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Painting a better picture of cellular functionDr. Justin Cotney, class of 2002

Painting a better picture of cellular function

Using the tools of biochemistry and modern high throughput sequencing techniques, Justin Cotney comes to work each day to help science develop a clearer picture of how human cells function.

As a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at Yale University in Connecticut, Cotney is developing a high throughput assay for identifying huge numbers of protein-protein interactions. This work could provide a higher resolution map of protein interactions in the human cell, providing new insight into cellular function and identifying new drug targets for treating disease.

“The education and training I received in the Biology Department at Birmingham-Southern gave me a distinct advantage when moving on to graduate school at Emory University,” says Cotney, who grew up in Daviston, Ala. “The department focuses not on memorization of facts, but developing thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to any scientific question.”

Cotney earned his doctorate in genetics and molecular biology from Emory University in May 2008 studying mechanisms of mitochondrial gene expression and mitochondrial biogenesis. During his graduate career, he served as a visiting associate researcher at Yale University in the laboratory of Dr. Gerald Shadel and co-wrote several articles for scientific journals.

During his undergraduate career in biology at BSC, Cotney was active in the Sigma Nu fraternity and the Tri-Beta biology honorary. He also co-wrote two journal articles pertaining to molecular biology with BSC Professor of Biology Dr. Leo Pezzementi and others and presented original work at a national conference.

“In particular, Dr. Pezzementi gave me the opportunity to perform research in his lab outside of my normal coursework,” Cotney reflects. “He taught me many techniques, procedures, and thinking skills that I have continued to use throughout my career. It is personal interactions like these that make a BSC education truly valuable.”