The Cobb Research Lab Winter 2016 Newsletter

The Cobb Research Lab Winter 2016 Newsletter

Today marks the release of the Winter 2016 Cobb Research Lab Newsletter! Please take time to look through the newsletter to see some of the break through research that has been conducted by many of our researchers.

Highlights of this issue

  • The lab is celebrating our 85 Years Anniversary! 
  • Outstanding Cobb Student Research Assistant, Cameron Clarke, named Rhodes Scholar!
  • Special Report: The Future of Biohistorical Reconstructions of the Cobb Collection
  • Coming in April 2017 Discovering African Genomic Diversity Workshop and Free Screening event! 
  • National Park Service invites CRL for 25th anniversary of the New York African Burial 
  • DNA extracted from NYABG grave soils 
  • College of Medicine students begin studies of skeletal anatomy of Cobb Collection
  • CRL visits National Geographic as part of Genographic Summit  
  • Summer 2017 Boot Camp courses planned 
  • Cancer in the Cobb Collection report  now available
  • Table of contents of The Backbone now available

Visit to read it today! 

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Orientation for New Researchers on September 1st, 2016

Hello friends of the lab,

I am pleased to announce our 2016 Orientation for Studies in The Cobb Research Lab! It will take place on Thursday 1st September, 2016 from 12 PM in 232 Douglas Hall . Join us as we showcase our impactful research on over 400 years of African-American History. Hear from many of our student researchers and faculty collaborators as they share their experiences with the lab. Most importantly, learn how YOU can get involve with The CRL! Use this event to network and learn how you can contribute to the pinnacle of African American Research!

We hope to see you there.

The CRL Team
W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory

CRL Digitization Team publishes first report on 4Cs Database in American Journal of Human Biology

What could you do with 400 years of biological history on African Americans? The CRL digitization team of Dr. Fatimah Jackson, Dr. Latifa Jackson, Research Associate Christopher Cross, and Research Assistant Cameron Clarke have just received word that their manuscript will be published in the leading journalthe American Journal of Human Biology this winter. The goal of the paper is to evaluate the potential scientific benefit of systematic studies of dental and skeletal materials on African Americans from the 17th through 20th centuries. In this publication they ask: How important is it to be able to reconstruct the lives of a highly diverse, historically recent macroethnic group over the course of 400 years? How many insights into human evolutionary biology and disease susceptibilities could be gained, even with this relatively recent window into the past? In the paper, they explore the potential ramifications of a newly constructed dataset of Four Centuries of African American Biological Variation (4Cs). Their research provides initial lists of digitized variables formatted as SQL tables for the 17th and 18th century samples and for the 19th and 20th century samples. The database is dynamic and new information is added monthly. As is, the database provides novel opportunities for significant insights into the past biological history of this group and three case study applications are detailed for comparative computational systems biology studies of: 1) hypertension, 2) the oral microbiome, and 3) mental health disorders. These are all research projects currently “in progress” at the CRL.  The 4Cs dataset is ideal for interdisciplinary “next generation” science research and these data represent a unique step toward the accumulation of historically contextualized Big Data on an underrepresented group known to have experienced differential survival over time. Congratulations to the team for this accomplishment!***

CRL add new associates in Winter 2015

Dr. Lambert is pictured on the right of Dr. Fatimah Jackson.

Dr. Lambert is pictured on the right of Dr. Fatimah Jackson.

Dr. Marcus Lambert is currently Director of Diversity and Student Services at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology at New York City College of Technology. Dr. Lambert serves as an advisor on education policy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) mentoring programs to a number of organizations in New York City and around the United States. Dr. Lambert has spoken at conferences on STEM education, advocated for science at the U.S. Capital, and was
honored by the U.S. Department of State as a "Generation Changer." He completed his doctorate in biomedical science at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, and was a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Garabedian at NYU School of Medicine. His doctoral research focused on the bidirectional crosstalk between stress hormones and neurotrophins in the brain, which may lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as depression. He is an alumnus of W. D. Mohammed High School in Atlanta, GA and Howard University in Washington, DC where he obtained a bachelor's of science degree in biology. Dr. Lambert resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and four children. His association with the CRL will expand our molecular biology capabilities with respect to the skeletal and dental collections on site. ****


