LYU LAB

We ask fundamental questions in the biology of aging, with a particular focus on how the brain modulates longevity and health.

Our Research

Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, we study the cells and molecular pathways that maintain the healthy state of animals throughout their life course, and how these biological processes are influenced by environmental conditions and social opportunities. Our work aims to provide conceptual and mechanistic insights into contemporary challenges to human health.

The Lyu laboratory is built to rigorously investigate a set of biomedical traits that incorporates an understanding of aging, neurobiology, molecular genetics, and systems biology. We believe invertebrate models, such as Drosophila, offer a unique opportunity to understand the complex processes behind aging, to discover novel mechanisms for translational application, and to equip next-generation scientists with interdisciplinary perspectives and skills. Our team welcomes everyone who appreciates scientific curiosity, intellectual diversity, and inclusion.

The current research in our laboratory follows three interconnected aspects of aging:

Brain-Body Communications

It has been known for decades that the brain processes and integrates extrinsic inputs to elicit neuronal and behavioral changes. However, little is known about the health outcomes of these brain activities. We have recently discovered that behavior, metabolism, and lifespan in Drosophila are affected by whether flies are provided a choice of different nutrients or a single, complete medium (Ro et al. 2016). Multiple lines of evidence strongly suggest that a serotonin dependent motivation or reward for sugar feeding (i.e., a sugar ‘craving’), rather than its consumption, may be the cause for changes in lifespan (Lyu et al. 2021a). Manipulating a specific serotonin receptor is sufficient to change longevity and metabolic health, likely through instructing the body to process nutrients in different ways (Lyu et al. 2021a). This portion of our research is powered by combining cutting-edge techniques including optogenetics, metabolomics, and computational modeling to understand how crosstalk between neurons and peripheral cells influences longevity.

Homeostatic Control and Network Biology

Aging arises from complex interactions among multiple biochemical products. Instead of thinking of each molecule acting in isolation, we realized that the homeostatic states of cells are determined by the collection of the whole (i.e. biological networks, see Hoffman et al. 2017). Using genetic perturbations and systems biology approaches, our work has found links between network integrity, physiological robustness, and mortality (Lyu et al. 2021b). We are currently seeking to understand how network structures and highly connected “hub” molecules together shape the healthy states of animals.

Neurodegeneration

Does the brain regulate how it ages? Maybe. We think the answer could be found in glia, the non-neuronal cells in the nervous system, whose main function is to nourish, support, and protect neurons. We are interested in how these cells respond to environmental stress, and hypothesize that the failure of intrinsic protective mechanisms leads to the onset and progression of neurodegeneration. This branch of our research will build disease models to investigate environmental triggers and genetic components of neurodegenerative disorders, with a particular interest in defining the molecular nature of the diseased state of the brain.

Team

Principal Investigator

Yang Lyu, Ph.D.

yang.lyu AT rutgers.edu

I was born and raised in Wuhan, a busy city port famous for its history, commerce, and cuisine in Central China. I left my hometown to Beijing for college and then went south to Guangzhou for graduate school. I obtained my Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from Sun Yat-sen University in 2014. To build a career abroad, I joined the laboratory of Scott Pletcher at the University of Michigan to study the neuronal modulation of aging. In September 2022, I became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Rutgers University.

Outside my research, I always have a good time exploring mountains and local restaurants.

Teaching:

  • Biology of Aging (694:421, Spring 2024)

  • Introductory Computational Biology (694:390, Spring 2025)

Graduate Students

Nick Pontillo

I received my Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Neuroscience from Northeastern University in 2019. I joined the Lyu lab at the beginning of 2023 and my project is centered on the regulation of health and longevity by nutrient choice via the serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2A). I hope to use a combination of Drosophila genetic tools including the GAL4-UAS system and optogenetics to identify the serotonergic neuronal circuits involved in translating food choice and food perception into stress, sleep, and/or metabolic alterations that ultimately modulate longevity.

