New Faculty Profile: Josefa Steinhauer
Assistant Professor of Biology
We are interested in lipid-mediated signaling in Drosophila. Phospholipids usually play structural roles as components of cell membranes, but they can be broken down into potent signaling molecules by phospholipases. These signaling molecules can be anabolized back into phospholipids by acyltransferases. We found that two previously uncharacterized acyltransferases are critical for completion of spermatogenesis. Spermatogenesis also is blocked by mutation of a cyclooxygenase-like enzyme that converts fatty acids liberated from membrane phospholipids into prostaglandin signaling lipids. These studies implicate fatty acid-derived signaling lipids in male fertility in Drosophila and is consistent with their role in mammalian male fertility as well as Drosophila oogenesis.
This is important for human health because non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin target cyclooxygenases to block production of prostaglandins, but effects on fertility have not been well-studied. We are now characterizing members of the phospholipase A2 family in Drosophila. These enzymes release fatty acids from phospholipids in order to produce signaling molecules and/or regulate the biophysical properties of membranes. This large family of enzymes plays many different roles in mammals, including in male fertility, but many mechanistic questions remain about their regulation and effects. We believe that studying them in Drosophila will provide insights that complement what has been found using mouse or human cell models.
“I love my work! For me, teaching and research complement each other perfectly. I have learned so much from preparing and teaching my courses, and this has pushed me to a deeper understanding of many different subjects. Meanwhile, my research keeps me current in my field and connected to the scientific community. I love writing exam questions based on recent scientific articles and hearing afterwords that the students were excited to see how the basic principles can be applied to cutting-edge scientific problems.” – Josefa Steinhauer
How has being a member of GSA helped you advance in your career? Why do you think societies like GSA are important?
The GSA-sponsored Fly Meeting has been indispensable in the development of my career. I have had the opportunity to present my research from both my PhD and postdoc at platform sessions and have presented posters many times. This has allowed me to develop a network amongst the fly community, meet collaborators, and receive critical advice about reagents and protocols.
Most recently, I have helped organize the Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions workshop, at which I have met many wonderful colleagues and mentors pursuing research at small colleges like mine. A student from my lab also had the wonderful opportunity to present his research at this workshop.
I bring my students to the Fly Meeting every year, and it blows their minds. Here at a small college, the students rarely get a chance to appreciate the breadth and depth of basic research. The Fly Meeting shows them a whole world of which they were previously unaware and provides them with a much deeper appreciation for basic science.
Previous training experiences:
- BS: Case Western Reserve University
- PhD: Columbia University (advisor: Daniel Kalderon)
- Postdoc: NYU Langone Medical Center (advisor: Jessica Treisman)
I regularly teach Genetics and Molecular Biology. I have also taught Developmental Biology and Natural World, an introductory science course for freshman.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I am currently planning my wedding, which takes up a lot of my spare time! I have been known to swing dance regularly in the past.