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Maria Barna is an Associate Professor in the Department of Genetics at Stanford University. Dr. Barna obtained her B.A. in Anthropology from New York University and her Ph.D. from Cornell University, Weill Graduate School of Medicine. She completed her thesis work in the lab of Dr. Lee Niswander in the Developmental Biology Department at Sloan Kettering Institute in 2007. Dr. Barna was subsequently appointed as a UCSF Fellow through the Sandler Fellows program, which enables exceptionally promising young scientists to establish independent research programs immediately following graduate school. Dr. Barna has received a number of distinctions including being named a Pew Scholar, Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, and top ’40 under 40’ by the Cell Journal. She has received the Basil O’ Connor Scholar Research Award and the NIH Directors New Innovator Award. In 2016, she was the recipient of the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award, an award given to two female scientist in the world every three years in the field of genetics, the American Society for Cell Biology Emerging Leader Prize, and the RNA Society Early Career Award. She has also received the inaugural Elizabeth Hay award from the Society of Developmental Biology, the H.W. Mossman Award in Developmental Biology and the Tsuneko and Reiji “Okazaki” Award, among others. She is presently a NYSCF Robertson Stem Cell Investigator.
Our lab studies how intricate control of gene expression and cell signaling is regulated on a minute-by-minute basis to give rise to the remarkable diversity of cell types and tissue morphology that form the living blueprints of developing organisms. Work in the Barna lab is presently split into two main research efforts. The first is investigating ribosome-mediated control of gene expression genome-wide in space and time during cellular differentiation and organismal development. This research is opening a new field of study in which we apply sophisticated mass spectrometry, computational biology, genomics, and developmental genetics, to characterize a ribosome code to gene expression. Our research has shown that not all of the millions of ribosomes within a cell are the same and that ribosome heterogeneity can diversify how genomes are translated into proteomes. In particular, we seek to address whether fundamental aspects of gene regulation are controlled by ribosomes harboring a unique activity or composition that are tuned to translating specific transcripts by virtue of RNA regulatory elements embedded within their 5’UTRs. The second research effort is centered on employing state-of-the-art live cell imaging to visualize cell signaling and cellular control of organogenesis. This research has led to the realization of a novel means of cell-cell communication dependent on a dense network of actin-based cellular extension within developing organs that interconnect and facilitate the precise transmission of molecular information between cells. We apply and create bioengineering tools to manipulate such cellular interactions and signaling in-vivo.