Rob Mitra

Associate Professor

Rob Mitra is the Alvin Goldfarb Professor of Computational Biology in the Department of Genetics and the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University in St. Louis.  He received his BS, MS and PhD from MIT.  He has been developing and applying genomic technologies for over 20 years.  His current research interests are focused on understanding how transcription factors achieve their in vivo specificities and dissecting the gene regulatory networks that govern developmental processes.


Email: rmitra[at]

Denis Avey


Denis Avey received a B.S. in Biology and Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Florida State University. He joined the Mitra and Milbrandt labs as a postdoctoral researcher in the spring of 2016. His primary research goal is to characterize the heterogeneity of dopamine neurons, which serve a central role in diverse biological processes, including physical movement, reward and aversion, and mood/emotion. They are also dysregulated in a vast array of chronic/complex neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and drug addiction. His project is at the intersection of neuroscience, genetics, molecular biology, pharmacology and psychiatry. When he’s not in the lab, Dennis enjoy drumming (with a local band, Hellen Back), rock climbing, soccer, and roller hockey.


Email: avey.denis[at]

Xuhua Chen

Research Scientist

Xuhua Chen got a B.S. in medicine from Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1990. She completed her master’s degree in bioscience at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Xuhua has worked in the Mitra lab since 2007. Her research foci include working on transposon “calling cards,” recording transcription factor biding events in yeast and mammalian cells, and inducing and reprograming gene activation in different stages of neural differentiation.


Email: xchen29[at]

Matt Lalli


Matthew Lalli is a post-doc in the Mitra and Milbrandt labs interested in understanding neurological diseases using patient derived stem cells. He is trying to apply new technologies to improve disease-in-a-dish modeling by expanding the number of relevant cell types we can generate. Through Cas9-based transcriptional modulation of disease-causing genes, he hopes to discover molecular underpinnings of disease phenotypes. Altogether, these projects have the potential to identify novel targets for treating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism.


Email: mlalli[at]

Jiayue Liu

Graduate Student

Jiayue graduated from UW-Madison with a major in biochemistry and a certificate in computer science in 2015. During undergraduate study, she started doing research in Ansari’s lab in 2012 and became interested in biological sciences. She wanted to understand the dynamic biochemical patterns of the C terminal domain of RNA polymerase II during transcription. In 2014, She spent three months in Steinmetz’ lab at EMBL in Germany to understand the functional roles of long non-coding RNAs and became interested in quantitative biology and genomics. Jiayue decided to start a PhD degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 2015, and then joined Mitra’s lab. With all the expertise in Mitra’s lab, she wants to develop a novel method to systematically discover how protein-protein interactions affect transcription factors (TFs) binding specificity as well as the functional output. In her free time, Jiayue loves playing with her cat Clooney, reading books, watching movies, playing guitar or ukulele and just exploring anything cool.


Email: jiayue[at]

Justin Melendez

Graduate Student

Justin Melendez is a graduate student in the Mitra Lab. He received a B.S. in both microbiology and bioengineering from Cornell University and worked on light inducible expression technology and “smart” computer-controlled bioreactors at Princeton University before coming to Washington University. He is currently working on applying Cas9/CRISPR technology to stem cell differentiation screens looking for genes involved in neuronal differentiation of cells in the spinal cord.

Arnav Moudgil

Graduate Student

Arnav Moudgil got a B.S. in biology from Stanford University in 2010, and an M.S. in biology from Stanford in 2011. He is working on an M.D./Ph.D. degree at Washington University in St. Louis. As a graduate student in Rob Mitra’s lab, Arnav is developing novel techniques to record transcription factor binding events and lineage relationships during development.


Email: amoudgil[at]

Zongtai Qi

Graduate Student

Zongtai completed his undergraduate studies in biological sciences at Hebei Agriculture University in China. Zongtai is interested in developing technologies that can have an impact on biomedical researches. Some of the projects he has participated in involved: 1) developing a novel induction system for transposon-mediated genome engineering and the genome-wide mapping of transcription factor binding; 2) applying transposon Calling Card method to the study of sex difference of glioblastoma; 3) developing a high-throughput method to screen developmental enhancers that underlie cell fate specifications; 4) developing a new transposon-bit method for cell lineage tracing. Guided by these efforts, several achievements were made. The challenge ahead is to blend leading-edge biology with the appropriate technology, which requires a full awareness and a deep understanding of the key questions in biological and biomedical fields.


Email: qizongtai[at]

Christian Shively


Christian Shively began his postdoc training in the lab in 2014, after completing a B.S. in biology at Indiana University and a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan. His work in the Mitra lab is focused on understanding how transcription factors “know” where to bind DNA.  Paralogous transcription factors often recognize the same consensus binding site in vitro, yet bind to distinct genomic targets and regulate disparate cellular processes in vivo, and Christian’s research seeks to delineate the mechanisms that enable this specificity by studying a well-conserved pair of paralogous transcription factors in a model organism.


Email: cshively[at]

Michael Wilkinson

Graduate Research Assistant

Science has always been an extension of Michael Wilkinson’s passion for tackling real-world problems. He was a participant in the MARC scholars program at Hunter College in NYC, where he not only learned how to address scientific problems but to also have fun while doing it.

The Mitra Lab is Michael’s home in St. Louis, where he and other researchers develop molecular tools to help better understand biological problems. He is fortunate to use such tools in understanding the transcriptional networks that govern cell fates, whether in development or in disease. Michael’s personal interests are to elucidate the inter- and intra-cellular mechanisms that govern cell state in a heterogeneous population, whether it be in regeneration or in cancer. Outside of the lab, he enjoys fitness and music. Michael likes applying his understanding of science to bring well-being to others. As a previous participant of many minority support programs over the years, he hopes to share his opportunities with those in underserved communities.

Lab Alumni

Maxim Schillebeeckx, Scientist, Appistry
Francesco Vallania, Postdoc, Stanford University
Kay Tweedy, Retired
Michael Brooks, Postdoctoral fellow with Max Wicha at University of Michigan
Arjun Bahl
Lee Tessler, Project Manager at Millipore
K-T Varley, Postdoctoral fellow with Rick Myers at Hudson Alpha Institute
Haoyi Wang, Postdoctoral fellow with Rudy Jaenisch at MIT
Yue Yun, Pioneer Hybrid
Todd Druley, Faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, Pediatrics and Center for Genome Sciences
German Leparc, Postdoctoral fellow with David Kreil, Universitat fur Bodenkultur Wien
David Mayhew, Scientist, GlaxoSmithKline
Gabe Bien-Wilner, Medical Director, MolecularHealth
Scott Higdon, Staff Researcher at Washington University in St. Louis                                                    Sumithra Sankararaman, Staff Scientist at Washington University in St. Louis