May 2016

Message from the Dean

Congratulations and best wishes to the graduating class of 2016. Through hard work and determination, the 2016 class completed one of the most rigorous programs on campus. As you enter the next phase of your lives, I hope you will reflect proudly on your time at the Ayala School and UCI. You will always be a Bio Anteater, so I deeply hope you will stay connected with us as your journey continues.
I am pleased to announce that Charles L.M. Dunlop, the founder and president of Ambry Genetics, will deliver the keynote address at the 2016 Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences Commencement on June 10th. Charles Dunlop is a leader of industry, an advocate for patient’s rights and a model of success to which Ayala students can aspire.  Mr. Dunlop founded Ambry Genetics in 1999 with the lofty goal of restoring the balance between open science and commercial interests and ending human disease.  Since its founding, Ambry Genetics has launched some of the world’s most useful clinical diagnostics tests. The company has been a great asset to our community and is home to many graduates of UCI and the Ayala School.

Biology for a Better Tomorrow

Too Much 'Noise' Affects Brain Development

Using cutting-edge imaging technology, Professor Thomas F. Schilling, Developmental and Cell Biology, and colleagues, have determined that uncontrolled fluctuations (known as “noise”) in the concentration of the vitamin A derivative retinoic acid can lead to disruptions in brain organization during development. Identifying how a cell responds to a signal made by another cell, despite the level of noise present, may improve our understanding of developmental disorders. Read more.

New Therapeutic Target for Brain Disease
Professor Leslie M. Thompson, Neurobiology and Behavior and Psychiatry and Human Behavior, has been studying Huntington's disease (HD), a genetic disease, for over 2 decades. Recent work from Professor Thompson’s Lab, led by doctoral candidate Joseph Ochaba, has identified a new therapeutic target that, when reduced in Huntington's disease model mice, decreases inflammation of the brain and the accumulation of toxic proteins. Read more.

Modifying Mosquitos to Fight Malaria

The Ayala School has made it a top priority to host frequent educational lectures to share cutting edge research that address the grand challenges facing our society. On May 10th, the Ayala School and the Allergan Foundation co-hosted the first Allergan Lecture of 2016 featuring Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Anthony A. James. Professor James’ lecture, entitled “Gene Drive: Rules of the Road,” introduced the audience to the complex concept of genome editing using his revolutionary new malaria-resistant mosquito as a reference.  Professor James’ research also has implication for fighting the Zika virus. Read more.

Exercise for the Brain: Is it Worth the Sweat?

The 22nd Distinguished Lecture Series on Brain, Learning and Memory was held in the Barclay Theater on April 19th, and featured an excellent presentation by Professor Laura D. Baker of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Professor Baker’s lecture, “Exercise for the Brain: Is it Worth the Sweat?” covered her groundbreaking work on the effect of regular aerobic exercise on the cognitive state of adults who are at high risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s onset. Read more.

News and Highlights

White House Event Focuses on the Microbiome

Professor Katrine L. Whiteson, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, joined other U.S. scientists Friday, May 13th at an event hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology, to announce a new National Microbiome Initiative to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems. Read more.

Bridging Art and Science with the Illuminations Initiative 

The Ayala School co-hosted an evening of art and science at the Crystal Cove Auditorium.  The Illuminations Arts & Culture Initiative was put forth by Chancellor Howard Gillman to expose UCI students to the artistic experience and help stimulate their inner creativity. The event commenced with “The Art of Science” photo exhibit, followed by a reception.  The theme of the exhibit was “A Look Through the Microscope,” featuring photographs of biological specimens from Ayala faculty research projects. Read more.

Engaging Our Alumni

Distinguished Professor and Ayala School alumnus Anthony A. James (B.S. ’73, Ph.D. ’79, Biological Sciences) kicked off the Bio Sci Alumni Chapter’s Fireside chat series on April 21st at The Den in UCI's Newkirk Alumni Center. Appetizers and refreshments were served while they heard Professor James discuss his recent endeavors in fighting malaria, including the generation of his revolutionary malaria-resistant mosquito. Read more.

