February 2015   

Message from the Dean

I am delighted to share with you the 2015 Dean’s Annual Report from the Ayala School of Biological Sciences. This inaugural Annual Report includes notable milestones from the past year in addition to research highlights and student news. With new events and groundbreaking research taking place, the School is proud of its outreach to the surrounding community over the past year, and what a wonderful year it was! From the School’s renaming to celebrating our Golden Anniversary with President Obama, we are celebrating a ‘bright past’ and looking forward to a ‘brilliant future!’
Please read our annual report flipbook here.

Please consider sharing this inaugural dean’s report and newsletter with anyone you know who is passionate about science and its role in addressing global challenges.

News and Highlights

Collaboration, Innovation and Education for Ayala Faculty

Over 100 Ayala School faculty came together for the inaugural Ayala School Faculty Retreat in January. Collaboration, innovation and education were the central themes of the conference where our faculty shared the latest trends, obstacles and triumphs facing the classroom and research today. “Our inaugural retreat accomplished our mission: foster new collaborations and partnerships, develop strategies and share innovative ideas to enhance research, teaching and learning in higher education,” shared Professor Craig E.L. Stark, Neurobiology and Behavior, and Chair of the Faculty Retreat. Thanks to the committee members for working so hard to make the retreat a success:
Committee Chair Professor Stark and Professors Steven D. Allison, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Naomi Morrissette, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Christine Suetterlin, Developmental and Cell Biology and Brian Sato, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

Ayala School Booth a Huge Hit at Homecoming 
Chants of “Zot! Zot! Zot!” Could be heard loudly throughout Aldrich Park as more than 5,000 UC Irvine alumni celebrated the 50th Anniversary Homecoming in January. More than half the crowd stopped by the Ayala School booth, including 500 Bio Sci alumni and family members. Hands-on demonstrations were presented by the Ayala School academic departments, and a captivating lecture entitled “50 Years of Memories” from renowned neurobiologist and Professor James L. McGaugh, Neurobiology and Behavior was featured. Read more.

Facelift for Ecological Preserve Thanks to Students
Two undergraduate interns with the Ayala School’s Center for Environmental Biology recently received a grant from UCI’s The Green Initiative Fund to develop directional signs and begin to develop a plan for use of UCI’s Ecological Preserve. Chris Halsch, a dual major in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Earth System Science, and Robert Fofrich, Earth System Science major, worked with lab manager Kimberly Huxman for a quarter on the proposal. The project included integrating with Ayala School faculty and facilities managers to plan $22,000 worth of upgrades to directional and informational signs that will be placed in and around the preserve, located adjacent to campus to the west. Read more.
New Research Opportunities at San Joaquin Marsh Reserve
The UC Natural Reserve System's San Joaquin Marsh Reserve and the Orange County Water District recently partnered in installing three groundwater monitoring wells along the marsh edge near the Arboretum on UCI’s North Campus. This effort is of huge benefit to the marsh and the entire UC system because it provides a new opportunity for research in an area previously not available to study. While providing water to the sensitive wetlands, the three wells will allow groundwater sampling at 50, 100 and 150 feet below the surface. Read more.

Research in the News

Skin Fat is Now a Part of the Body's Immune Response 
Does having more skin fat help fight infections? Research by Ayala faculty has revealed an interesting answer. Professor Maksim Plikus, Developmental and Cell Biology, and his laboratory partners recently contributed to a new study that revealed skin fat to be part of the human body’s innate immune response. The study showed that during a bacterial infection, activation of skin’s adipose progenitors and the secretion of antimicrobial peptides ultimately form a newly recognized arm of the innate immune response. Read more.

