Button to scroll to the top of the page.

Updates

Campus health and safety are our top priorities. Get the latest from UT on COVID-19.

Get help with online courses, Zoom and more.

News

 

Brandon Okeke Wins Student Legacy Award

Brandon Okeke headshotBrandon Okeke, a biochemistry senior, is one of two accomplished undergraduates who will be honored with the Student Legacy Award at our annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. He is also the 2020 recipient of the Texas Exes’ Edward S. Guleke Student Excellence Award. Read on to learn more about his experience here on campus, the life wisdom he gained in Beijing, China, and how his hard-working mother inspired him to pursue a rewarding career in medicine.

Programs and activities: Afrikan American Affairs, Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males (formerly AAMRI), Texas Blazers, Black Health Professions Organization, Summer Health Professions Education Program in New Orleans, La.

Finding his center…Early into his freshman year, Okeke found his community within the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC), a space on campus that educates and empowers students to become leaders and future gamechangers. “The staff are great at finding us opportunities. Whether it’s scholarships, internships or study abroad, they provide so much in one space. While working with students and advisors and staff, especially Malik Crowder, I learned so much about myself and about how other people think.”

Getting organized and mobilized…Among his many duties, he planned and organized a number of events—from New Black Student Weekend to professional development workshops to Title IX info sessions. “It’s easy to get lost on a campus with 50,000 students, so we’re reaching out to students early on to let them know that the MEC is here for them. It has really helped me feel more comfortable with my surroundings and helped me realize that I belong here.”

Beijing bound…In spring 2017, Okeke traveled to Beijing, China with his fellow study abroad students participating in the DDCE’s signature Entrepreneurship in China and the U.S. program. Along the way, he gained new perspectives about himself and others. “I’ll never forget the moment when I climbed to the top of the stairsteps to the Forbidden City that overlooked the entire city of Beijing. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m here—and there’s really nothing I can’t do.’ I made this reality for myself.”

A scientist at heart… After his trip abroad, Okeke followed his career path with a renewed sense of confidence—a path that aligns with his lifelong passion for science. “Science has had my heart right from the jump. When I was young, I used to make my own chemistry sets and conduct experiments to see how things worked. During my freshman year, I read my biology book just for fun.”

Rising to greatness…Now as Okeke closes in on his senior year, he’s excited to study medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. His interest in the medical field stems from his admiration of his mother, who overcame a great deal of adversity to become a senior-level nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston, Texas. “She was one of the best nurses in the hospital. She worked really hard and I’ve always looked up to her. I know that if I work just as hard, I could be great as well.”

 

Cross-posted from the Division of Diversity & Community Engagement.

UT Bioscientist Receives Antiviral Research Award

Jason McLellan, molecular bioscience associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was the 2020 recipient of the William Prusoff Memorial Award from the International Society for Antiviral Research, which honors a young scientist who has shown excellence in antiviral research and promise for future contributions to the field. 

McLellan’s research focuses on the structure of certain proteins as infections progress, which informs the development of medicine used to treat disease. One of his research interests focuses on human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a virus causing severe lower respiratory tract infections, particularly in young children and the elderly. A certain part of RSV, called the F protein, changes shape during an infection. If the immune system encounters the F protein in this altered shape, the antibodies it produces are less effective than when the F protein is in its pre-infection shape. Using a structure-based approach, McLellan engineered the F protein to take away its shapeshifting ability and in turn allow the body to produce more effective antibodies in response. 

McLellan previously received the Etter Early Career award from the American Crystallographic Association in 2017 and the 2019 Viruses Young Investigator in Virology Prize for his work on RSV. 

McLellan graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in chemistry, and earned his Ph.D. from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. He joined the biochemistry department at Dartmouth Medical School, and in 2018 moved his lab to the University of Texas at Austin, where he became an associate professor in the department of molecular biosciences. 

Georgiou Honored with Chemical Engineering Literature Prize

George Georgiou, a professor in the Departments of Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, received the William H. Walker Award for Excellence in Contributions to Chemical Engineering Literature at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting this month.

The award is given to a member who has made an outstanding contribution to chemical engineering literature which is of interest and importance to the chemical engineering profession. 

Georgiou’s research focuses on the development and discovery of protein therapeutics, which are proteins engineered in a laboratory for pharmaceutical use to supplement essential proteins for a variety of purposes like insulin for diabetes and erythropoietin for anemia. These proteins can be used in vivo (that is, on living organisms) rather than tissue samples for testing, which allows scientists to see the overall effects of an experiment on a living subject.