Laura Byron

I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I pursued this passion by taking classes at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in high school, and then receiving my B.A. in Genetics from Rutgers University in 2017. I spent two years as a lab technician studying aneuploidy in cancer at Columbia University before coming back to Rutgers for graduate school in the Cell and Developmental Biology program.

Lab Technicians

Joel Villa (Lab Manager)

I am an EOF graduate and received my B.A. in Biological Sciences in 2021 from Rutgers University - New Brunswick. Throughout my life, I have always been intrigued by the brain’s many mechanisms and behaviors that affect the body. I have previously researched “Asymmetric Cerebral Atrophy of the Temporal Lobe” while participating in a program at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. I joined the Lyu lab near the beginning of 2023 and hope to use the knowledge and skills from my previous experiences to contribute to this research. On my free time, I enjoy reading various genres of books but mostly true-crime novels. I also enjoy listening to music, especially Ginger Root.

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Advaitha Kamalakkannan

I am a fourth-year undergraduate student pursuing a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry major. With prior experience in chemistry-related research, I am excited to learn about experimentation methods in a biological lab as well as understand the biology of aging and its role in the health and longevity of Drosophila. Outside of science, my hobbies include dancing, reading, and running– with the advent of covid, hiking has been a newfound interest of mine.

Rajat Khurana

Rajat Khurana is a senior in Rutgers University. He’s currently pursuing a degree in Biology, and joined the Lyu lab in January 2023. In his free time, he’s an avid enjoyer of snowboarding, having a season pass at Camelback mountain. He also enjoys the company of his friends, and occasionally plopping down in front of his TV and playing games. He’s worked with fruit flies since 2021, and is excited to see what knowledge he can uncover at his time in the Lyu Lab!

Madison Oh

I am a third year student pursuing a biological sciences major in the Honors College, with the hopes of attending medical school. Although I am mostly interested in the human body, I believe that studying smaller life forms like Drosophila will lead to better understanding of our more complex systems. In contrast to my interest in science, all my hobbies are related to art, such as drawing, watching cartoons, and recently, learning the guitar.

Bianca Estores

I am a rising fourth year undergraduate student pursuing a major in Cell Biology and Neuroscience as well as a minor in Cognitive Science. I joined the Lyu Lab in Fall 2023 with hopes of learning more about cognitive behaviors and complex brain systems in smaller species such as Drosophila to get a better understanding of the human brain. During my free time, I enjoy doing physical activities such as lifting, climbing, and sports, as well as doing more leisurely activities such as singing, playing the guitar, gaming, and making arts.

Will Cappello

I am a rising second year student in the Honors College studying Molecular Biology and Biochemistry as well as Classics. After four years of undergraduate study, I plan to enter medical school, where I hope to match into a brain-related residency. While I have always been fascinated by neurodegeneration, I gained a particular interest in aging research and, in turn, the Lyu Lab after reading Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair. In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer, weightlifting, hanging out with friends, reading, translating Latin, and gaming.

Salvatore Agosta

I am a second year student at Rutgers majoring in Biological Sciences following the pre-dental track. Though my major encompasses a wide range of topics, I have always had a lingering interest in neurobiology which is why I joined Lyu Lab in April 2024. I look forward to working with Drosophila and relating any significant findings to humans. During my free time, I like to run, weightlift, practice my Spanish, and spend time with friends and family.

Uchechi Eke

I am a first year student pursuing a major in Cell Biology and Neuroscience. Afterwards, I plan to go to medical school to become a Psychiatrist. The human brain has always fascinated me, and I believe learning about the brains of Drosophila will help to further cement my desire to learn more about the brain as a whole. Outside of science, I enjoy reading, writing, and listening to music.

Alumni

Eli James (2023, Lab Tech) Tim Qi (2023, Lab Tech) Selin Altunyay (2024, Undergraduate RA) Wesley Wu (2024, Undergraduate RA)

Join Us

Our laboratory is located in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick (Busch Campus). The campus is located within one hour of New York City and Philadelphia.

