 Seminar in Cell and Molecular Biology (Focus on Epigenetics) & STS 131 Genetic Engineering: General Principles and Ethical Questions

Selected Publications

Asterix after name indicates Vassar student author
  • Laakso, M.M., Paliulis, L.V., Croonquist, P., Derr, B., Gracheva, E., Hauser, C., Howell, C., Jones, C., Kagey, J.D., Kennell, J., Silver Key, S.C., Mistry, H., Robic, S., Sanford, J., Santisteban, M., Small, C., Spokony, R., Stamm, J., Van Stry, M., Leung, W. and Elgin, S.C.R. 2017. An undergraduate bioinformatics curriculum that teaches eukaryotic gene structure. CourseSource, 4: 1-9. Link to paper
  • Elgin, S., Hauser, C., Holzen, T.M., Jones, C.J., Kleinschmit, A., and Genomics Education Partnership. 2017. The GEP: Crowd-sourcing big data analysis with undergraduates. Trends in Genetics, 33: 81-85. Link to paper
  • Bolin, K., Rachmaninoff, N., Moncada, K.*, Pula, K.*, Kennell, J., and Buttitta, L.  2016.  miR-8 modulates cytoskeletal regulators to influence cell survival and epithelial organization in Drosophila wings.  Developmental Biology.  412:83-98.  Link to paper
  • Shakhmantsir, I.*, Massad, N.L.*, and Kennell, J.A.  2014. Regulation of cuticle pigmentation in Drosophila by the nutrient sensing Insulin and TOR signaling pathways.  Developmental Dynamics.  243: 393-401.  Link to paper
  • Kennell, J.A., Cadigan, K.M., Shakhmantsir, I.*, and Waldron, E.J.*  2012. The microRNA miR-8 is a positive regulator of pigmentation and eclosion in DrosophilaDevelopmental Dynamics.  241: 161-168.  Link to paper.
  • Kennell, J.A. and Cadigan K.M. 2009. APC and β-catenin degradation. Chapter in APC Proteins, eds. Nathke I.S., McCartney B.M. Landis Bioscience, Austin. 1-12.  PubMed
  • Kennell, J.A., I. Gerin, O.A. MacDougald, K.M. Cadigan.  2008. The microRNA miR-8 is a conserved negative regulator of Wnt signaling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.  105:  15417-15422. Link to paper.
  • Kennell, J.A. and O.A. MacDougald. 2005. Wnt signaling inhibits adipogenesis through β-catenin dependent and independent mechanisms. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 25: 24004-24010. Link to paper
  • Kennell, J.A., E.E. O’Leary, B.M. Gummow, G.D. Hammer, and O.A. MacDougald. 2003. T-Cell factor 4N (TCF-4N), a novel isoform of mouse TCF-4, synergizes with β-catenin to coactivate C/EBPα and Steroidogenic Factor 1 transcription factors. Molecular and Cellular Biology. 23: 5366-5375.  Link to paper
  • Longo K.A., J. A. Kennell, M.J. Ochocinska, S.E. Ross, W.S. Wright, and O.A. MacDougald. 2002. Wnt signaling protects 3T3-L1 preadipocytes from apoptosis through induction of insulin-like growth factors. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 277: 38239-38244.  Link to Paper
  • Douglas, K.R., M.L. Brinkmeier, J.A. Kennell, P. Eswara, T.A. Harrison, A.I. Patrianakos, B.S. Sprecher, M.A. Potok, R.H. Lyons Jr, O.A. MacDougald, and S.A. Camper. 2001. Identification of members of the Wnt signaling pathway in the embryonic pituitary gland. Mammalian Genome. 12: 843-851.  Link to paper