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Cotney Lab

Justin Cotney Profile Picture.jpg

Justin Cotney, Ph.D.

Dr. Cotney received his undergraduate degree in Biology in 2002 from Birmingham-Southern College, where he studied the catalytic activities of acetylcholinesterase enzymes from amphioxus with Dr. Leo Pezzementi. He attended graduate school at Emory University in the program of Genetics and Molecular Biology completing his PhD in 2008. Under Dr. Gerald Shadel, he studied the roles of two human mitochondrial transcription factors, TFB1M and TFB2M, in mitochondrial transcription, translation, and retrograde signaling. Dr. Cotney performed postdoctoral work in the labs of Mike Snyder and James Noonan at Yale University. During is his time there Dr. Cotney developed techniques to apply ChIP-Seq and RNA-Seq technologies to very limiting embryonic tissue leading to the identification of tens of thousands of enhancers active in the developing limbs, brains, and craniofacial tissue of mouse, rhesus, and human. Starting in 2015, Dr. Cotney served as assistant professor in the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences and the Institute for Systems Genomics at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Dr. Cotney joined the Center for Craniofacial Innovation in 2024 as associate professor of genomic sciences. The Cotney Lab focuses on understanding long range gene regulation during mammalian development, understanding the evolution of enhancers, and deciphering combinatorial codes of chromatin regulators during neuronal development.


Sungryong Oh

Postdoctoral Fellow

Sungryong joined the Cotney Lab after completing his education in Korea. He completed his BS in Biological Sciences and then earned his Masters and Doctorate from Seoul National University in the Sung Hee Baek lab. Sungryong completed his first postdoctoral fellowship at The Research Institute of Basic Science. Sungryong received a Poster Award Prize for his work on the functional role of hypoxia-mediated Reptin/Pontin methylation. He also presented a poster on PHF6 function in mouse embryonic stem cell differentiation. Most recently, Sungryong was awarded a Lee Se Yong Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis Award Prize for his work on the chromatin-binding protein PHF6. Currently, Sungryong is optimizing protocols for growing and visualizing heart organoids. He is interested in development across time and looking for genomic changes and conservation.In addition to his scientific pursuits, Sungryong enjoys playing soccer and basketball, biking, traveling, and eating good food.


Pooja Sonawane

Graduate Student

Meet Pooja Sonawane, an ambitious rising 3rd year Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Graduate program at UConn Health. Her primary focus lies in exploring the role of enhancers targeting core cardiac transcription factors active during human heart development. This exciting exploration builds upon the groundbreaking foundation from the previous work from our lab. Pooja’s research involves employing culture and organoid models of heart development and utilizing genetic tools like CRISPR to gain deeper insights into the functions of these enhancers. Through her Ph.D., she aims to bridge her biology background with computational expertise, making her research even more comprehensive and impactful. Pooja’s academic journey started with a Bachelor’s in biotechnology from Ramnarain Ruia college, Mumbai, India. As part of her thesis project, she conducted research on the biosynthesis of nanoparticles. Her passion for sustainable biotechnological applications of nanoparticles led her to work as a research intern at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology- Bombay in Dr. Rohit Srivastava’s lab, where her outstanding contributions resulted in a shared patent. Driven by her academic excellence, Pooja was selected for a month-long research program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) during her undergraduate studies. Inspired to continue her pursuit of knowledge, she completed a Master’s in Biology at IUP, focusing on understanding whole-body tissue regeneration and maintenance in planarian flatworms. During her Master’s, Pooja’s dedication and research prowess earned her a Graduate student grant at IUP for her work in “Analysis of timeless and timeless interacting protein expression during planarian regeneration.” Simultaneously, she played an active role in guiding and mentoring undergraduates as a tutor in her first year and was later appointed as a Lab Instructor in her second year. Beyond her academic achievements, Pooja is a well-rounded individual with a variety of interests. She finds joy in activities like cooking, painting, belly dancing, and exploring new places. Feel free to connect with Pooja on LinkedIn to explore potential collaborations or discuss shared interests.


Nagham Khouri Farah

Graduate Student

Nagham received her Bachelor degree in biochemistry at the University of Damascus, Syria, in 2010 and enrolled in the graduate program at the same university. In 2011 she was awarded a scholarship from the AUF (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie) to continue her Masters degree in France. Ranked at first placement in her class, she was awarded the equivalence to french master degree from the doctoral school in Toulouse, France, in June 2012. In 2013 she received the official Masters degree at the university of Toulouse, in major “genes, cells and developmental biology”. Her master project studied the neuro-glial switch and cell fate in the developing spinal chord. She worked as a research associate at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) in Monash university, Melbourne Australia studying muscle development and regeneration, and as a research assistant at UCONN health center, Connecticut, USA, working on liver targeting therapy. She enrolled in Biomedical Sciences PhD program at UCONN in 2018. Co-mentored by Dr. Justin Cotney and Dr. Yuanhao James Li, her PhD project studies the molecular mechanisms controlling the development of mammalian cerebellum.


