Postdoctoral Alumni - Erika Geisbrecht



Erika Geisbrecht
Assistant Professor
University of Missouri - Kansas City

When Erika Geisbrecht entered the University of Wisconsin in the early 90’s, she had every intention of going to medical school. But once exposed to benchwork as an undergrad working in a research lab in the Genetics department, she says she “got hooked” on research.

Determined to pursue an academic career, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program at The Johns Hopkins University after graduation. Her first lab rotation in a fly lab set her career on course. “I liked the elegance and simplicity of the Drosophila system,” she says. “I benefitted from the relatively quick genetics using the fly as a model to uncover new genes essential for cell movement.”

Once she earned her Ph.D. in 2003, Geisbrecht, who grew up near Milwaukee, sought postdoctoral opportunities near Kansas City, where her husband had accepted a faculty job at University of Missouri - Kansas City (UMKC). Geisbrecht had few qualms about relocating to an unfamiliar midwestern city, having been assured by a friend that “Kansas City is a lot like Milwaukee but without Lake Michigan.”

After considering several area venues, Geisbrecht joined the lab of former Stowers Associate Investigator Susan Abmayr, a developmental biologist and fly geneticist. Working with Abmayr presented Geisbrecht with the opportunity of applying genetics to a different aspect of developmental biology. “The Abmayr lab was a great jump for me because muscle cell development is more complex than cell migration,” she says. “Plus the resources available at Stowers allowed you to do very creative science.”

As a postdoctoral fellow until 2007, Geisbrecht was supported by a Ruth Kirchstein NRSA fellowship. The Abmayr lab had previously characterized a signaling factor governing the fusion of muscle cells called “Myoblast city”. Geisbrecht’s primary project was to figure out if a different factor called ELMO acted in concert with Myoblast city. In studies greatly facilitated by the Stowers proteomics facility, she discovered that indeed ELMO and Myoblast city directly interact and cooperate to drive muscle cell fusion, findings reported in Developmental Biology in 2008.

Five years ago, Geisbrecht landed a faculty position as assistant professor at UMKC, where now runs her own lab of budding scientists and continues to employ fly models to study muscle cell development and targeting. “I tell my rotation students two things,” she says, emphasizing that experiments don’t always work. “Find a good mentor and make sure you really like what you do.”