Dr. Latifa Jackson is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. Her research is highly integrative, incorporating aspects of human genetics, evolutionary biology, bioinformatics, modeling, and functional genomics. She is interested in how complex multigenic traits arise, in
whether the co- morbidities in certain complex traits within populations are a result of evolutionary processes and how long term environmental modifiers contribute of modulating trait expression. During her dissertation work at Drexel University, she developed a novel bioinformatics algorithm to identify functional regions of the genome enriched for sets of genes underlying a single or multiple complex traits. This algorithm takes a systems biology approach, interrogating functional, metabolic, and expression datasets to build a bioinformatics portrait of candidate genomic regions of interest. To date she has applied this algorithm to study the underlying genomic connection between opiate/ dopamine/ GABA driven substance addiction, to identify what infectious disease processes might be driving addiction phenotypes in African Americans and Central Chinese to identify candidate schizophrenia/bipolar disorder/ depression variants relevant for a historical population of Washington DC area African Americans. Each of these projects has deepened her understanding of how genomic hotspots participate in complex traits, but in order to make more relevant models of real gene interactions, she plans to incorporate more environmental data. At Howard University, she has begun to expand my analyses to incorporate epidemiological and behavioral data that can serve as a proxy for direct association analysis and begin to describe environmental factors. We welcome Dr. Jackson and her expertise in computation and evolutionary biology to the CRL. ****

CRL Research Associates attend Bioinformatics Symposium in San Juan, Puerto Rico

By Christopher Cross and Dr. Latifa Jackson

Research Associates Christopher Cross and Latifa Jackson pose in front of the SHILAC poster.

Research Associates Christopher Cross and Latifa Jackson pose in front of the SHILAC poster.

For two and half days, Christopher Cross, CRL Associate Curator, Graduate Trustee, and Ph.D. student and Dr. Latifa Jackson, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the NHGC and Research Associate at the CRL attended the Symposium of Health Informatics in Latin America and the Caribbean (SHILAC) held in Puerto Rico. The objective of this important conference was to spur innovation in healthcare through five main aims: To identify common issues that can be addressed with informatics, particularly in issue of public health, to identify the importance of collaborative interdisciplinary solutions , to showcase the health informatics research and industry in Latin America and the Caribbean and describing the challenges and lessons learned, to brainstorm how to bridge the gaps among disciplines to develop more collaborative and diverse research and industry teams for more efficient solutions to health informatics issues in developing countries, to solve healthcare problems and implement computational and informatics solutions for developing and developed countries using mobile technology.
The conference was an important opportunity
to develop new skills in bioinformatics and bring these back to Howard University. We look forward to the application of these skill in the context of ongoing research in the CRL. ****

From Washington, DC to Washington State: CRL Research Assistants participate in 15th Annual ABRCMS Conference in Seattle

By Jayla Harvey

Jayla Harvey, presents her work at ABRCMS in the Neuroscience Section, “Genetic Evidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Cobb Collection.”

Jayla Harvey, presents her work at ABRCMS in the Neuroscience Section, “Genetic Evidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Cobb Collection.”

The 15th Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Seattle, Washington was held at the Washington Convention Center and is dedicated to “strengthening diversity and enhancing minority students in STEM Research”. Two seniors of the Cobb Research Laboratory, Nicholas Guthrie and Jayla Harvey, received the travel award to attend the five day event full of seminars and meetings. In an effort to caterer to the wide variety of interests and possible career paths the world of research has to offer in a short amount of time, there were sessions divided up for the attendees to choose from. Sessions ranged from ‘Picking the right Ph.D Program,’ ‘Community College Students; Tips for transitioning to a 4 year institution,’ and ‘M.D.-Ph.D. - Is it Right for Me?’ All of these sessions were lead by professionals in the field that gave riveting lectures about how to prepare and apply for the next steps in life and who also answered personal questions and were available for counseling the students.

