April 2016

Message from the Dean

I am pleased to announce the appointments of the Francisco J. Ayala endowed department chairs.  These new endowments are another example of the extraordinary generosity provided to the school by University and Donald Bren Professor Francisco J. Ayala. Professor Ayala is a renowned evolutionary biologist and geneticist. He has been awarded the 2001 National Medal of Science and the 2010 Templeton Prize. He has also received honorary degrees from 24 institutions from 10 different countries.

The endowments will foster novel and innovative research in the biological sciences and will help further our ascendancy among globally preeminent institutions.      
These endowments are awarded to Professors Christopher C. Hughes, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Laurence D. Mueller, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Thomas F. Schilling, Developmental and Cell Biology, and Marcelo A. Wood, Neurobiology and Behavior.  The titles are assigned concurrent with the department chair appointments.
Please join me in congratulating the first Francisco J. Ayala chairs and extending our gratitude to our generous benefactors, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor Francisco J. Ayala and Dr. Hana Ayala.

From left to right: Professors Laurence D. Mueller, Marcelo A. Wood, Francisco J. Ayala, Thomas F. Schilling, and Christopher C. Hughes

News and Highlights

2016 Dean's Report
The School is pleased to present the 2016 Dean’s Report, which highlights the accomplishments and accolades of the past year. The report showcases the exceptional research being conducted at the School. In the section “Bringing Research to Life,” we feature faculty who are working on some of the most challenging biological and environmental issues of the 21st century. A broad range of topics are covered, from the effects of climate change on our oceans, to the innovative ways our faculty are combating Alzheimer’s disease. The 2016 Dean’s report is a perfect read for those passionate about science and those curious about the century of biology. Please read through the report here.

Stimulating Innovation Through Collaboration
On March 3rd, the Ayala School of Biological Sciences held its annual faculty retreat at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa. This year’s retreat was co-sponsored with the School of Medicine and provided an opportunity to foster and strengthen interactions between the two schools. Over 150 faculty attended the retreat, which featured faculty presentations, including a data blitz headlined by recently recruited faculty. Occasions such as this retreat give faculty from both the Ayala School and the School of Medicine the opportunity to form the multi-disciplinary collaborations necessary to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century. Read more.

Distinguished Professor Wins Founders' Award

Distinguished Professor Anthony A. James, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, was awarded The Founders' Memorial Award by the Entomological Society of America for outstanding contributions to the field of entomology. Recently, Professor James' research has led to the development of the first generation of malaria-resistant mosquitoes using gene editing techniques.  Read more.

International Women for Science Book Features Ayala Professor Treseder

Professor Kathleen K. Treseder, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was recently selected as the U.S. Scientist by the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences as part of their Women for Science program, which supports the strengthening of science and technology as a tool for advancing research in the Americas. Professor Treseder's research focuses on improving predictive climate change models. Read more.

Concerns Grow Over Increased Use of "Roundup" Herbicide

The active ingredient in "Roundup" is glyphosate, which was originally reported to pose a low toxicity risk, resulting in a robust expansion of its agricultural use. A consortium of experts, including Professor Bruce Blumberg, Developmental and Cell Biology, published a recent review on glyphosate usage in the February issue of Environmental Health. Read more.

PBS Explores Individuals with Super Memory

Professor James L. McGaugh, Neurobiology and Behavior, was recently featured on the PBS Nova episode, "Memory Hackers," which provided an in-depth look at individuals with highly superior autobiographical memory. Professor McGaugh pioneered the research into these unique individuals who can remember events in their distant past with incredible detail. Read more.

Minority Science Programs Students Win Big at AAAS Competition
Four UCI undergraduates in the Ayala School of Biological Sciences Minority Science Programs received awards for their research at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in Washington D.C. The winners of this year's presentation will also be recognized in the March 2016 issue of Science magazine. Read more.

2016 Lauds & Laurels Ceremony

Professor Travis E. Human, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, will receive the Outstanding University Service award and Ayala School alumnus, Lester Ng '94, will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. Lauds & Laurels recognizes individuals for their involvement and dedication to UCI and the Ayala School. A special ceremony will be held on May 12th. Read more.

Ayala School Hosts the Annual Southern California PKAL STEM Education Conference

Teaching Professors, Justin F. Shaffer and Brian K. Sato, hosted the annual Southern California Project Kaleidoscope STEM Education Conference focusing on teaching and education research in the STEM fields. The conference had several attendees from fellow higher education institutions in multiple STEM disciplines hoping to learn from the Ayala School's Teaching Professors.  Read more.

Biological Sciences Student Council Winter Soirée
The Biological Sciences Student Council hosted another highly successful annual Winter Soirée as a unique opportunity for promoting conversations between faculty and students outside of the classroom setting. The highly successful event had over 100 students and 14 faculty members in attendance. Students learned about career options, research, and more. Read more.