We are actively looking for talented researchers – from PhDs to undergraduate students – to join our team. We are committed to building an intellectual, diverse, collaborative, and inclusive environment in our lab. If you are interested in our research and enthusiastic about joining us, please reach out to me: yang.lyu AT rutgers.edu.

For prospective graduate students: we are currently recruiting students from the CDB and neuroscience programs at Rutgers – contact me or your program to rotate in our lab.

Publications

First and corresponding author publications

Yang’s Postdoc Work:

Yang Lyu, Kristina J. Weaver, Humza A. Shaukat, Marta L. Plumoff, Maria Tjilos, Daniel E.L. Promislow, Scott D. Pletcher. (2021) Drosophila serotonin 2A receptor signaling coordinates central metabolic processes to modulate aging in response to nutrient choice. eLife. 10: e59399

(Featured by eLife insight - Aging and Diet: To choose or not to choose)

Yang Lyu*, Daniel E.L. Promislow, Scott D. Pletcher*. (2021) Serotonin signaling modulates aging-associated metabolic network integrity in response to nutrient choice in Drosophila melanogaster. Communications Biology. 4 (1), 1-13 (*co-corresponding authors)

Jessica M. Hoffman*, Yang Lyu*, Scott D. Pletcher, Daniel E.L. Promislow. (2017) Proteomics and metabolomics in aging research: From biomarkers to systems biology. Essays in Biochemistry. 61 (3), 379-388 (*These authors contributed equally to this work)

Yang’s PhD Work:

Yang Lyu, Yang Shen, Heng Li, Yuxin Chen, Li Guo, Yixin Zhao, Eric Hungate, Suhua Shi, Chung-I Wu, Tian Tang. (2014) New microRNAs in Drosophila –birth, death and cycles of adaptive evolution. PLoS Genetics. 10(1):e1004096

Yang Lyu*, Zhongqi Liufu*, Juan Xiao, Tian Tang. (2021) A rapid evolving microRNA cluster rewires its target regulatory networks in Drosophila. Frontiers in Genetics. 12:760530 (*These authors contributed equally to this work)

Visit Yang's full publication list

Lab News

Spring, 2024

Apr 29 | Advaitha presented her poster “Stochastic Effects on Dietary Restriction-Mediated Lifespan Outcomes in Drosophila melanogaster” at the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Undergraduate Ceremony. She is planning to graduate this coming January. Great work, Advaitha!


Apr 2 | We are so proud that Rajat has successfully defended his honor’s thesis titled, ‘The Role of Serotonin Receptor 2A/B and Nutrient Choice on the Lifespan of the Fruit Fly Drosophila melanogaster.’ Congratulations on this significant milestone, Rajat!


Mar 25 | Eli accepted into PhD! - Our former lab tech, Eli James, has been accepted into the PhD program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Texas A&M University. Congratulations, Eli!

Fall, 2023

Oct 9 | Welcome our new undergraduate research assistant Bianca, to the Lyu lab! Our lab is growing bigger and bigger.


Summer, 2023

Sep 7 | Nick Pontillo, our first graduate student, has passed his qualifying exams and is now officially a Ph.D. candidate. Congratulations, Nick!


Aug 9 | Madison presented her research project titled “Protein Perception Modulates Lifespan and Reproduction in Drosophila” to RU students and professors alike at the DLS-SURF Research Symposium.


Jun 21 | This summer marked the inaugural Lyu Lab Flympics - an event already destined to become a time-honored tradition! In a display of Drosophila prowess, Laura emerged as the esteemed Flympics Champion, while Madison secured the promising title of Future Fly Star. The spirit of our Jersey roots was alive as we played music from the legendary Bon Jovi to commemorate these achievements and the initiation of this exciting new tradition in the Lyu Lab.


Spring, 2023

May 1 | Madison was awarded the DLS Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship!! CONGRATULATIONS Madison!