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Picture of Aaron Putzke Aaron Putzke Assistant Professor of Biology


  • B.S. Chemistry, Pepperdine University, 1994
  • M.S. Biochemistry, DePaul University, 1996
  • Ph.D. University of California at Santa Barbara, 2003

Research Interests

I am interested in how cells communicate with each other during embryogenesis to determine cellular identity, timing of cell divisions and spatial relationships that ultimately form different tissues and organs. In addition, I am also interested in comparing similarities and differences in cellular communication between invertebrate and vertebrate development. To investigate each of these areas of study, my lab uses two model organisms: Caenorhabditis elegans (invertebrate) and the zebrafish, Danio rerio (vertebrate).

Caenorhabditis elegans is a small roundworm, or nematode, that is 1mm in length as an adult, is transparent, and completes embryogenesis in approximately 13 hours, when they hatch as larva. Zebrafish are transparent as embryos and complete embryogenesis within 72 hours post fertilization. Each of these qualities allows for easy observation under a microscope as well as faster data collection and analysis. To study embryonic development in these two organisms we use a wide variety of molecular and genetic techniques to manipulate both gene and protein expression.

By using both invertebrates and vertebrates, we can cross an important evolutionary bridge spanning invertebrate and vertebrate development; a crucial comparison that can yield vital information about protein function as organisms evolve more complex morphologies throughout history.

Go to current research projects


Having come from an undergraduate education at a small liberal arts college (Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA), I knew that I would want to go back to that environment someday. I had a chemistry professor as an undergraduate who became a lifelong friend and has had a lot of influence on my journey to combine teaching and research at the college level.

It was as an undergraduate that I was introduced, and immediately hooked on, hypothesis driven research, where I was involved in a project with the goal of breaking down toxic organic waste products from pesticides using solar energy.

Following my undergraduate work I ventured to Chicago to obtain a Masters degree at DePaul University where I first crossed the line between chemistry and biology. Although I was in the chemistry department, my project involved an evolutionary comparison between old and new world birds by examining the DNA sequence of a highly conserved mitochondrial gene called cytochrome b. It was during this time that I discovered my passion for biology and soon jumped the fence from chemistry.

I then went back to California where I worked at a small start-up biotechnology company developing genetic assays for predicting hereditary colon cancer in humans using the fungi Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast). After two years of learning about the biotechnology and drug development I decided to get my PhD at the University of California at Santa Barbara where I worked in the laboratory of Joel Rothman on the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, using genetic and molecular techniques to examine cell-cell communication during embryogenesis.

Finally, my training took me to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle, WA) where I broadened my research base by studying basic mechanisms of hindbrain development in the laboratory of Cecilia Moens using zebrafish (Danio rerio) as the model organism, and then using cell culture and mouse models to study mechanisms of prostate cancer metastasis in the laboratory of Beatrice Knudsen.

I am excited to be a part of the Hope College Biology tradition and endeavor to complement the successful teaching and research programs here by continuing my passion for studying embryonic development. Personal experience has shown me that doing research as an undergraduate is an exciting and unique opportunity, and thus, my goal is to expose students to those opportunities through the rapidly changing field of developmental biology.


  • Society for Developmental Biology (SDB)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR)
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Contact Details

Phone: 616-395-7296
Fax: 616-395-7125
E-mail: putzke@hope.edu
Office: Science Center 3029

Office Hours

Please make an appointment to see me.