Breakfast with the Dean and Student Athletes

Dean Frank LaFerla and Associate Dean Michael Leon hosted a breakfast with Ayala School student athletes for their hard work in balancing athletic and academic success. Members from the track and field and women's soccer team took the opportunity to get to know the Dean and members of the dean's office and received valuable career advice. Read more.

Biology for a Better Tomorrow

Building Better Models of Climate Change
Professor Travis E. Huxman, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was part of a large multi-institutional research study established to determine the extent, magnitude and controls on photosynthesis in tropical forests. Analyzing how tropical forests regulate their seasonal photosynthesis and how trees respond to oscillations in atmospheric carbon dioxide will help scientists generate better models of climate change. Read more.

Interplay Between Blood and the Brain Impacts Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of age-related dementia, is thought to be driven by the accumulation of a protein called beta-amyloid that aggregates to form amyloid plaques in the brain. Professor Mathew M. Blurton-Jones, Neurobiology and Behavior, and Ph.D. candidate Samuel Marsh, are working to determine how immune cells impact amyloid plaque formation. Read more.

Targeting Inflammation Improves Memory in Alzheimer's Model
Professor Kim N. Green, Neurobiology and Behavior, has discovered a new use for the anti-cancer compound, pexidartinib.  Professor Green and his colleagues found that treatment with pexidartinib results in the elimination of the brain’s resident immune cells, which leads to the restoration of memory function. Read more.

What Life Amongst the Clouds Tells Us About Global Warming
Ph.D. candidate Caitlin Looby, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, recently studied high elevation tropical rain forest habitats that are normally characterized by persistent cloud cover. She is seeking to determine if these rain forest habitats are being affected by changing patterns in cloud cover and drier conditions due to global warming. Read more.

Decoding the Mysteries of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory

Professors Craig E. L. Stark and James L. McGaugh, Neurobiology and Behavior, have partnered together to conduct a new study of how individuals with highly superior autobiographical memory encode, store and retrieve their memories. These individuals have the unique ability to recall fine details of events that occurred several months in the past.  Read more.


IN MEMORIAM: Professor Norman M. Weinberger

It is with much sadness that we inform you of the passing of our colleague Professor Norman M. Weinberger, who succumbed to lymphoma on February 14, 2016. Professor Weinberger was a pioneering faculty member at UCI, joining Professor James L. McGaugh in the Department of Psychobiology at its founding. Professor Weinberger was very influential in establishing the Ayala School of Biological Sciences as a preeminent institution. Read more.

Professor Weinberger's family launched a campaign to generate a grant in his honor in hopes that it will aid in finding a cure for lymphoma. For more information about the campaign, follow this link


Professor Leslie M. Thompson, Neurobiology and Behavior and Psychiatry and Human Behavior, is featured on buses around UCI in a new ad campaign. The goal of this campaign is to feature a variety of UCI faculty and students who embody the Shine Brighter spirit. Those who dare to make a difference by pushing the boundaries with passion, curiosity and optimism. 


Melanie Cocco
Professor in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Professor Cocco's affinity for science began at an early age when she would mix ingredients in the kitchen and observe how they reacted. Now her research focuses on membrane proteins and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Learn more about Professor Cocco here.


Rintu Saju

Biological Sciences

Rintu is a second-year Biological Sciences major who dedicates just as much time to studying as he does to community service. He is currently a student director for the Global Health Research, Education, and Translation program and a student coordinator for the Diversity in Medicine program. Learn more about Rintu here.


Bessy Varela
Department Administrator for Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Bessy joined the Ayala School 12 years ago. In her role as the Department Administrator for Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, she oversees the financial and administrative functions that support the research and teaching activities of the department. Learn more about Bessy here.


22nd Annual UCI Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory
  • April 19, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. featuring Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, in the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Register here.
Allergan Lecture Series in Modern Biology
  • May 10, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. Featuring Anthony A. James, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center. Register here.
Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series
  • May 25, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. Featuring Professor Charles S. Glabe, Ph.D., Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, at UC Irvine, in Pacific Ballroom CD, UCI Student Center. The Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series showcases cutting-edge research and how it impacts our lives. 


Calling all Bio students! Send us your selfies that showcase your colleagues and you at the Ayala School, in the lab and around campus. You could be featured in an upcoming newsletter! Send your photos to or tag the Ayala School page on Facebook #ayalaschool.


Roderick Seamster, M.D., M.P.H.

Class of '82

Roderick Seamster, M.D., M.P.H., was appointed the Interim President  &  CEO of Watts Healthcare Corporation, Los Angeles, in October 2015.  Dr. Seamster obtained a B.S. with honors from the Ayala School of Biological Sciences in 1982 before pursuing a career as an Internal Medicine specialist. Learn more about Dr. Seamster here.