Laura Westrate

Laura Westrate's staff photo


  • B.S. Biology, B.A. Chemistry- Hope College, 2008
  • Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Genetics- Van Andel Institute Graduate School, 2013
  • Postdoctoral Studies- University of Colorado, Boulder, 2018

Professional experience

  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry- Calvin University, 2018- present
  • Postdoctoral fellow- University of Colorado, Boulder, 2013- 2018


Professor Westrate grew up in West Michigan and earned her B.S. in Biology and B.A. in Chemistry from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Having always been interested in science, Hope College provided her first introduction to scientific research and she became fascinated by the inner complexities of the cell. The disconnect between textbooks, which at first glance can paint a story that we know everything there is to know about the cell, was in sharp contrast to the narrative in the laboratory settings that highlighted just how much we still did not understand. The ability to design experiments and use the results to begin unpacking the world around us was an immediate hook for her and laid the foundation for the educational choices Professor Westrate made after graduation. In 2008, Professor Westrate joined the Van Andel Research Institute as a graduate student studying the structure and dynamics of mitochondria in cells. In 2012, she graduated with her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics and moved to the University of Colorado-Boulder for her post-doctoral fellowship where she began studying the structure and dynamics of another organelle in the cell, the endoplasmic reticulum (or ER for short). Having always wanted to have the opportunity to introduce the next generation of scientists to the world of research, Professor Westrate jumped at the opportunity to join the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department in the fall of 2018 and has been teaching courses in general chemistry and biochemistry while also maintaining a small lab of 2-5 students. When she is not in the classroom or the lab, Professor Westrate enjoys traveling, hiking and playing board games with friends and family.

Academic interests

Research/Academic Interests

  • Protein trafficking and export from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)
  • Organelle structure and function
  • Fluorescent microscopy

Research and scholarship

Professor Westrate’s research interests are in the area of organelle biogenesis and structure with a specific focus on how organelle shape dictates important cellular processes. Similar to the way that organs in a body regulate specialized functions, organelles are specialized substructures in the cell that facilitate specialized functions essential for survival. The mitochondria for example are considered powerhouses of the cell and house the protein machinery required to produced energy currency in the form of ATP that the cell can use to run various chemical reactions. The endoplasmic reticulum, or ER, is the largest organelle in the cell and plays essential roles in protein synthesis and trafficking as well as lipid and calcium homeostasis. Despite the relatively simple cartoon structures depicted in a standard biological or biochemical textbook, these organelles have dynamic and complicated structures and are often changing their shape in response to various cellular cues. A current interest in Professor Westrate’s lab is understanding how the structure of the ER alters the diffusion dynamics of proteins found within the ER with a particular focus on how it might regulate the efficiency by which proteins are made, trafficked and exported out of the ER to various cellular locations.


Undergraduate student names appear in bold

Scott Z.C., Brown A.I., Mogre S.S., Westrate L.M., Koslover E.F., "Diffusive Search and Trajectories on Tubular Networks: A Propagator Approach". Eur Phys J E Soft Matter. 44(6): 80. PMID: 34143351. 2021. 

Westrate, L.M*., Hoyer, M.J*., Nash, M.J., Voeltz, G.K., "Vesicular and Uncoated Rab1-Dependent Cargo Carriers Facilitate ER to Golgi Transport". Journal of Cell Science, 133 (14). PMID: 326165562. 2020.

Brown, A.; Westrate, L.; Koslover, E. "Impact of Global Structure on Diffusive Exploration of Organelle Networks". Scientific Reports. 1-13. PMID 32188904. 2020

Dunn E.M., Billquist E.J., VanderStoep A.L., Bax P.G., Westrate L.M., McLellan L.K., Peterson S.C., MacKeigan J.P., Putke A.P., "Dual Roles of Fer Kinase are Required for Proper Hematopoiesis and Vascular Endothelium Organization During Zebrafish Development". Biology (Basel). 6(4). PMID: 29168762. 2017. 

Lee J.E., Westrate L.M., Wu H., Page C., Voeltz G.K., "Multiple Dynamin Family Members Collaborate to Drive Mitochondrial Division". Nature; 540(7631). PMID: 27798601. 2016. 

Westrate L.M., Drocco K, Martin K.R., Hlavacek W.S., MacKeigan J.P. "Mitochondrial Morphological Features are Associated with Fission and Fusion Events". PLoS One; 9(4). PMID: 24733410. 2014.