Georgiou graduated with his doctorate in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1987. After coming to UT Austin as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1986, Georgiou became a professor in chemical and biomedical engineering, and in molecular biosciences, and served on various chairs for the University. Georgio currently serves as a Dula D. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering.

Among his many honors, he was elected to the National Academy of Inventors (2015), American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2015) and the National Academy of Medicine (2011). He was also named UT Austin’s Inventor of the Year in 2014.

Mutant Roundworms Might Shed Light on Causes of Ribosome Disorders

mutant c elegans700 2In a paper published in the journal Developmental Cell last month, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin gained insights into how tissues diversify during embryonic development. These initial findings may provide clues about the causes of ribosomopathies, human disorders involving ribosomes, the molecular machines within cells that produce proteins.

Prominent Plant Biologist Keiko Torii Joins Faculty

Prominent Plant Biologist Keiko Torii Joins Faculty

Keiko Torii

A plant biologist whose work has implications for the medical and agricultural fields, as well as improving plant resiliency in the face of climate change, is making the move to Texas this year. Professor Keiko Torii, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and plant biologist, will join the faculty of the Molecular Biosciences Department at The University of Texas at Austin in September 2019.

Torii studies functional tissue patterning, stem cell maintenance and differentiation and how plant cells determine function.

Before joining the faculty of the University of Washington, Torii studied biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. During her post-doctoral work, she discovered for the first time that plants have receptors that perceive signals from neighboring cells, similar in structure to insulin receptors in humans. Torii recalls that she was truly fascinated about her work--as it suggested that the plant cells, like our human cells, can talk to each other using a similar type of receptor. Indeed, she initially wanted to study basic biomedical science in college, but she made a dramatic change in her career decision to pursue plant molecular biology instead.

“When I heard about (plant genetic engineering) in a lecture, I thought that because the field is just blooming, perhaps there is room for opportunity here,” she said. “I felt like there was a huge prairie or open land in front of me.”

Torii is a founding member of the Institute of Transformative BioMolecules at Nagoya University, part of Japan’s World Premier International Research Center Initiative, pursuing cross-disciplinary research of synthetic chemistry and plant/animal biology. She was a winner of the Saruhashi Prize in 2015, a prize recognizing an outstanding and influential woman scientist in Japan each year. Torii is also an elected fellow of American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).

Much of Torii’s recent work has centered on plant stomata, the mouth-like structure on the surfaces of land plants that allow for gas and moisture to be exchanged with the atmosphere. How the stomata operate, and how different plant cells communicate with each other about which ones will become stomata has been an important question in her work.

“Stomata are only 10 to 20 microns in size, but the total water content of Earth’s atmosphere is estimated to cycle through plant stomata every six months,” Torii said. “Everything plants do is so critical to our survival and plant science is becoming more important in every aspect.”

Torii said she was attracted to the University of Texas because of the potential for collaboration and integrative approaches across fields of medicine, molecular biology and plant biology.

“Texas offers a unique environment for me to pursue this very basic developmental biology while getting more into plant resilience research, especially in light of changing global climate,” she said.

microscopy image of mutant plant epidermis

Image above: In order for stomata to function, they have to be spread out and evenly distributed within a leaf surface. By tweeting the activity of a ‘master regulatory’ gene that drive differentiation of stomata, one can convert all cells on a leaf surface to become stomata. Shown is a microscopy image of such mutant epidermis. Pink color highlights the outlines of individual cells, most of them differentiating into tiny months (stomata made of a pair of guard cells surrounding a pore). Green color is from engineered Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) that marks the differentiation of stomatal progenitor cells.” Images taken by Dr. Kylee Peterson (former Torii lab member)

Photo Gallery

MBS-graduation-flickrMBS Graduates 2014

Events

15Apr
15 Apr 2020@ 08:00AM - 05:00PM
MBS+LCID: Jason McLellan (Virtual)
22Apr
22 Apr 2020@ 04:00PM - 05:00PM
MBS Seminar - Rasika Harshey (Virtual)
01May
01 May 2020@ 12:30PM - 01:30PM
MBS Faculty Meeting (Virtual)
04May
04 May 2020@ 12:00PM - 01:00PM
MBS Advisory Council Meeting (Virtual)
06May
06 May 2020@ 04:00PM - 05:00PM
MBS Seminar: Cancelled