Research Interests

A fascinating discovery in the early 2000s was that many more regions of eukaryotic genomes are expressed than previously thought, producing a variety of RNAs whose functions, if any, are unclear. Current research in the Lee Lab is focused on understanding the biological impacts of these mysterious RNAs, with the broad goal of elucidating the underlying molecular mechanisms that govern RNA production, function, and degradation to maintain optimal cellular health. Key questions that intrigue us include: What are the molecular mechanisms that control the expression of non-protein coding and non-functional RNAs? What are the biological functions of uncharacterized non-protein coding RNAs?  What happens to a cell if pathways normally responsible for processing or degrading these RNAs are disrupted?  How are messenger RNAs, non-coding RNAs, and non-functional RNAs distinguished from one another?

To address these and other questions, we employ the tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, bioinformatics, microscopy, cell biology, and reverse genetics, using the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila as our model organism.

If you are an undergraduate and/or prospective Masters' student interested in pursuing research with us, please contact me to learn more our ongoing projects!

Educational & Professional Experience

  • B.A. in Biological Chemistry (summa cum laude with Honors), Wellesley College, 1998
  • Research Assistant in Cancer Biology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, 1998-2001
  • Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Berkeley, 2007
  • Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, San Diego, 2008-2014

Selected Awards & Honors

  • Barry M Goldwater Scholar in Math, Science and Engineering (1997-1998)
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow (2001-2006)
  • Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Teaching Award (2003)
  • Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow (2009-2012)
  • WWU Teaching-Learning Academy Award for Equity and Inclusivity (2016)

Recent Publications

Lee SR†, Dahlberg LL†, and Wiggins BL. A Short Laboratory Module to Help Infuse Metacognition during an Introductory Course-based Research Experience. (2019) CourseSource. †these authors contributed equally to this work

Dahlberg CL, Wiggins BL, Lee SR, Leaf D, Lily LS, Jordt H, Johnson T*. A Short, Authentic Course-based Research Module provides Metacognitive Benefits in the Form of More Sophisticated Problem Solving. (2019) Journal of College Science Teaching. 48(4):22-30. *WWU Undergraduate researcher

Lee SR, Pratt G, Martinez F, Yeo GW and Lykke-Andersen J. Target discrimination in nonsense-mediated decay requires Upf1 ATPase activity. (2015) Molecular Cell. 59(3):413-25.

Lee SR and Lykke-Andersen J. Emerging roles for ribonucleoprotein modification and remodeling in controlling RNA fate. (2013) Trends in Cell Biology. 23(10):504-10.

Clement S, Joshi S, Otto S, Merkhofer E, Vicente-Crespo M, and Lee SR. (2011) “Development and Implementation of a TA Training Workshop on Diversity in the Classroom,” In Teaching Diversity: Conference Proceedings. Ed. J Lin and C Wastal. San Diego: University Readers.

Couvillion MT, Lee SR, Hogstad B, Malone CD, Tonkin LA, Sachidanandam R, Hannon GJ, and Collins K. Sequence, Biogenesis, and Function of Diverse Small RNA Classes Bound to the Piwi-family Proteins of Tetrahymena thermophila. (2009) Genes and Development. 23(17):2016-32.

Lee SR, Benjamin-Talsky K., Collins K. Distinct sRNA biogenesis pathways are linked through the associated proteins of a single RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. (2009) RNA. 15(7):1363-74.

Lee SR, Collins K. Physical and functional coupling of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and Dicer in the biogenesis of endogenous siRNAs. (2007) Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. 14(7):604-10.

Lee SR, Collins K. Two classes of endogenous small RNAs in Tetrahymena thermophila. (2006) Genes and Development. 20(1):28-33.

Lee SR, Collins K. Starvation-induced cleavage of the tRNA anticodon loop in Tetrahymena thermophila. (2005) Journal of Biological Chemistry. 280(52):42744-9.