Ayala School eNewsletter
January 2015

Message from the Dean

I hope that everyone had a restful and peaceful holiday break. As we usher in 2015, let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year! The winter quarter is underway and it is a pleasure to welcome everyone back and to see the campus bustling again. This year is an exciting time to be an Anteater as the university continues to celebrate our golden anniversary. During the past 50 years, UCI has achieved great distinction, but our desire for even greater brilliance is strong. The chancellor has charged the deans with the goal of accelerating our ascendancy among globally preeminent institutions. The Ayala School intends to do our part in achieving this goal as we aspire for excellence in all aspects of our academic life, including research, teaching, and community outreach. Many initiatives are underway to improve the educational experience for our undergraduate and graduate students. Likewise, in partnership with the chairs and the associate deans, I am working to better facilitate the research enterprise for our faculty and students. Lastly, the joy of being associated with such a great university is in part due to the outstanding potential for interactions with our colleagues and our local community. Join us at our upcoming events designed to inform the public on how biological science research addresses societal issues that impact our health, environment, food, energy production and other areas of biology.

News and Highlights

Minority Science Programs Undergraduates Win Big at National Conferences 
Undergraduates participating in research training with the Ayala School’s Minority Science Programs (MSP) received an impressive 17 awards for their research presentations at three national conferences during the fall quarter. The students participate in original research conducted in laboratories at UCI and abroad as part of the MSP training activities supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Read more.
UCI Life Science Majors Rank 10th in the Nation for Salary
According to a survey conducted by, UCI Life and Physical Sciences ranked 10th in the nation for best schools by salary potential. UCI alumni with undergraduate life and physical sciences degrees are making about $42,900 for their early career salary and move up to $92,800 for mid-career salary. Great news for our UCI Alumni! Read more.

Clegg’s Legacy Honored at Symposium
Not many careers have a lasting impact on research, administration and the international community quite like Professor Michael T. Clegg’s. The renowned Donald Bren Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and current Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences was recently celebrated by colleagues from all over the world at a day-long symposium at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. Read more.
Large Crowd and Lively Discussion at Film Premiere Event
A packed crowd of enthusiastic audience members from the campus and community gathered for a wonderful evening to remember featuring a Hollywood-type film premiere of “The Arctic Expedition,” on December 5th. Following the documentary from Anthony Christopher Productions about climate change research in the arctic region, a lively panel, with expert faculty from both the Ayala School and School of Physical Sciences, tackled questions about research impacts and global warming challenges facing the Arctic. Read more
Holiday Party Celebrates Ayala School Achievements
Ayala School faculty and staff gathered to celebrate 2014 at the annual Ayala School Holiday Party. Dean Frank M. LaFerla welcomed more than 300 guests as they enjoyed a fantastic afternoon celebrating the year. Dean LaFerla also recognized five Ayala School staff for reaching service milestones at UCI and the School. Read more.

Research in the News

Biology Trumps Chemistry in Open Ocean
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Adam Martiny, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Earth System Science and Michael Lomas of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences laid out a robust new framework that will allow scientists to describe and understand how phytoplankton assimilate limited concentrations of phosphorus in the ocean in ways that better reflect what is actually occurring in the marine environment. Read more.
World’s Largest Inquiry into Genetically Modified Crops Involves Ayala School Professor
Professor Bruce Blumberg, Developmental and Cell Biology, is on the review board for the Factor GMO (genetically modified organism) study, which is called one of the world’s largest and more comprehensive long-term studies on genetically-modified crops. This study aims to provide definitive evidence regarding the safety (or hazard) of one type of GMO food, Roundup-ready corn, and the herbicide (Roundup or glyphosate) that is used together with it. Read more.
Gaining Ground on Understanding Memory Loss
Why is there a high degree of variation in the rates at which seemingly healthy adults lose cognitive function as they age? Professor Dana Aswad, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and associates believe their research has provided a major clue to answering this question.  Their research compared rates of protein damage in brains of normal mice with those of genetically altered mice that have a 50 percent reduction in an enzyme (PIMT) needed to repair a common form of spontaneous damage that occurs throughout life. Read more.

