This week, Mike Rieger successfully defended his thesis! Mike was joined at graduation by Kristina Sakers and Rebecca Ouwenga, who will also be defending in the coming weeks.

Mike was awarded his PhD for his work on mouse vocalization behavior and the CELF family of RNA-binding proteins. He will soon be moving out to San Diego to further investigate mediators of individual-level behavioral differences in (theoretically, genetically and environmentally identical) C. elegans worms.

The CELF family of proteins bind RNA to control the translation and lifespan of their target transcripts, but their role in the brain is not clear. His work stemmed from the finding that one of these proteins, CELF6, is abundantly expressed in serotonin neurons of the mouse brain. He then proceeded to follow up on what genes are targeted by CELF6 and what the impacts of this regulation are on mouse behavior in relation to autism spectrum disorders.

Mike did additional work on early-developmental vocalizations by mice as a study in individual differences among genetically and environmentally homogenous offspring.

Among the many things Mike will be missed for are his enthusiasm for statistical and analytical rigor (and his strong advocacy for boxplots); in-house optimization and customization of techniques well beyond the capabilities of commercial kits; quick scientific and extracurricular wits; and his contributions to the (overheard) conversational ambiance of the lab’s desk space, spanning from indignant declarations at his computer while coding, to his intensively mathematical budgeting for San Diego, to pole dancing anecdotes.

We’re all proud of you Mike–congratulations and best of luck!

^Mike, Joe, and the rest of his thesis committee following Mike’s defense on Wednesday.

^ From right to left: Joe, Mike, Krissy, and Rebecca in a rare Joe Doc selfie taken “pre-hood” at graduation.