The Kieft Lab | Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics | University of Colordao School of Medicine

Lab Personnel

David Constantino

David Costantino, M.S.

Lab Manager and Senior Professional Research Assistant

Costantino fun photo"In my role as lab manager I am responsible for much of the day to day operation, but I also get to do research, which is the main reason I am so excited ​to be part of this g​roup. When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I can save the crickets, and that is always a great way to introduce what we study in our lab."

David likes donuts…with sprinkles. He also plays tennis, eats BBQ and Italian food, loves baseball, plays poker, goes to lots of hockey games, and teaches chess to school kids and adults. Scouting reports describe him as a fantasy sport force to be reckoned with whenever he steps on the field.

Andrea MacFadden -- 750 x 563

Andrea MacFadden

Professional Research Assistant

MacFadden fun photo"I am studying the effects of how the xrRNAs within the 3' UTRs of flaviviruses affect degradation by a variety of ribonucleases. I am hoping this will allow us to crystallize these diverse xrRNAs to discover their structures, 'cause that's what we do in the Kieft lab."

Andrea joined the lab with lots of experience expressing and purifying proteins. We have converted her to the RNA world...although she is still a Redwings fan...we have to work on that.

Parker Nichols

Parker Nichols

Graduate Student (Structural Biology and Biochemistry)

(Parker is a joint student with the Vogeli lab.)

Nichols fun photo -- 200 x 267"I am excited to study how RNA structure and dynamics dictates function as a new addition to both the Kieft and Vogeli labs. Specifically, I am working on understanding how the RNA binding domains of human ADAR1 recognize unique RNA conformations in order to regulate the cellular immune response and how Xrn1-resistant RNA folding dynamics plays a role in inhibiting degradation by exonuclease Xrn1. These questions are critical in understanding the complex interactions between viruses and their hosts."

Parker grew up in Oregon, and spent a lot of time in Portland. Therefore, he is a fan of microbreweries and good restaurants, as long as they are not too popular... He is passionate about science, especially structural biology, and he aspires to become a master of all three structural techniques. In his free time, he likes to hike and play tennis.

Conner Langeberg

Conner Langeberg

Graduate Student (Structural Biology and Biochemistry)

Langeberg fun photo"I am currently working to biochemically and structurally characterize a class of viral, histidine accepting tRNA-like structures. These structures are functional mimics of host tRNAs and participate in the co-opting of host cell machinery for vial replication. I am using crystallography and cryo-EM to determine the structure of these RNAs alone and in complex with the host histidine synthetase and CCA-NTase, and the viral RdRp to better understand how these structures are recognized and acted upon."

As a #ColoradoNative, Conner enjoys many forms of outdoor activities, including, but not limited to, hiking, camping, skiing, snowshoeing, whitewater rafting, paddleboarding, and attempting to combine the aforementioned activities with food and his dogs.

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones, M.S.

Graduate Student (Molecular Biology)​

Jones fun photo“I am excited to continue learning about RNA and RNA-related disease in the Kieft Lab. My current scientific interests lie in functionally and structurally characterizing a distinct set of non-coding RNA molecules belonging to flaviviruses. The objective of my project is to determine the structure of these RNA molecules in distantly related viruses and eventually understand the evolution of these RNA structures. As my studies progress, I plan to study other RNA molecules that play roles in high-mortality diseases.”

Like any other young person, Rachel's hobbies include bird watching, arts and crafts, and caring for her cats and plants. Although her dream job was to be a zoo vet, she is pretty happy with the route her career has taken. Her not-so-guilty pleasure is Cookies n’ Cream ice cream, which she considers part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Matthew Szucs

Matthew Szucs

Graduate Student (Microbiology)

Currently funded as an RNA BioScience Initiative Scholar​

Szucs fun photo"I am excited to join the Kieft lab as a microbiology graduate student. My current interests involve searching for and identifying homologs of viral xrRNA, or other interesting structural motifs in other microscopic life. I plan on combining computational methods as well as biochemical and molecular techniques address this this question. I am also incredibly eager to dive into the wonderful world of RNA structure and function."

As a former east coast resident, Matt is excited to continue his scientific career in Colorado. His interests outside of lab include copious amounts of crafting, cooking elaborate meals, birds, coffee, and music. His ideal evening: A long walk on the beach with his cat Junipur.

Tristan Carmeci

Graduate Student (Bioengineering Masters Program)​

P5210625-1“I am interested in using single-particle CryoEM to reveal RNA structures with computational tools like CryoSparc and Relion.  I want to be able to understand these computational tools the best that I can while also understanding how structure is related to function.  My ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in biophysics with an emphasis on continuing research involving CryoEM.  I am currently looking at structural variants of xrRNAs and working with Steve Bonilla on a few other projects.”

Tristan is from southern Oregon with a BS in Chemistry from the University of Portland and is a semester away from achieving a MS in Bioengineering.  He is currently applying for PhD programs in biophysics and wishes to eventually utilize concepts from quantum, classical and statistical mechanics in his research. He plays guitar, loves hiking, fishing, and traveling.