Niemi N.M., Sacoman J.L., Westrate L.M., Lanning N.J., Gaither A.L., Martin K.R., MacKeigan J.P., "The Pseudophosphate MK-STYX Physically and Genetically Interacts with the Mitochondrial Phosphatase PTPMT1". PLoS One.; 9(4). PMID 24709986. 2014

Westrate L.M., Sayfie A.S., Burgenske D.B., MacKeigan J.P. "Persistent Mitochondrial Hyperfusion Promotes G2/M Accumulation and Caspase-Dependent Cell Death". PLoS One.; 9(3). PMID: 24632851. 2014

Niemi N.M., Lanning N.J., Westrate L.M., MacKeigan J.P. "Downregulation of the Mitochondrial Phosphatase PTPMT1 is Sufficient to Promote Cancer Cell Death". PLoS ONE; 8(1): e53803. PMID: 23326511. 2013.

Martin K.R., Barua D, Kauffman A.L., Westrate L.M., Posner R.G., Hlavacek W.S., MacKeigan J.P. "Computational Model for Autophagic Vesicle Dynamics in Single Cell"; 9(1): 74-92. PMID: 23196898. 2013.

Chavada S, Liu Y, Babu B, Davis R, Sielaff A, Ruprich J, Westrate L, Tronrud C, Ferguson A, Franks A, Tzou S, Adkins C, Rice T, Mackay H, Kluza J, Tahir SA, Lin S, Kiakos K, Bruce CD, Wilson WD, Hartley JA, Lee M. "Hx, A Novel Fluorescent, Minor Groove and Sequence Specific Recognition Element: Design, Synthesis, and DNA Binding Properties of p-anisylbenzimidazole-imidazole/pyrrole-containing Polyamides". 50(10): 3127-3136. PMID: 21388229. 2011. 

Babu B, Liu Y, Plaunt A, Riddering C, Ogilvie R, Westrate L, Davis R, Ferguson A, Mackay H, Rice T, Chavada S, Wilson D, Lin S, Kiakos K, Hartley JA, Lee M. "Design, Synthesis and DNA Binding Properties of Orthogonally Positioned Diamino Containing Polyamide f-IPI". Biochem Biophys Res Commun.; 404(3): 848-52. PMID: 21185262. 2011. 

Chavda S, Mulder K, Brown T, Mackay H, Babu B, Westrate L, Ferguson A, Lin S, Kiakos K, Ramos JP, Munde M, Wilson WD, Hartley JA, and Lee M. "DNA Recognition: Design, Synthesis and Biophysical Characteristics of Pyrrole(H) Based Polyamides". Med Chem; 6(3):150-158. PMID: 20632976. 2010.

Westrate L, Mackay H, Brown T, Nguyen B, Kluza J, Wilson WD, Lee M, Hartley JA. "Effects of the N-Terminal Acylamido Group of Imidazole- and Pyrrole-Containing Polyamides on DNA Sequence Specificity and Binding Affinity". Biochemistry; 48(24):5679–5688. PMID: 19419200. 2009. 

Mackay H, Brown, T, Uthe PB, Westrate L, Sielaff A, Jones J, Lajiness JP, Kluza J, O’Hare C, Nguyen B, Davis Z, Bruce C, Wilson WD, Hartley JA, Lee M. "Sequence Specific and High Affinity Recognition of 5’-ACGCGT-3’ by Rationally Designed Pyrrole-Imidazole H-pin Polyamides: Thermodynamic and Structural Studies". Bioorg Med Chem.; 16(20): 9145-53 PMID: 18819814. 2008. 

Brown T, Mackay H, Turlington M, Sutterfield A, Smith T, Sielaff A, Westrate L, Bruce C, Kluza J, O’Hare C, Nguyen B, Wilson WD, Hartley JA, Lee M. "Modifying the N-terminus of Polyamides: PyImPyIm Has Improved Sequence Specificity Over f-ImPyIm". Bioog Med Chem.; 16(9):5266-76 PMID: 18353654. 2008. 

*- Represents first co-authors.


  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: Investigator- initiated research project (Award #2034486- Collaborative Research: Integrating Theory and Experiment to Unravel Protein Transport in the ER, $351,093.00) – 2021
  • Journal Cell Science First Author feature – 2020
  • Van Andel Institute Graduate School Van Andel Institute Graduate School Association Alumni Spotlight Award 2017
  • National Institute of Health, National Institute of General Medicine Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award (F32) – 2015-2017
  • Van Andel Institute Van Andel Institute Graduate Student Fellowship – 2008-2013
  • Hope College Hope College Cum Laude – 2008

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