MIT Biology Catalyst Symposium


poster of Catalyst Symposium listing speakers

In 2022, the department, with leadership from the Faculty DEI Committee and DEI Officer, launched the MIT Biology Catalyst Symposium.  This symposium is part of a new effort to bring outstanding postdocs from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in science to engage with members of our community. Aimed specifically at postdocs pursuing academic careers, the three-day symposium provides a venue for participants to share their research, discuss exciting new directions, and make new professional connections. We will welcome eight Catalyst Fellows to campus for the second symposium in April of 2024, which is co-sponsored by The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

MIT Biology Catalyst Symposium
April 28-30, 2024
Cambridge, MA

Post Doc Catalyst Fellows:

  • Chloé Baron, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Maria Cecília Canesso, The Rockefeller University
  • Kiara Eldred, University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Caitlin Kowalski, University of Oregon
  • Fabián Morales-Polanco, Stanford University
  • Kali Pruss, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
  • Rodrigo Romero, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Zuri Sullivan, Harvard University

Chloé Baron (she/her)

“Apelin-mediated clonal expansion of niche endothelial cells drives selection of leukemic and normal HSC clones.” Chloé did her PhD in the lab of Alexander van Oudenaarden at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands. There, she developed novel single-cell tools for machine-learning assisted flow cytometry sorting, transcriptome profiling and CRISPR-Cas9-based genetic lineage tracing. She benchmarked and applied these technologies to the mouse and zebrafish hematopoietic system and unraveled the transcriptome and clonality of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells during embryonic development and adulthood. For her postdoctoral training, Chloé joined the lab of Leonard Zon at Boston Children’s Hospital where she extended her use of genetic lineage tracing to characterize the clonal dynamics of the HSC niche at steady state and upon leukemia. Her work identified a clonal response of niche cells in leukemic marrows and the cellular mechanisms responsible for selective clonal amplification of niche endothelial cells to support disease progression.

Maria Cecília Canesso (she/her)

“Intercellular communication determining fates in the intestinal mucosa” Maria Cecília Canesso received her PhD in Immunology from Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. She is a postdoctoral researcher at The Rockefeller University investigating how immune cells in the intestine decide whether to promote tolerance or induce an inflammatory response to food and the commensal microbiota. To answer this question, she developed the application of a novel technology, the LIPSTIC (Labeling Immune Partnerships by SorTagging Intercellular Contacts), in the intestine, which enabled tracking of cell-cell interactions in vivo. Maria Cecilia was awarded a Pew Latin American Fellowship and received the K99 Pathway to Independence Award.

Kiara Eldred (she/her)

“Visualizing progenitor cell trajectories in the developing human retina” Dr. Eldred received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Washington where she worked in the laboratory of Richard Palmiter. She went on to complete her PhD at Johns Hopkins University in Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology and Biophysics. There she trained in the labs of Robert Johnston and Samer Hattar studying photoreceptor cell fate specification in the human retina. She was awarded an HHMI Gilliam Fellowship and an NSF fellowship during her graduate studies. Her thesis was recognized with the receipt of the Weintraub Graduate Student Award. Currently Dr. Eldred is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Thomas Reh at the University of Washington, studying cell fate specification, tumorigenesis, and regeneration in the human retina. In this position, she has been awarded a Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship as well as an HHMI Hanna Gray Fellowship.

Caitlin Kowalski (she/her)

“Interkingdom interactions of the skin microbiome” Caitlin Kowalski is a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oregon in the lab of Matthew Barber. She received her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in 2020 from the Guarini School of Graduate Studies at Dartmouth under the mentorship of Robert Cramer. Her dissertation investigated how oxygen availability impacts pathogenesis and antifungal susceptibility of the human fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Building upon her interests in how fungi influence human health, Caitlin’s postdoctoral research focuses on how skin resident fungi interact with bacterial pathogens to impact host health and pathogen evolution. In 2023, Caitlin was awarded a L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship and selected as a Leading Edge Fellow.

Fabián Morales-Polanco (he/him)

“Spatial and temporal subcellular interactomics reveal factors differentially recruited to nuclear and cytosolic spatial protein quality control” Fabián Morales-Polanco, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University’s Frydman Lab, specializing in proteostasis in eukaryotic cells. His focus lies in translation, clearance mechanisms, and their implications for health and disease. He holds a Ph.D. in Biotechnology and Enterprise from the University of Manchester, UK. Fabián’s research in RNA biology, protein quality control, and aging-related molecular mechanisms has yielded notable discoveries. He has investigated nuclear and cytoplasmic protein quality control interactions and novel pathways for clearing misfolded proteins. His work also encompasses studying the co-localization and translation of glycolytic mRNAs within RNA granules, unveiling regulatory mechanisms for protein complex assembly. Dedicated to scientific communication and mentorship, Fabián strives to inspire students’ enthusiasm for scientific inquiry while advancing proteostasis research for the betterment of human health.