Building Communication Skills with Grad Slam
The Grad Slam competition gives UC graduate students the opportunity to build their communication skills by giving 3-minute research presentations.   In the lead up to the 2016 Grad Slam UC finals in San Francisco, the UCI Graduate Division held the campus finals at the Newkirk Alumni Center on April 1st. Neurobiology and Behavior doctoral candidate Andre White won second place with his presentation on substance abuse. Read more.

Securing Support for Graduate Training
Nameer Rahman Baker, doctoral candidate in Professor Steven D. Allison’s lab (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), joined UC President Janet Napolitano and a delegation of graduate deans and graduate students at the capital in Sacramento on March 16th. The group traveled to Sacramento to meet with members of the State Senate and Assembly to encourage increased support for graduate student enrollment across the UC system. Read more.

Tomorrow's Leaders Honored at Awards Dinner

The Orange County Chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation held their 16th Annual Scholar Awards dinner at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center. The event is held annually to honor both the year’s award recipients and the supporters of the Orange County ARCS chapter. The foundation was initiated to provide financial assistance to promising young U.S. scientists, and has many chapters throughout the country. Ayala graduates Allison Najafi, Zachariah Reagh and Nan Wu Hultgren were recognized during the event. Read more.

Biomedical Graduate Students Discover New Career Paths

Graduate students and postdoctoral scientists gathered at the University Club to learn about diverse faculty positions within local institutions including the UC schools, state, private and community colleges. Approximately 40 trainees had the opportunity to discover what institutions are looking for in new hires and how to standout, as well as network with recent alumni. Read more.

Genetic Counseling Special Interest Group at UCI

The Genetic Counseling Special Interest Group (GCSIG) was established winter quarter 2015, to increase the participation and diversity within the field of genetic counseling. The GCSIG consists of over a dozen active members that meet on a weekly basis during the school term. The group’s meetings often feature guest speakers, including Ayala alumni, current faculty and external practicing genetic counselors. For more information on the GCSIG, please contact the group’s president and co-founder Jessica Greenwood at  


Andrea J. Tenner Professor

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Neurobiology and Behavior, delivered the 10th Hans J. Mueller-Eberhart Memorial Lecture. She is the first woman scientist chosen for this honor.  

Marcelo A. Wood Professor and Chair 

Neurobiology and Behavior, recently received the Instructional Technology Innovation award at the 2016 Celebration of Teaching ceremony.

Bradford A. Hawkins 
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was recognized for his contributions to ecology by the Ecological Society of America, honoring some of the most notable papers published in their journals since  the first issue in 1920.

Catherine Loudon Teaching Professor 

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, received the 2016 Distinguished Achievement in Teaching Award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.


Brian K. Sato, Ph.D.

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Brian K. Sato, Ph.D., is a Teaching Professor in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. Professor Sato has been with the Ayala School for five years and is dedicated to elevating the school’s profile as a leader in undergraduate STEM education. His research involves investigating how students learn and improving the classroom experience. Read more.


Karen Bradshaw
Biological Sciences

Karen Bradshaw is an undergraduate majoring in Biological Sciences and is on schedule to graduate in Spring 2016. She plans to attending graduate school to further her education and experience in neuroscience. Read more.


Gary Roman
Graduate Program Administrator

Gary joined the Ayala School over 10 years ago. In his current position as the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP) Administrator, Gary has the important role of managing the program’s first year graduate students during their laboratory rotations and academic courses, to ensure that they are making satisfactory progress in the program. Read more.


Installation Celebration of the UC Irvine Ecological Preserve's Interpretive Signs
  • May 25, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. Learn about indigenous plants and take a scenic walk though the UC Irvine Ecological Preserve located on East Peltason near Los Trancos. 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, in UCI Student Center Pacific Ballroom C. The Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series showcases the cutting-edge research of our faculty and the impact it has on our lives and for the local and global community. Register here.