Miao Yu receives Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded an International Predoctoral Student Research Fellowship to Miao Yu, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Chicago. Yu is one of 42 international predoctoral students to receive the fellowship this year.

This fellowship, which provides $43,000 annually for up to three years, supports outstanding international graduate students studying in the United States who are ineligible for fellowships or training grants through U.S. federal agencies.

Yu works in the research group of chemistry Professor Chuan He, who was named an HHMI Investigator earlier this year. Yu completed her bachelor’s degree in 2010 at Peking University. Working there as a member of Zhang-Jie Shi’s group, Yu co-authored three publications as an undergraduate. 

It was at Peking University where Yu learned of He’s work. “Chuan is always looking for something new and not sticking to one area of research,” Yu said. “Our group has many subgroups. We’re interested in many aspects of biology and chemistry, including RNA and DNA modifications. That’s why I came here.”

Yu had previously received the Sumitomo Corporation Scholarship at Peking University, and the Helen Sellei-Beretvas Fellowship of UChicago’s chemistry department.

“We hope that the HHMI award will encourage each student to build on their already considerable accomplishments, to apply creativity to current problems and to explore new ideas, to venture forward without fear, and to take risks as they work to solve difficult problems,” said David J. Asai, senior director in science education at HHMI.

As a graduate student at UChicago, Yu has co-authored seven papers that have been published or accepted for publication. She was lead author of a paper published last year in Cell, a rare distinction for a second-year graduate student.

In the Cell paper, Yu and her 12 co-authors described a technique that they had successfully developed and tested called TET-Assisted Bisulfite Sequencing (TAB-Seq), which enabled them to reveal previously unseen information in DNA. The team used the technique to map two DNA modifications (5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine) in DNA from human and mouse embryonic stem cells, unspecialized cells that under certain conditions can develop into a variety of cell types.

The team’s studies showed that these DNA modifications play major roles in gene regulation in fundamental life processes, and provided the first genome-wide method for base-resolution sequencing of both modifications for the research community.

“Miao initiated the project and demonstrated the persistence and determination necessary that would eventually lead to the success of a challenging project,” He said. “She picks the right problems to study. Once committed she works to discover every detail until she knows whether or not it will work.”

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