Kali Pruss (she/her)

“Multi-system responses to intergenerational transmission of small intestinal bacteria from undernourished Bangladeshi children and women with enteropathy” Kali Pruss, PhD, has spent her research career thus far exploring the hypothesis that the nature of inflammation dictates the nature of interactions between the gut microbiota and host. As an undergraduate in Ron Taylor’s lab, she focused on understanding Vibrio cholerae motility towards chemo-attractants present in both the gut and environmental reservoirs. During her PhD in Justin Sonnenburg’s lab, she teased apart mechanisms by which gut bacteria alter their metabolic behavior depending on the extent of inflammation in the gut, with a focus on the enteric pathogen, Clostridioides difficile. She discovered a metabolic pathway that the organism uses to exploit a host-derived metabolite produced during inflammation as well as one it turns to for persistence in the absence of inflammation. A related gut commensal, Clostridium sporogenes, rather than utilizing host compounds, produces aromatic amino acid metabolites that the host can use for energy generation through fatty acid ß-oxidation.

Currently, during her post-doc in Jeffrey Gordon’s lab, she is working to understand how the small intestinal microbiota mediates the chronic inflammatory state that accompanies environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) and the systemic effects of this state. As the etiological agents of EED are undefined, she’s employing a top-down approach: starting with duodenal aspirates from children or adult Bangladeshi women with EED, she has developed gnotobiotic mouse models to understand the effect of members of the small intestinal microbiota on intestinal physiology, the immune system, brain biology, and fetal development. She plans to start an independent career investigating interactions between the environment, gut microbiota, and fetal development.

Rodrigo Romero (he/him)

“The role of lineage plasticity and its impact on the tumor microenvironment during therapy resistance.” Rodrigo was born in Caracas Venezuela. He obtained his BSc in Biology from Suffolk University, and a PhD in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As a PhD student with Tyler Jacks, he was among the first to use CRISPR to interrogate genotype-specific dependencies in lung cancers harboring KEAP1 mutations. As a Charles. H. Revson Fellow with Charles Sawyers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, he developed novel models of prostate cancer used to unravel the mechanisms underlying resistance to androgen-deprivation therapy through lineage plasticity.

Zuri Sullivan (she/her)

“How infection makes us sick: neuroimmune control of sickness behavior” Zuri is an HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellow in the lab of Dr. Catherine Dulac in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. An immunologist and molecular neuroscientist, she focuses on the neuroimmune interactions that govern sickness behavior during infection. Zuri earned an AB in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Harvard University, where she developed an interest in host pathogen interactions while working in Dr. Eric Rubin’s lab at the Harvard School of Public Health. After college, she spent two years working in Durban, South Africa as a Fulbright Scholar, studying human immunity to tuberculosis and HIV. She earned a PhD in Immunobiology from Yale University, where she worked in the lab of Dr. Ruslan Medzhitov as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. There, she discovered an unexpected role for the immune system in the control of nutrient uptake in the intestine. After graduate school, Zuri changed fields to pursue postdoctoral training in molecular neuroscience, where she studies the impact of inflammatory signals on neural circuits that control social interaction. Zuri’s long-term research interests aim to bridge immunology and neuroscience to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying sickness behavior.


April 28th

6:00 pm:                   Dinner with Catalyst Fellows and faculty hosts

April 29th 

All talks on April 29th will take place in the Whitehead Institute McGovern Auditorium.

9:05-9:15 am               Welcome/opening remarks

9:15-9:45 am               Maria Cecília Canesso

9:50-10:20 am            Zuri Sullivan

10:25-10:55 am           Kiara Eldred

10:55-11:15 am            Break

11:15-11:45 am             Caitlin Kowalski

11:50 am-12:20 pm    Rodrigo Romero

12:20-1:20 pm             Lunch with post-docs, trainees, and faculty

1:30-2:00 pm              Chloé Baron

2:05-2:35 pm              Kali Pruss

2:40-3:10 pm              Fabián Morales-Polanco

3:10-3:30 pm              Break

3:30-5:00 pm             1:1 Meetings with Catalyst Fellows and faculty

5:00-6:00 pm             Break

6:00-9:00 pm             Dinner with Catalyst Fellows and faculty

April 30th

9:30-11:00 am             1:1 Meetings with Catalyst Fellows and faculty

11:15am-12:15 pm       Panel for Catalyst Fellows and invited postdocs on Faculty Search process

12:15-1:00 pm              Lunch with Biology post docs and graduate students

1:00-2:00pm               Panel for Catalyst Fellows and invited postdocs about Junior Faculty experience

Symposium concludes

Previous MIT Biology Catalyst Symposia

2023 MIT Biology Catalyst Symposium