Foerster-Bernstein Fellow 2017-18: Rachel Johnston, PhD


Rachel earned her BS in Biology from New Mexico State University and her PhD in Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a recipient of the UCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship (a competitive award) and the 2010 - 2015 HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. A new arrival to Duke in January 2016, Rachel has joined Dr. Jenny Tung’s lab to study the effects of social status on immunity: testing for trade-offs in a highly social primate. She is interested in the impacts of intrinsic and environmental factors on gene regulation and expression, including how such alterations impact ecologically relevant phenotypes. Rachel has studied diverse taxa, including gray wolves and songbirds. She is now investigating gene regulatory mechanisms that respond to socially important stimuli in rhesus macaques.


Mentor: Jenny Tung, PhD, Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology


Dr. Tung joined Duke’s faculty in 2012. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Biology. She is also a faculty associate of the Duke Population Research Institute. Dr. Tung completed her PhD at Duke in 2010. Her lab is interested in connecting behavioral and environmental effects on trait variation by applying genomic methods in nonhuman primates. Currently, research in the Tung lab focuses on how social interactions influence gene expression and immune function across the life course. Their hope is to shed new light on the mechanisms that explain the strong link between the social environment, disease risk, and mortality—a relationship with important ramifications for both basic science and human health. To learn more about the Tung lab’s current projects, visit