Sara K. Olson

Associate Professor of Biology
  • Expertise


    Sara K. Olson’s research focuses on the role of the extracellular matrix during fertilization, egg coat assembly, and early embryonic development. In particular, her lab uses the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism to investigate assembly of the nematode eggshell using fluorescence microscopy, biochemistry, and molecular genetic approaches (including CRISPR). The lab’s big-picture goal is to understand which features of eggshell assembly are conserved across evolution (providing basic biological insight into mechanisms of early development) and which have diverged (serving as new therapeutic targets for parasitic nematode infection). Her work has been funded by the Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    A recipient of the Wig Award for Teaching Excellence and the 7C Faculty Diversity Award for Teaching, Olson is dedicated to inclusive pedagogy, accessible scientific training for students from diverse backgrounds, and authentic research experiences for students enrolled in her courses (CURE-based labs).

    Research Interests

    The role of the extracellular matrix during early embryonic development

    Areas of Expertise


    • Cell Biology
    • Developmental Biology
    • Molecular Biology
    • Biochemistry
    • Glycobiology
  • Work


    *Equal author contributions, (‘year) Pomona undergraduate co-author

    Olson SK and Kulber LM (’23). “Model Systems: Do’s and Don’ts: CRISPR in C. elegans.” Introduction to CRISPR-Cas9 Techniques: Strategies for the Laboratory and the Classroom. (Ed. Wolyniak MJ, Pattison DL, Pieczynski J and Santisteban M). Springer Nature. In preparation for 2023 publication.

    Cheng JPX*, Olson SK*, Soloviev A, Zugasti O, Bell A (’14), Hutter H, Vogel BE, Kuwabara PE. A novel role for C. elegansPatched-related protein PTR-2 in cortical granule exocytosis and eggshell permeability barrier formation. In preparation.

    Bai X*, Huang L-J*, Chen S-W*, Nebenfuhr B, Wysolmerski B (’14), Wu J-C, Olson SK, Golden A, Wang C-W. “Loss of the seipin gene perturbs eggshell formation in C. elegans.” Development, 147: dev192997, 2020.

    González DP* (‘17), Lamb HV* (‘15), Partida D* (‘14), Wilson ZT (‘17), Harrison M-C (‘18), Prieto JA (‘20), Moresco JJ, Diedrich JK, Yates JR, and Olson SK. CBD-1 scaffolds two independent complexes required for eggshell vitelline layer formation and egg activation in C. elegans. Developmental Biology 442: 288-300, 2018.

    Olson SK, G Greenan, A Desai, T Muller-Reichert, and K Oegema. "Hierarchical assembly of the eggshell and permeability barrier in C. elegans." Journal of Cell Biology, 198:731-748, 2012.

    Carvalho A*, S Olson*, E Gutierrez*, K Zhang, L Noble, E Zanin, A Desai, A Groisman, and K Oegema. "Acute drug treatment in the early C. elegans embryo." PLoS One, 6:e24656, 2011. *Equal author contributions, Undergraduate co-author

    Lawrence R, SK Olson, RE Steele, L Wang, L Zhang, R Warrior, RD Cummings, and JD Esko. "Evolutionary differences in glycosaminoglycan fine structure detected by quantitative Glycan Reductive Isotope Labeling." Journal of Biological Chemistry, 283:33674-84, 2008.

    Olson SK, JR Bishop, JR Yates 3rd, K Oegema, and JD Esko. "Identification of novel chondroitin proteoglycans in C. elegans: Embryonic cell division depends on CPG-1 and CPG-2." Journal of Cell Biology, 173:985-994, 2006.

    Hwang HY, SK Olson, JD Esko, and HR Horvitz. "Caenorhabditis elegans early embryogenesis and vulval morphogenesis require chondroitin biosynthesis." Nature, 423:439-443, 2003.

    Pinhal MA, B Smith, S Olson, J Aikawa, K Kimata, and JD Esko. "Enzyme interactions in heparan sulfate biosynthesis: uronosyl 5-epimerase and 2-O-sulfotransferase interact in vivo." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 98:12984-9, 2001.

    Tsuda M, K Kamimura, H Nakato, M Archer, W Staatz, B Fox, M Humphrey, S Olson, T Futch, V Kaluza, E Siegfried, L Stam, and SB Selleck, "The cell-surface proteoglycan Dally regulates Wingless signaling in Drosophila." Nature, 400:276-80, 1999.

  • Education


    University of California, San Diego

    Bachelor of Arts
    Lawrence University

    Professional Experience

    NIH IRACDA postdoctoral fellow
    University of California, San Diego

    Recent Courses Taught

    • Cell Biology with Lab
    • Introductory Cell Chemistry and Cell Biology with Lab
  • Awards & Honors

    Awards & Honors

    External Grants & Awards

    • Beckman Foundation (co-PI): “Beckman Scholars Program at Pomona College.” Under review, finalist.
    • NSF RCN-UBE (senior personnel): “Bringing CRISPR-Cas9 technologies to the undergraduate classroom: an undergraduate instructors’ network.” Award #2120417 ($499,218), 2021-2026.
    • NSF CAREER Award (PI): “Remodeling the egg extracellular matrix at fertilization.” Award #1846563 ($827,962), 2019-2024.
    • Beckman Foundation (co-PI): “Beckman Scholars Program at Pomona College: Developing research leaders through opportunity, mentorship, and community.” Awarded ($104,000), 2020-2023.
    • Research Corporation, Cottrell College Science Award (PI): “Investigation of ascaroside biosynthesis in the nematode C. elegans.” Award #22670 ($51,370), 2014-2017.

    Pomona Internal Grants & Awards

    • 7C Claremont Colleges Faculty Diversity Award for Teaching, 2018
    • Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2015
    • Hirsch Research Initiation Grant (PI), 2019-2023 ($12,000)
    • HHMI Collaborative Grant (co-PI), 2017 ($13,000)
    • Hirsch Research Initiation Grant (PI), 2013-2015 ($10,000)
    • Wig Teaching Innovation Grant, 2013 ($600)

    Pre-Pomona Grants & Awards

    • National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, 2011
    • NIH IRACDA Postdoctoral Training Award, 2008-2011
    • NIH Predoctoral Training Grant in Genetics, 2000-2003
    • NIH Predoctoral Training Grant in Cancer Biology, 1999-2000
    • Lawrence University, Magna cum laude honors in course, 1999
    • Phi Beta Kappa, member, 1998-present