New Insight into Neurodegenerative Diseases
A new study by Professor Steven P. Gross, Developmental and Cell Biology, in collaboration with the Vallee lab at Columbia University, has discovered how a specific protein in cells changes the function of a motor protein, which may ultimately give insight into neurodegenerative diseases. Microscopic transport of cargoes in different sub-cellular compartments is particularly important for extended cells such as neurons. Read more.
Huntington’s Disease Discoveries Could Lead to Therapeutics
Professor Lawrence J. Marsh, Developmental and Cell Biology, in collaboration with members of Dr. C-K Shen’s lab in Academica Sinica, Taiwan, found that the distribution of mutant Huntingtin protein (HTT) in the brains of mice changes in concert with changing pathology and progressive loss of motor control. One consequence of the changing redistribution of the protein is disruption of the nuclear envelope and reactivation of the cell cycle, which leads to death of the neuron. Read more.
Understanding Cold Cataracts Through Toothfish Proteins
Professor Rachel W. Martin, Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and co-workers including Ayala School undergraduate student Jan Bierma, are hoping to gain understanding of cold cataracts by studying eye lens proteins from organisms that live in very cold water. During the formation of a cold cataract, the crystallin proteins making up the eye lens separate into protein-rich and protein-poor phases. Read more.
Teaching Students How to Critically Analyze Data
One of the most important objectives of the Biology curriculum at UCI is to impart skills that will enable our students to excel in their future careers. One such skill is the ability to critically analyze data and use conclusions from the data to inform our decisions. Drs. Brian Sato and Pavan Kadandale, Lecturers PSOE in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, have developed a module that uses primary literature to develop students’ data analysis skills. Read more.

Sharing Best Practices for Teaching Methodologies
Dr. Justin Shaffer, Lecturer PSOE, Developmental and Cell Biology, recently published research on an upper-level human anatomy class in an effort to share his teaching methodologies with other professors. His research, published on CourseSource, describes a hands-on laboratory exercise from a new undergraduate human anatomy course. During the session, students used string and human skeletons to model pathways of cranial and spinal nerves throughout the body. Read more.

Community Spotlight

Katherine Hills, '83
Over the last 10 years, no other alum has devoted more time and energy to the Ayala School than Katherine Hills. Like many of our alumni, she took the knowledge and discipline that was developed here into a non-traditional career track for a bio major by becoming a marketing executive and expert. Katherine began her career after graduation in 1983, working as a business and marketing professional in over 40 countries before establishing Krush Creative Group, a full-service marketing, advertising, design, and event planning agency, in 2005.

It is easy to assume that running the day-to-day operations of a company would leave one with little energy for outside activities. But Katherine has devoted many hours to both the Ayala School and campus over the years. As a dedicated alum, she has served on the Dean’s Leadership Council, has been a regular Bio 3B guest speaker, is a founding member and the chair of the Ayala School Alumni Club and serves as our voting representative with the UCI Alumni Association.  

Katherine has also generously donated time and talent in the creation of the Ayala School’s website revision in 2012, as well as the design and management of several of our school centers’ web pages. In recognition of this service and dedication, she was honored with UCI Alumni Association’s Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumnus Award for the School of Biological Sciences in 2011. 
The Ayala School and the campus are fortunate to have such an outstanding volunteer and advocate. The Ayala School looks forward to its brilliant future with alums like Katherine championing our cause.
Read more.


Renowned Neurobiologist Receives Grawemeyer Award for Psychology

Professor James L. McGaugh, Neurobiology and Behavior, whose research has vastly contributed to our knowledge of the brain’s learning and memory abilities, has won the 2015 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. A research professor in neurobiology and behavior and a founding UCI faculty member, Professor McGaugh is receiving the prize for discovering that stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol are key to why we remember some things more vividly than others. Read more.


Join the Ayala School Alumni Club and become part of a worldwide network of BioAnteaters. Reconnect with old friends and support the Ayala School – all for free!

Click here to join the Ayala School Alumni Club.


Help foster the future of biology in 2015 with a gift to the Ayala School of Biological Sciences. Gifts to the Ayala School, no matter the amount, greatly impact our efforts to help students, promote research and support community outreach initiatives.

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Rebekah Le
Graduate Student
Rebekah Le, a graduate student in Professor Ken Cho’s laboratory, recently received the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award from the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Rebekah is one of ten recipients of the award for 2015, in what was a highly competitive process with 300 impressive nominations from universities across the country. Rebekah believes that having an understanding of how scientific research is carried out – and how it relates to everyday life – is a critical component to being an informed citizen. This passion has driven her growing career in teaching as well as research. Read more.


Angela Monroe
Assistant to the Dean
Angela Monroe has been at UCI for 26 years, the last 13 as Dean LaFerla’s Assistant. In her current role, Angela interfaces with many faculty, staff, community members and students on a wide variety of issues and projects. Prior to joining the Dean’s office, Angela worked in various positions on campus, including at UCI MIND and the Chancellor’s office for Chancellors Peltason, Wilkening, and Cicerone. Angela shares that her most memorable experience in the dean’s office over the last year has been learning about all the different positions and people it takes to run the Ayala School.  Angela adds that she takes great pride in UCI having achieved international and national stature during her career here and looks forward to the great things the Ayala School and UCI have in store for the future.