Along with the preparatory sessions, there were plenary scientific sessions that were geared to expose the ABRCMS participants to new discoveries being made. Topics like ‘Unraveling Smell,’ given by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linda Buck, speaking on newly identified families of receptors in the olfactory system and the pathways they generate that ultimately leads to our individual perceptions and responses, and ‘Ebola and Beyond: Emerging Viruses in a Globalized World,’ where Dr. David Quammen discussed zoonotic disease and their effect worldwide. The nucleus of ABRCMS is the Exhibits and Poster Sessions, where colleges, businesses and students all come together. This was a unique opportunity for students to network and closely interact with future employers or mentors. The poster disciplines included Cell Biology, Neuroscience, Immunology, Chemistry, Developmental Biology and Engineering. The conference was closed out by the keynote speaker Nontombi Naomi Tutu. She gave an inspiring speech urging minorities to continue to excel and prosper in the scientific disciplines because our points of view are vital to the STEM World. ****

Cobb’s Corner: Research Assistant Alexis Payne

Cobb’s Corner is a reoccurring feature of the CRL News-letter featuring a brief interview about the lab experience of a current researcher. In addition to learning more about their research, we learn how Dr. Cobb’s vision and mission is carried on through our efforts in the CRL today. See More, including a Video Companion, at

Our researcher is Ms. Alexis Payne, who recently graduated in May 2015 from Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Ms. Payne was interviewed by Nicholas Guthrie, the current webmaster at the CRL.

Nicholas Guthrie (NG): How long have you been with the CRL and how did you get involved?
Alexis Payne (AP): I've been working in the CRL since the spring semester of my senior year, and I originally heard about it through Dr. Fatimah Jackson, who was my professor at the time. She proposed a dental project, and, because I have an interest in dentistry, I was very excited to hear about the opportunity. So, I have been working here for about 8 months!

NG: So, can you tell me about your dental project?
AP: This summer, I was trained by Dr. John Harvey, the chair of periodontics at Meharry Medical College, and Christopher Cross, the assistant curator, where we learned some dental techniques for extracting cementum from the skeletal remains in the Cobb Collection. Since then, I have been extracting cementum from selected individuals within the Cobb Collection, which have been screened for use in projects across the lab. We are currently optimizing a method to extract the DNA from the cementum and we hope to successfully sequence that DNA. If we are successful, we want to extend this protocol to the entire collection.

NG: What has your experience been like working alongside our research associates, like Dr. John Harvey?
AP: It was a wonderful experience learning all of the dental techniques with Dr. Harvey this summer. He was very informative and knowledgeable, which fed my passion for dentistry. Dr. Muneer Abbas has allowed us to use his lab, at the National Human Genome Center, to do our DNA extractions from the cementum, which has been a wonderful resource to the CRL.

NG: You sent the CRL readership a message about a T-Shirt Campaign, Would you like to talk about that and the other things you are doing here at the CRL?
AP: Yes! I chose to be the fundraising chair for the CRL and I started a t-shirt campaign to raise funds for our student researchers. Other projects I have worked on, have been peer mentoring our Summer Medical and Dental Educational Program (SMDEP) students where we pioneered a new research component to the program.

NG: What makes the research so “pioneering”?
AP: SMDEP is a national program offered at select schools around the country but not all have research components. Here at Howard, we decided to grant the students access to the Cobb Collection where they sketched historical backgrounds on select individuals and collected data on the contextual information around those individuals. Furthermore, the students were offered an opportunity to become published with their writing in The Backbone, which is coming out this December.

NG: That sounds wonderful! How has your participation with the CRL aligned with your future goals?
AP: The dental projects I'm working on have continued to fuel my passion for dentistry, as I plan to attend dental school in the fall of 2016. Learning about anthropological dentistry and other information in this in the field has been a wonderful learning experience. Peer mentoring, is another huge aspect that I love about the CRL because I have a passion for giving back and helping others. The connections that I've made with professionals (physicians, dentists, PhDs, and other people who are like me!) has really opened a lot of doors for me and my other peers. It has been a real blessing to receive their support and encouragement.

NG: I’m thrilled you are having such a wonderful time with us. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
AP: Thanks Nick!***

New Research Associates join CRL

Dr. Michael Campbell, Research Associate

Dr. Michael Campbell ( obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Anthropology at the University of Toronto and then earned a Master of Science degree in Human Biology at Oxford University. Dr. Campbell went on to obtain his PhD in Biological Anthropology at Columbia University in New York City and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania where he studied the evolution of genetic and phenotypic variation in diverse African populations. Dr. Campbell then applied his knowledge of African populations to study the genetic basis of ethnic disparities in cancer susceptibility in African Americans as research faculty in the Department of Biostatistics at Yale University. Dr. Campbell has recently joined the Department of Biology as an Assistant Professor at Howard University where he will continue his research on the genetics underlying health disparities and other complex traits in populations of African descent.  ****

