Science Student Spotlight: Matthew Cleere

May 9, 2022

Matthew Cleere

Matthew Michael Cleere is a doctoral student in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental (MCD) subprogram of the Ph.D. in Biology. He graduated cum laude with honors from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology. During his time there, he focused on fungal ecology as a federal work-study employee at the Cranberry Lake Biological Station in the Adirondack State Park. Before entering his graduate studies, Matt volunteered as an assistant zookeeper at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, from 2012 to 2014.

Matt moved to the United Kingdom in 2015 and joined Paul Dyer’s laboratory in the Life Sciences Department at the University of Nottingham. There, he investigated the genetic basis of fungal melanin production in the blue-cheese fungus Penicillium roqueforti. His work was linked to the development of novel strains for use in cheese manufacturing that led ultimately to the spinout of the biotechnology company Myconeos Limited. For his work, he was awarded a Master of Research with Distinction in Fungal Biology in 2017.

Now, as a Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate Center, he is a member of Professor Kevin H. Gardner’s laboratory at the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center (CUNY ASRC). Matt is investigating how to best modify blue-light photoreceptor proteins into novel engineered light-activated optogenetic tools to control cell biology. Using a variety of functional assays paired with integrative structural biology techniques, he is working to develop detailed models for the Light-Oxygen-Voltage (LOV) class of photoreceptors. Harnessing his background in fungal biology, Matt established the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model system for the laboratory. He is currently working on controlling epigenetic-directed gene expression through light-induced localized metabolism within fungal systems.

To break away from the bench, he organizes and cares for the large collection of plants seen throughout the third floor of the CUNY ASRC.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Matt has been an active participant in Graduate Center governance and is an outspoken student advocate. Since 2019, he has served as the MCD subprogram graduate student representative to the Biology Program Executive Committee. He was also elected to serve for two years on the CUNY Graduate Center Graduate Council as the Biology program student representative. Since 2021, he has been a Biology department union steward for PSC CUNY and continues to represent his peers at labor management meetings. He has advocated to develop a centralized payroll reporting system and continues to push for a simplified payroll arrangement to prevent undue financial burdens on the student body. Together with his colleagues, he successfully advocated for a rolling contractual raise of Biology students' pay to match the current stipend levels, reducing program teaching requirements to the national average, and removing candidacy hurdles to ease access to external grant applications. He continues to devote his time to both research and the well-being of his fellow students, making him a valuable member of the Graduate Center community.

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