Zoe O'Donoghue -- 750 x 933

Zoe O'Donoghue, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow


O'Donoghue fun photo"I have completed my PhD in the lab I’m still excited to be exploring the RNA structure/function relationship of flaviviral 3'UTRs. While I like all the flaviviruses equally, I chose the path of being the only person on campus to work with Dengue virus, which has led to a pretty steep learning curve but I think some pretty cool discoveries as well. I am combining viral infection models with structural studies to understand various mechanisms of Dengue pathogenicity and infection dynamics. Basically, I plan to save the world."​

Zoe fits every Colorado stereotype — she has a dog, drives a Subaru, has a profound appreciation for microbrews, is a devout Broncos fan, and loves to ski/snowboard. Her other hobbies include but are not limited to: daydreaming, scuba diving, binge reading/watching/eating, and any kind of exercise to balance out the binges.

Ben Akiyama

Ben Akiyama, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Twitter: @BenAkiyama​

Akiyama fun photo“I am currently studying how the dynamics of structured viral RNA elements impact their function. This includes investigating how the folding and unfolding pathways of viral RNAs affect their unique properties and studying the motions of various RNA domains as they interact with cellular machinery. By breaking down these processes, I hope to be able to create a ‘movie’ of these important molecules in action.”

Ben comes with a background in single-molecule fluorescence of RNA-protein complexes. He grew up in San Francisco, which makes him a 49ers and Giants (the baseball kind) fan. We like him anyway (at least every other year...).​

Daniel Eiler

Daniel Eiler, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow​

"My interests are to use biochemical and crystallographic approaches to characterize the interactions between a viral RNA and its cellular protein target, and to understand how this interaction manipulates the protein’s function. Specifically, I want to find out how the RNA element recognizes its target, elucidate the important interactions between the two molecules, and understand how this induces a certain viral outcome."

Daniel brings a wealth of structural knowledge and experience. He likes running, lifting, football, baseball, board games, camping, swing dancing, and traveling. His favorite TV shows are The Big Bang Theory and Elementary.

Maddie Sherlock

Maddie Sherlock, Ph.D.

Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow

Twitter: @madisherlikin​

Sherlock fun photo"My postdoctoral research is focused on structured viral RNAs involved in translation enhancement. Some of the RNAs I’m studying are able to induce a reinitiation event through specific interactions with the ribosome. My research focuses on the determining the molecular interactions that enable this RNA structure to promote translation activity at downstream open reading frames following a translation termination event. Another set of RNAs I’m studying are found primarily in plant viruses and mimic cellular tRNAs. Previous and ongoing studies in the Kieft lab aim to determine how different examples of these tRNA-like structures fold, the structural and functional differences between different classes and subtypes, and how these RNAs enhance viral translation."

Maddie is an RNA enthusiast making the switch from studying bacterial RNAs to viral RNAs. She is a co-chair of the departmental Diversity, Equity, & Antiracism Recruitment subcommittee  She has two cats as well as two dogs she brings along on her many hikes, brewery visits, and camping trips. Her assimilation into Colorado culture is complete! She also loves traveling, photography, cooking, and spinning classes.

Steve Bonilla

Steve Bonilla, Ph.D.

NIH F32-funded Postdoctoral Fellow

Twitter: @Steve_Bonilla​

Bonilla fun photo -- 250 x 225“I am using single-particle cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM), biochemistry, and other experimental and computational tools to dissect RNA structures and dynamics. Ultimately, I want to reveal generalizable principles that dictate the diverse and dynamic conformational landscape of functional RNAs.”

Steve was born and raised in Guatemala. He obtained his BS in chemical engineering from University of Washington and his PhD in chemical engineering from Stanford University. Steve’s PhD dissertation focused on single-molecule and high-throughput studies of RNA 3D folding thermodynamics. In his free time, Steve likes to play the guitar, write music, read, and travel. Steve is also working hard towards acquiring the essential set of ‘outdoorsy’ skills necessary to (socially) survive in Denver.


Jillian Ramos, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Twitter: @JillianRamosPhD​

Jillian_Ramos_Funpic“My PhD work involved characterizing disease-associated variants in tRNA modification enzymes. I’m utilizing my tRNA knowledge here in the Kieft lab and working to identify the structure-function relationship of tRNA Like Structures found at the 3’ end of positive-strand RNA plant viruses. Overall, I’m interested in uncovering RNA-based tools which can be used for downstream method development and/or potential therapeutics. In fact, my second project aims to build a new technology using exonuclease-resistant RNA structures."

Jillian is a California native who attempted to take on the snow for her PhD work at the 

University of Rochester. She settled for a happy medium in Colorado.  Although Jillian is the shortest person in the lab, she is probably the strongest. She is classified as an  “Elite” Powerlifter, spending most of her free time in the gym.


Quentin Vicens

Quentin Vicens, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor

Co-Principal Investigator on NIH R21 grant with Jeffrey Kieft, PhD, and Investigator of a 2020 RNA BioScience Initiative RNA-seq Pilot Award

Twitter: @qvicens; Google Scholar; Website (contains full set of publications)​

vicens-fun-photo_2"RNA never stops amazing us with intricate folds that subtly support regulatory functions. Elements within viral RNAs and retrotransposons represent a fantastic opportunity to continue capturing glimpses of how RNA operates, with relevance to biomedicine."

Quentin is a seasoned bushwhacker of the RNA jungle, having resorted to various structural and molecular biology techniques for challenging anything ribo (ribozyme, riboswitch, ribosome, ...). He is passionate about the educational process, likes to read and watch movies, cook and eat great food, and spend time with his family, especially outdoors.​

Brian Wimberly

Brian Wimberly, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor

Co-Principal Investigator on an NIH R21 grant with Olivia Rissland, PhD​​

Brian wants to push the frontiers of structural biology. Beyond that, you aren’t getting any more information out of him, so don’t even try.