Dr. Bradford Wilson, Research Associate

Dr. Bradford Wilson ( received his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. from Howard University.  His doctoral dissertation research was on The Characterization of Variation in the Vitamin D Receptor Promoter and Association of Ancestral Haplotype with Prostate Cancer in African Americans.  He is interested in the genetics underlying the biology of health disparity conditions and diseases including common cancers (breast, and prostate), hypertension and its sequelae and pharmacogenomics.  Dr. Wilson is also a Senior Research Associate at the National Human Genome Center (NHGC) at Howard University where he is conducting his NIH-funded pharmacogenomics research.  Dr. Wilson has lectured on cancer genetics and modes of inheritance in the Graduate and Medical Schools at Howard University, respectively. ****

Ms. Sherese Taylor, Research Associate

Ms. Sherese Taylor (, a first year graduate student in sociology has joined the Cobb Research Lab team as a Research Associate. Ms. Taylor received her B.A. in Global studies with a concentration in culture, power, and place, and a focus in Latin American Studies at the University of Minnesota. She not only completed her degree, but also completed her certificate in International Development. With her degree, she was able to establish a program at the University of Minnesota that promoted and gave tools on cross cultural communication. Since then, She has been involved with many international communities, most notably Ecuador where she was able to investigate the lack of African- Ecuadorian teachers within predominately African regions.
Most recently, Ms. Taylor has been working on the sociological implications of artificial intelligence and robotics and has presented a paper entitled: “Shifting the Technological Gaze: African American Perspectives and Insight on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics”  at a national conference. Ms. Taylor was previously Administrative Assistant for the CRL before her administrative promotion to Biology. ****

Cobb's Corner: Research Assistant Sierra Williams

Cobb’s Corner is a reoccurring feature of the CRL Newsletter featuring a brief interview about the lab experience of a current researcher. In addition to learning more about their research, we learn how Dr. Cobb’s vision and mission is carried on through our efforts in the CRL today.


Our researcher is Ms. Sierra Williams, who graduated in May 2015 from Howard University with a B.S. in Sports Medicine,  Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ms. Williams was interviewed by Nicholas Guthrie, a two year veteran of the CRL.

Nicholas Guthrie (NG): So how did you hear about the CRL?

Sierra Williams (SW): My friend Alexis Payne is also a research assistant at the CRL. She told me about the amazing work that you guys were doing at the lab and she invited me to check it out. I started working on the CRL in June and spent most of my summer doing research there.

NG: I know that some of the records on our patients are very scarce.  Did you findthat aspect difficult?

SW: At first it was a little difficult! We have some records here on most of the patients and following their research, we went to the Moorland-Springnard Research Center where they had boxes ofDr. Cobb’s records and documents that we were able to look through.

NG: I know how expansive the amount of material that the library housed relating to Dr. Cobb (because I was with you on the first trip over!), but can you share with us how much there was and the types of information housed?

SW: There were over 70 boxes, so it took a while on to go through them all. I only had the opportunity go through around 10 of them, and the topics ranged from Dr. Cobb’s involvement with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to his membership with Omega Phi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. Additionally, there were anatomical board cadaver documents from various hospitals. He also had correspondence from the NAACP, as he was the president at the time. There are also personal documents photos and publications in the collection.

NG: This sounds like a good segue into your work here at the CRL! Can you tell me about that?

SW:  When I started working on the lab, I got the opportunity to work with Dr. Carolina and Antonio De la Cova from the University of South Carolina. They were conducting research on African Americans in the Cobb Collection and looking at trauma and disease and the bones. I was able to learn a lot about how these traumas were analyzed and reported

NG: Wow this sounds like a lot of useful information! How do you think it is going to be utilized back in the lab?

SW: All the information being gathered is going to give us a better understanding of who Dr. Cobb was as a professional and individual. It will also help us with funding, as we can use some of the information to fuel our grant proposals and support solicitation. The information that we find specifically on the Cobb Collection will tell us more about the individuals in the collection.

NG: How does working with the CRL align with your future goals? I don't see very many sports medicine graduates inbioanthropology labs!

SW: I have always had an interest in anthropology and, since I was a kid, I used to go to the anthropology museums and archaeology camps at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. I've always wanted to be in the medical field, so this was a great opportunity to get research experience along with something that aligned with my career path. Working with the CC each day and looking at all of the different pathologies has allowed me to get a better understanding of some diseases and how they manifest in bone.

NG: That sounds really interesting! Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

SW: Thank you very much, Nick! ****