This fall, UT Austin welcomed its largest incoming class to date, and we are excited to have many of these new Longhorns in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. We welcomed a new faculty member who has done groundbreaking research in CRISPR gene-editing and are preparing a new research facility that allows scientists to see the inner workings of cells at higher resolution than ever before. We also are celebrating Professor John Wallingford's election as president of the Society for Developmental Biology and the achievements of our alumnus, Dr. Jim Allison, who The New York Times featured prominently for his leadership in immunotherapy cancer treatment. We are thankful for your continued support. You're essential in making UT Austin a science education leader and a hub for discovery and innovation that changes the world.
Dan Leahy Chair, Department of Molecular Biosciences
Professor John Wallingford of the Department of Molecular Biosciences has been elected president of the Society for Developmental Biology. The Society, a non-profit, has nearly 2,000 members and provides an international forum for research, education and career development in developmental biology.
Through his work, Wallingford seeks to integrate systems biology and bioinformatics with novel strategies for in vivo imaging. The ultimate aim of his research is understanding the cause of human developmental disorders.
Wallingford began his career in developmental biology as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, and continued as a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin. His postdoctoral research occurred jointly at the University of California, Berkeley and Caltech, where he launched a research program seeking to understand how cellular form and function arise in developing embryos. Since returning to the University of Texas at Austin as a faculty member, his research has integrated systems biology and bioinformatics; its ultimate aim is to understand the causes of human developmental disorders.
Professor Wallingford has received numerous teaching awards, as well as an Early Career Scientist Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an Early Investigator Award from the American Asthma Foundation and a Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to Associate Professor Steven Vokes for his research to identify cures and better treatments for childhood cancers.
Medulloblastoma, the most common brain cancer in children, is formed by mutations that active a signaling pathway. With his grant from St. Baldrick’s, Dr. Vokes and his team are investigating how this pathway controls genes through specific DNA regions. By studying these regions, they hope to find a possible therapeutic target for medulloblastoma.
"One of the challenges in today's highly competitive environment is that even great ideas take a long time to get funded. St. Baldrick's has a streamlined review process that quickly funds promising research. Their support has allowed us to quickly initiate experiments in a promising new area that we would otherwise be unable to pursue,” Vokes said.
St. Baldrick’s, a California-based nonprofit, is the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants. The nonprofit recently awarded 79 grants totaling over $22 million. St. Baldrick's funds are granted to some of the top childhood cancer research experts working to find improved treatments and cures for childhood cancers.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have disproven a decades-old assumption about the molecular machinery responsible for producing proteins in all living things. The discovery could force researchers to rethink how they interpret results of experiments related to this machinery.
Floating in every cell in your body are molecules of RNA, which act as templates for all the different flavors of protein that are essential for life. Often, an RNA molecule contains within itself elements that control if and when to make protein. Other elements can help guide the RNA to the right places inside the cell. The assumption, going right back to the earliest studies of gene regulation, was that control elements embedded in one RNA only affect what happens to that RNA.
Paul Macdonald, a professor of molecular biosciences, and his team discovered that a control element in one RNA can affect the production of proteins from other RNAs. Control elements can even affect production of proteins from completely different types of RNAs. They made the discovery by studying the developing embryos of fruit flies.
For researchers trying to understand what individual genes do and how they get translated into proteins, this poses a problem. A typical approach involves "knocking out" a gene, by genetically engineering mutations in it's associated RNA, to see what biological processes break down. Macdonald's finding suggests that removing one RNA could potentially affect the expression of other RNAs.
MBS would like to congratulate our graduate student winners and honorable mentions for the NSF 2016 Graduate Research Fellowship. It was a tough competition, with a total of 17,000 applicants and 2,000 fellowships (12% success rate). Applications were up from last year, when 16,500 applied for the same number of awards.
The MBS award recipients included Alexander Boulgakov (CMB) and Alexandra Helene Nishida (Microbiology). Honorable mentions include Caroline Davis (Biochemistry), Claire McWhite (Evolutionary Biology), Austin Cole (Evolutionary Biology), and Joshua Black (Microbial Biology).
A total of 28 UT-Austin students were awarded fellowships. This includes undergraduate seniors at UT who plan to enroll in grad school in Fall 2016, as well as first- and second-year grad students.
It’s an honor to introduce myself to you as the chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences. Established in 2013, our department is the largest in the College. Our outstanding faculty members have already proven their strong commitment to making the department a world leader in research and education.
I received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University, a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University, and conducted postdoctoral research at Columbia University before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. My research interests center around how specific hormones and growth factors trigger cells to grow or differentiate at just the right time and in just the right way to develop and maintain us in all of our complexity. To investigate this problem I use the tools of structural biology—X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy—to study the conformational changes in specific cell-surface receptors that occur when factors bind and how these changes alter cell growth and behavior. Many of the growth signals we study go awry in cancer, and we are very interested in learning what goes wrong in these cases and how that knowledge might contribute to the development of new cancer therapies. A new lab in the Larry R. Faulkner Nano Science and Technology Building that will be used by me and other faculty in the department is being equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to support this growing area of research.
Our faculty members span the gamut of biomedical and molecular bioscience research, ranging from those who work on regulation and organization of metabolic pathways, to the protein and nucleic acid structure, to infectious diseases. These faculty members are developing novel approaches to biological problems and offer unique perspectives to our students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
My goal as chair is to help advance biomedical sciences and prepare the College for strong, ongoing collaboration with the Dell Medical School. The opportunity to interact and coordinate with partners in the newly forming medical school is exciting for our department and UT Austin.
