Abigail Courtney grew up just outside of Manhattan in New York. She moved to New Jersey for her undergraduate education, where she got her B.S. in bioinformatics from Ramapo College of New Jersey. While there, she worked on an undergraduate research project titled Responses of growth, antioxidants and gene expression in smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) to various levels of salinity. While in New Jersey, Abbie completed a summer program through Rutgers University studying the molecular evolution of RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase in ticks.
From there, Abbie moved to the University of Georgia where she is currently a graduate student in Zachary Lewis’ lab. Her thesis is titled H2A.Z and Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 in Neurospora crassa: An unlikely partnership, where she examines how the three-dimensional structure of DNA affects gene expression. The Lewis lab is interested in identifying the mechanisms that govern the establishment and maintenance of silent chromatin in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. The Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 catalyzes the methylation of Lysine 27 on Histone 3 (H3K27me2/3). Polycomb group proteins assemble specialized repressive chromatin domains that are critical for proper gene regulation in plants, animals, and some fungi. The specific mechanisms of how Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 target domains are established and maintained are poorly understood. Abbie recently discovered that the histone variant H2A.Z is required for normal patterns of H3K27me2/3 in N. crassa. H2A.Z has been implicated in DNA repair, gene repression, and transcriptional activation. The focus of her thesis project is to define the mechanisms of these context-specific H2A.Z functions, including establishment or maintenance of H3K27me2/3. Abbie is a 2017 recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, MSA best graduate poster, and a GSA Career Development Symposia Grant to work with six other students from the University of Georgia to develop the Southeast Mycology Symposium (SEMS).
What are your career goals? What are your plans for after your PhD?
That’s what I am working on figuring out this year! After my PhD, I plan to continue my adventure in fungal biology working as a postdoc.
What is your favorite mushroom/fungus?
I think I am a little biased here, but I’m going to have to go with Neurospora crassa.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
I read, crochet, and volunteer at the local animal shelter. I love to cook and prepare my meals for the entire week every Sunday.
Anything else you’d like to talk about (Career goals, outreach, science communication, photography)?
I am the VP of Digital Media for S.P.E.A.R. – Science Policy Education, Advocacy, and Research. SPEAR is a student organization that aims to provide a resource for discussion of science policy issues as well as a platform for initiating advocacy and promoting research within and beyond the University of Georgia.
I am the social media coordinator and webmaster for the UGA Fungal Group.
Every year I judge the junior division (grades 6-8) at the Georgia Science and Engineering Science Fair.
I am a volunteer expert for the “Ask an Expert” section of the website Sciencebuddies.com. I help guide students who have questions related to their science fair projects.