Non-Native Plants Widespread, Plenty of Space to Invade
The first comprehensive study to assess native versus non-native plant distribution in the continental United States finds non-native plant species are much more widespread than natives. The study includes Professor Cascade J. Sorte, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Exeter (UK). Invasive species are one of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide, and recent research by Professor Sorte and colleagues indicates that their impacts are likely to increase under climate change. Read more.
What We Can Learn From the "Oldest Old"
What prolongs your life or prevents dementia might not be what you expect. Professor Claudia H. Kawas, Neurobiology and Behavior and Neurology, has been working on a longitudinal study of people age 90 and older since 2003 called the 90-plus study. Kawas spoke in front of a packed crowd of 200 at the Newport Beach Public Library Monday about what she’s found in her research on what can help a person’s longevity and what can reduce a person’s risk for dementia. Read more

Do Men's and Women’s Brains Function Differently?
Researchers are reaching different conclusions about whether brain wiring differs between men and women, despite analyzing similar sets of neuroimaging data. Professor Lawrence F. Cahill, Neurobiology and Behavior, who has researched sex differences, said that in his mind, sex is the biggest factor driving brain size. Therefore, even if connectivity differs according to brain size, there is still a strong sex influence, on average, on connectivity patterns. “The findings leave little doubt that there exist striking differences in the ways in which the brains of women, on average, and men, on average, are wired,” said Professor Cahill. Read more.

U.S. – Cuba Accord Could be a Boon for Science
Although Cuba is tiny and poor compared with the U.S., it has a very credible scientific workforce with considerable research expertise of interest to the U.S., according to Professor Emeritus Michael T. Clegg, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, also co-chair of the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences. He recently spoke with Scientific American, noting that Cuba has made a significant investment in biotechnology beginning in the late 1980s, and it has been active in the development of vaccines as well as agricultural technologies. In addition, Professor Clegg says Cuba has considerable know-how in meteorology, disaster response and preparedness, environmental science related to management of marine resources and biodiversity research. Read more.

Community Spotlight

Ellen G. Feigal, M.D., (B.S. ’76, M.S. ’77)
Ellen G. Feigal, M.D., Ayala School Alumna, is a physician scientist who has focused her career on bringing innovative, more effective therapies to patients. She recently became a Principal at NDA Partners, a global strategy-consulting firm focused on improving the development efficiency and speed and commercial success rate of medical products. The theme of her career, through leadership positions in academia, industry, federal or state government agencies or nonprofits, always involves creating innovative programs and collaborations to drive translational research findings to patients with unmet medical needs. 

After graduating from the Ayala School in 1977 with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science, Dr. Feigal earned her M.D. at UC Davis. She then completed an internal medicine residency at Stanford and a hematology/oncology fellowship at UC San Francisco. She began her career as an academic oncology researcher, clinician, and teacher at UC San Francisco and then took a position at UC San Diego. Read more.



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$2 Million to Study Memory Prosthetics
Distinguished Professor Bruce L. McNaughton, Neurobiology and Behavior, was awarded a University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives award to study Memory Prosthetics.

Honorary Professorship
Professor Bradford A. Hawkins, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, recently received an honorary professorship at the University of Alcalá in Madrid, Spain.

Triumvirate Award
Professor Michael Leon, Neurobiology and Behavior and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, has been awarded a 2014 Dean’s Triumvirate Award, along with Professor Joseph Donnelly, Department of Pediatrics and Professor Frederic Ehlert, Department of Pharmacology. Read more.


Manuel Ramirez
Graduate Student
Manuel Ramirez, graduate student in Professor Aimee L. Edinger's laboratory, Developmental and Cell Biology, was awarded an F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health.  He received the fellowship for his project investigating the molecular mechanism by which sphingolipids (responsible for regulating whole body metabolism) cause nutrient transporter loss from the cell surface. Read more.


Yuanshun Chen
Director of Finance
Yuanshun Chen has been at UCI for over 25 years, the last 11 years as the Ayala School’s Director of Finance. In her role, she manages the financial business affairs of the Ayala School. Yuanshun shares that she always strives to be a valuable contributor to the School’s stakeholders and make a positive impact. Yuanshun is grateful for the educational and professional growth opportunities offered to her through the years, which have enhanced her skills and developed her career. Read more.