Spring 2016 Letter from the Chair

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.

Central to this continual transformation are our close associations with a number of interdisciplinary institutes, centers, and facilities. These include the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, the John Ring LaMongagne Center for Infectious Disease, the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, and the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Facility. These intellectual and technological drivers further provide bridges between the faculty and broader clinical and commercial communities, enhance the productivity of the faculty, and enliven our educational and outreach efforts.

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 help financially. 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.


Fall 2015 Newsletter

Hello from your UT MBS department!

Letter from the Chair

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


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2016 Alumni & Friends Awards

Nominations for the Emerging Leader, Distinguished Alumnus and Distinguished Service Award are now open. To learn more about Hall of Honor and to submit your nomination, click here.




Ellington, Agarwala Receive UT BRAIN Seed Grants

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.

A total of $4.5 million was awarded through the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute, which was created by the Board of Regents in 2014 to facilitate team approaches to brain research and leverage the broad scientific expertise and resources available throughout the UT System.

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.

In the Department of Molecular Biosciences:

Read the entire news release on the $4.5 Million brain research effort here:

Adapted with permission from a post from the UT Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology.


Spring 2015 Newsletter

Greetings from your UT Campus!

Letter from the Chair

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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Dr. Stanley Roux Wins National Teaching Award

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).Stan Roux

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.

Dr. Ilya Finkelstein Selected for Awards

Dr. Ilya Finkelstein, an assistant professor in the department of molecular biosciences, has been selected as a Fellow by the American Federation for Aging Research. More can be found here.

Dr. Finkelstein also was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. CAREER awards are intended to recognize promising young faculty and support their research with five years of funding. Learn more here.


Dr. Stanley Roux Elected As American Association For The Advancement Of Science Fellow

Stanley Roux, professor of molecular biosciences in the College of Natural Sciences, is among five faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin who have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS fellows are chosen annually by their peers to recognize their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Roux was recognized for his innovative experiments to elucidate the key role of extracellular nucleotides and apyrase enzymes in regulating plant growth and development. Roux is a Distinguished Teaching Professor who has received funding from the NSF and NASA for his research on how the environmental stimuli of light and gravity alter patterns of growth and development in plants.

 Four other fellows were also elected from the University of Texas at Austin. Learn more here.


Dr. George Georgiou named one of the top 20 translational researchers of 2013

Congratulations to Dr. George Georgiou was listed by Nature Biotechnology one of the top 20 translational researchers of 2013 Link.

Dr. Marvin Hackert elected president of the International Union of Crystallography

Dr. Marvin Hackert was recently elected president of the International Union of Crystallography. The objectives of the union are " promote international cooperation in crystallography and to contribute to all aspects of crystallography, to promote international publication of crystallographic research, to facilitate standardization of methods, units, nomenclatures and symbols, and to form a focus for the relations of crystallography to other sciences." Congratulations, Dr. Hackert!


Dr. Andrew Ellington, Dr. Stephen Trent, & Dr. Marvin Whiteley Elected 2014 AAM Academy Fellows

Congratulations to Dr. Marvin Whiteley, Dr. Stephen Tent, & Dr. Andrew Ellington for being elected 2014 American Academy for Microbiology Fellows. Fellows of the American Academy for Microbiology are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. There are over 2,400 Fellows representing all subspecialties of microbiology, including basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, and government service. The new Fellows are as follows:



Photo Gallery

MBS-graduation-flickrMBS Graduates 2014