Nicole Glidden



Kevin Child

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Kevin Child was awarded his undergraduate degree in Biomolecular Science in 2013 from Central Connecticut State University. While at CCSU, he worked in Dr. Thomas King’s laboratory, where he studied two different Jax mouse strains with a spontaneous mutation that resulted in abnormal hair growth to identify the mutant gene by using the positional cloning technique. This work resulted in two publications. After completion of his bachelor’s degree he was accepted at Tufts University for his doctorate where he worked under Dr. James Schwob. For his thesis work he developed a mouse model of olfactory aging and using molecular biology techniques and fluorescent microscopy uncovered a mechanism for the loss of olfaction where exhaustion of basal stem cells through accelerated neuronal turnover lead to large regions lacking olfactory neurons which would eventually undergo respiratory metaplasia. This research led to another publication. Currently he is working in Dr. Justin Cotney’s lab at the University of Connecticut as a Postdoctoral Fellow where he is investigating the role of alternative splicing and differential transcript utilization in the embryonic period of heart and craniofacial development. So far, he has identified many genes which have significant alternative splicing events in both tissues and has identified many novel transcripts some of which appear to have either tissue or temporal specific expression during embryonic development. Continuing with this work he would like to also identify the proteins involved in the regulation of these splicing events during this period of development and investigate the role of some of these novel transcripts through genetic manipulation of H9 derived cardiomyocytes and heart organoids.


Rachel Gilmore

Graduate Student

Rachel is a 4th year PhD student in the Biomedical Science program at UConn Health. Prior to joining UConn Health, she completed her BS in Forensic Science with a concentration in biology and a minor in Russian from the University of New Haven (West Haven, CT). There she completed her Honors thesis work under the direction of Dr. Claire Glynn studying recovery methods of touch DNA. Aside from graduating summa cum laude, Rachel was a member of the NCAA DII women’s softball team and a teaching assistant for molecular biology. Rachel won the Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation in the Peter R. De Forest Student Research Competition at the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists 44th Annual Meeting, the Rising Star Award for the Henry C. Lee College during her sophomore year, and the Distinguished Female Scholar Athlete of the Year during her senior year. She currently studies Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS), a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, using stem cell and stem cell derived neuron models. PWS is caused by genetic aberrations of the paternal allele of chromosome 15q11-q13. The parent-of-origin of the deletion matters for PWS because the genes in this region are regulated by genomic imprinting. Every child with PWS has an intact copy of the genes disrupted in the disorder, but they are repressed on the maternally-inherited allele. Her research employs various next generation sequencing methods to study the gene expression (RNA-seq), chromatin state (ChIP-seq and CUT&RUN), and chromatin conformation (Hi-C) of each allele of chromosome 15. We believe a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying repressive mechanisms of the maternal 15q allele in human neurons may lead to therapeutic approaches for PWS by activating the genes on the maternal 15q allele without perturbing other gene expression. This research is allowing Rachel to cultivate skills at the bench and computationally. Rachel was awarded a 2-year T32 traineeship through the UConn/JAX-GM Genomic Science Training Program, which just concluded in August 2022. Outside of the lab, she is a part of various groups on campus. In addition to being this year’s Graduate Student Organization President, she also serves as a Graduate Student Liaison for Beyond the PhD, a student-led group that aims to provide support for students on alternative careers in science by offering free career discovery seminars, writing informative blog articles, and facilitating connections with STEM professionals. She participates in scientific outreach programs like the Young Explorers in Science and the Connecticut Junior Science & Humanities Symposium (CT-JSHS). She looks forward to incorporating her passion for science communication into her career trajectory. Besides science, she enjoys watching & attending sporting events, hiking, yoga, good food, lots of coffee, and snuggling with her cat. Feel free to connect with Rachel on LinkedIn.


Emma Wentworth

Graduate Student

Emma Wentworth is a 4th year DMD/PhD dual degree student working on investigating the regulatory genomics and transcriptomics of craniofacial development and disease, specifically dental development and disease. She completed two years of medical didactic training and is working on her PhD in the Cotney lab before clinical years here at UConn. She has a BS (Molecular Biology) and MS (Biotechnology) from the University of Texas at Dallas where she worked in Ted Price’s neuroscience lab under the supervision of Michael D. Burton, PhD. on projects involving the molecular mechanisms of neuropathic pain. Her current research interests revolve around early craniofacial development (focusing on dental development). She regularly works with Unix, Python, and R and is very excited to be using her Biotechnology background in her dental career. In her spare time, Emma can usually be found at the gym, absolutely dominating bar trivia, watching the Hartford Athletic win, or with her husband and 3 cats. She has recently received awards for best lightning talk at the Institute for Systems Genomics event (May 2021), and has been awarded an F30 fellowship from the NIDCR to continue her work investigating the role of the tooth’s regulatory landscape in dental disease. Her first primary author paper, Identification of Enamel Knot Gene Signature Within the Developing Mouse Molar, is up as a preprint on bioRxiv and is under review. She presented this work at the 2021 IADR annual meeting with great reception! Check out her full list of publications (, and her github page (

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