Blog Post

GIGA fellowship recipient Kate Castellano on her research and career

By Dr. Kate Castellano

Growing up on the coast of Connecticut, I have always been fascinated by the ocean and the many organisms that live below the surf. It wasn’t until I met a marine scientist on a trip to Belize that I became aware of marine research as a career possibility.

This discovery led me to the University of New England, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Marine Science and began working in a research lab. There, I learned more about genetics and its utility in understanding species biology, adaption to extreme or changing environments and ability to aid conservation efforts.

After college, I wanted to build my genetic laboratory skills so before entering graduate school, I worked as a research associate at Yale University studying early development in zebrafish. With the goal of creating and utilizing genetic and genomic tools for understudied marine non-model organisms, I pursued a PhD at the University of Connecticut. My work, and recently defended PhD thesis, focused on two species of tunicates, Salpa thompsoni and Salpa aspera, that are experiencing rapid population explosions due to warming oceans which required the development of genomic tools.

Kate in the lab with sea urchins in aquaria.

During my PhD, I received the first GIGA fellowship in Invertebrate Genomics which supported the genome assemblies of S. thompsoni and S. aspera and in turn revealed new genomic architecture important for gene regulation. The work I have done with GIGA’s support extends beyond the genomes of S. thompsoni and S. aspera becoming part of our genome workflow for other understudied marine species. This is important because genomic tools are still lacking for most marine organisms, making it difficult to truly understand their biology.

Currently, I am a Postdoctoral Scientist at the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute where my research interests have also expanded to human health, focusing on understanding aging and longevity in the long-lived red sea urchin.

In addition, I am further developing sea urchins as a model and creating tools for functional genomics. My ultimate goal is to develop methods and pipelines for myself and others to establish more marine organisms as models through the creation of high quality genomic, transcriptomic and functional genomic tools to answer questions about basic biological functions, genome dynamics, adaptation and human health.


Congrats to GIGA fellowship awardee Aabha Deshpande

Congratulations to Aabha Deshpande for being selected as finalist for the 2021 GIGA Invertebrate Genomics Graduate Fellowship. She will utilize funds towards her research investigating the genome sequence of the sponge Cinachyrella, in the laboratory of Dr. Jean Francois Flot.


Congrats to GIGA Fellowship 2020 Awardee Kate Castellano

On behalf of the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA) we are very excited to announce that Kate Castellano has received the inaugural GIGA Fellowship in Invertebrate Genomics 2020 award. 

GIGA is dedicated to promoting resources and standards that will facilitate comparative approaches and collaborations for future generations. 

Kate Castellano winner of GIGA’s 2020 Invertebrate Genomics Fellowship

With these objectives in mind, we are excited to see Kate’s research that investigates reproductive life history of salps, a group that is in need for expanded genomic resources. 

We were impressed by her research statement, thoughtful budget and her desire to train future generations in invertebrate -OMICS research. We look forward to hearing about Kate’s successes!

GIGA received many fantastic applications for this award. We acknowledge honorable mentions for outstanding proposals to the following applicants:

  • Birdie Alexander-Lawrie
  • Erika Gress
  • Nickellaus Roberts
  • Amy Burgess