I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that molecular biosciences at UT Austin not only remains strong but advances its position as a world leader in research and education . As a stakeholder in our success, you help distinguish UT Molecular Biosciences from its peers, and we need your helpfinancially. In this spring season, please consider making a gift to the department. Giving from alumni, parents, and friends allows us to pursue strategic initiatives and to support our faculty and students in their education and research endeavors.
Thank all of you for your support, which will make a tremendous difference in our day-to-day work.
As interim chair, I have been honored to work with exceptional students and faculty who are committed to building a rich community of research and innovation in the Molecular Biosciences. I also am pleased to announce that Dr. Dan Leahy, a structural biologist and Professor of Biophysics & Biophysical Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, will assume the role of Chair in January. We are all pleased to welcome him to UT Austin! Our department is a place for groundbreaking ideas, spanning a wide range of expertise and interests, and we are committed to bringing innovative solutions to important biological problems. As such, I am pleased to share with you a few highlights from the Department:
The Center for Infectious Disease will host the second annual La Montagne Lecture on March 29th, 2016. Dr. Penny Heaton, director of Vaccine Development with the Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will be the guest speaker. The inaugural lecture in this series was given by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on February 9th, 2015. Watch his talk on the Ebola outbreak, here.
Molecular Biosciences has initiated a new faculty search for one Assistant Professor this year. We are excited about the candidates and the chance to grow our already-fantastic faculty. Interviews will be conducted early in the spring, and we hope to be able to introduce a new member of our team as soon!
The annual Molecular Biosciences retreat will be held at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 5, 2016. This is an opportunity for students, postdocs, and faculty to hear about the latest in MBS research discoveries. Our invited speaker will be Dr. Elaine Fuchs from Rockefeller University, a leader in the field of skin stem cells and their role in tissue maintenance and cancer.
As you can see, the Department of Molecular Biosciences continues to grow and make an impact. We’re able to do so thanks to the committed support of our alumni and friends – you help distinguish UT MBS from its peers. Please consider renewing your support for the department by way of an annual contribution – all gifts make a difference in our ability to enrich the experience of our students and faculty.
Thank you for being an important part of the Department of Molecular Biosciences!
Jon Huibregtse Department of Molecular Biosciences
Forty-five new research teams from across the University of Texas System have been awarded $100,000 seed grants each as part of a UT System initiative to jump-start multi-disciplinary and innovative research on the human brain.
The UT System effort is aligned with the national BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, which was established to revolutionize understanding of the brain and help treat, cure and prevent neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease and autism.
The Department of Molecular Biosciences continues to be on the cutting edge of scientific research while dedicating itself to quality and innovative education for both undergraduates and graduates. As such, I am proud to serve as Interim Chair. As one of our graduates, you are our most important ambassadors. We are pleased to send you the latest addition of the department’s newsletter.
A few highlights from this semester include:
• The Center for Infectious Disease hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for the inaugural John LaMontagne Lecture on February 9th, 2015 on campus. Watch his talk online at Time Warner Cable News.
• MBS has ongoing searches for two Assistant Professors, one Full Professor, and a permanent Department Chair. We are excited about the candidates and the chance to grow our already-fantastic faculty. Look for introductions to these new MBS members as soon as possible!
• We also have two retiring faculty this spring, Dr. Jon Robertus and Dr. Jerry Brand. Dr. Robertus, Professor in Biochemistry, and Dr. Brand, Professor in Molecular Cell and Development Biology, have each been researching, teaching, and serving the larger UT community for over 40 years. They will be honored at a retirement party on May 12th, 2015. Have a memory to share about them? Please click here to contribute to our memory book for them.
• And finally, commencement is around the corner! The College of Natural Sciences will hold a graduation ceremony honoring Biology majors affiliated with MBS on May 23rd. I will be proud to shake hands with 264 MBS graduates.
Our department is strong because of you. As a stakeholder in our success, you help distinguish UT Molecular Biosciences from its peers, but we need your help financially. Please consider making a gift to MBS to help strengthen and support our legacy of excellence. Giving from alumni, parents and friends allows us to be strategic and supportive of our faculty and students in their education and research endeavors.
Thank you for being an important part of this fantastic department!
Jon Huibregtse Interim Chair, Department of Molecular Biosciences
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In the span of a few months, Molecular Biosciences Professor Stanley Roux was elected not only to the prestigious AAAS - The American Association for the Advancement of Science, he also won the national "Excellence in Education" award from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).
According to ASPB:
The 2015 Excellence in Education Award acknowledges the outstanding contributions of Dr. Stanley Roux. During a career spanning more than thirty years, Stan has made a considerable impact at his institution by expanding the curriculum while developing and adopting innovative pedagogical methods. Both in the classroom and in his laboratory, Stan has emphasized meaningful hands-on research for students.
The recipient of several past teaching awards, Stan was one of the first to challenge the notion that freshmen cannot conduct "real" research. The results of his efforts have been manifest in the form of peer-reviewed publications with many student coauthors, as well as conference awards and further modeling of this paradigm. Stan has offered innovative courses in the realm of plant biology while mentoring numerous undergraduate and graduate students and participating in various science outreach organizations, thereby making lasting impacts in the field.