Message from the Dean

This is an exciting time to study biology, and with our world-class faculty, UCI is indeed one of the best places to do so.  UCI is also fortunate to be located in Orange County— one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial environments in the world.  The Ayala School prides itself on the special opportunities to partner with the local community, and a critical way that we do is through our outreach efforts. These public forums help inform the public about critical biological issues related to the environment, energy, disease or basic research - issues that are discussed daily on the nightly news.
This monthly we are particularly honored to welcome two groundbreaking professors to speak at our Dean’s Distinguished Lectures. First, our own Professor Susan V. Bryant, a research pioneer in stem cells and regeneration will discuss the growing field on March 5. Then, Professor John O’Keefe, one of the co-recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, will speak about his pioneering research describing how our brains generate a map of space and how this information is used to navigate our world, on March 30.

News and Highlights

"What Matters to Me and Why" Features Professor
Donald Bren Professor Arthur D. Lander, Developmental and Cell Biology, was recently asked to speak at the “What Matters to Me and Why” lunchtime series. Professor Lander, a recognized leader in the emerging field of systems biology, spoke about his passion for research and science, starting with his early life. He credits his mother with instilling the view that “It’s our job to fix the world” and driving an appreciation for music as well as science. Read more

Congratulations to our Rose Hill Scholarship Recipients
Five undergraduates in the Ayala School received scholarships from The Rose Hills Foundation, part of $700,000 that UC Irvine undergraduates received to support students in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) pursuits. Congratulations to our outstanding Ayala School undergraduates: Nujhat Ali, Marina Germanos, Melissa Huang, Catherine Ly, and Victor Quach. Each year for the next four years, The Rose Hills Foundation Undergraduate Science & Engineering Scholarships will assist 18 high-achieving undergraduates. Read more.

Scientists Learn How to Activate to Captivate
Ayala School Professors Peter J. Donovan (Developmental and Cell Biology and Biological Chemistry) and Leslie M. Thompson (Neurobiology and Behavior and Psychiatry and Human Behavior) together with colleague Professor Ping H. Wang (Medicine) recently launched a workshop to provide presentation and public speaking guidance and training for graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty. The “Workshop Series for the Evolving Scientist,” included several sessions for trainees on the Fundamentals of Public Speaking and Presentation Skills and a designated workshop on Interpersonal Communications Skills. The training was the first of its kind for this specific demographic of fellows. Read more.

Pre-Pharmacy Day Draws Undergraduates
More than 250 undergraduate students recently attended the Ayala School of Biological Sciences’ Second Annual Pre-Pharmacy Day with the Pre-Pharmacy Society student organization. More than 350 UCI students and alumni apply annually to pharmacy programs throughout the nation. UCI is within the top three schools nationally to have the most Pharmacy College Application Service Pharmacy school applicants with an acceptance of 65 percent or greater. Read more.

Advancing Graduate Students’ Education and Research
Several Ayala School graduate students recently received awards or fellowships to further their education and research opportunities. Natalie Goldberg, a graduate student in Professor Matthew Blurton-Jones’ laboratory, Neurobiology and Behavior, received a Chapter Award to attend the Society for Neuroscience Conference in November 2014. Additionally, two Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate students received fellowships to further their education at UCI. Kristin Matulich, graduate student in Professor Jennifer Martiny’s laboratory and Grant Rutledge, graduate student in Professor Michael R. Rose’s laboratory, each received a Brython Davis Fellowship for $10,000. The funds for the fellowships were donated to the University of California in 1967 from the Brython Parry Davis Trust to provide financial support for children of U.S. Navy and Marine Veterans. 

Research in the News

$4.5 Million in Grants Awarded to Ayala School Professor and Collaborators
Professor Christopher C. Hughes, Chair of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and colleagues at University of California, San Francisco and University of California, San Diego, were recently awarded two collaborative grants from the National Institutes of Health. The first grant is a total award of $3.9 million over five years to develop a pancreas biomimetic that will model pancreas function. Combining stem cell-derived pancreatic beta cells and a vascularized micro-organ system developed by Professor Hughes and colleagues, the team will create a pancreas-on-a-chip that can be used for exploring the molecular mechanisms of diabetes as well as for developing new drugs. Read more.

Grant to Advance Study of Brain Immune Cells’ Role in Alzheimer’s Disease
Professor Matthew Blurton-Jones, Neurobiology and Behavior, will receive $1.15 million to improve the ability to generate and study microglia from human pluripotent stem cells. Microglia serve as the primary immune cells within the brain and are strongly implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and many other brain disorders. Yet until recently, scientists have been unable to produce microglia from human stem cells. Building upon promising new results, Professor Blurton-Jones will use the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine funding to generate human pluripotent stem cells with special “reporter” genes that make the cells glow as they become microglia. Read more.

Battle in Florida Keys Over Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes
Florida Keys residents are facing a proposal to release the nation’s first genetically-modified mosquitoes into their community. The mosquitos are hatched in a lab and pumped with synthetic DNA to try to combat two painful, mosquito-borne viral diseases: dengue and chikungunya. While residents are suspicious of this proposed “experiment,” Distinguished Professor Anthony A. James, Molecular Biology and Behavior and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, feels the danger is minimal. Read more.
Hidden Gene Gives Hope for Improving Brain Function
A new study has found the mechanism a novel gene uses to affect brain function and elicit behavior related to neuropsychiatric disease. Scientists led by Professor Timothy W. Bredy, Neurobiology and Behavior, with colleagues at The University of Queensland and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, discovered that a gene called Gomafu might be key to understanding how our brain rapidly responds to stressful experiences. By looking across the entire genome for genes that are responsive to experience, they found this particular gene, which has recently been associated with schizophrenia, is dynamically regulated in the adult brain. Read more.

Cracking the Alzheimer’s Code
Scientists are creating new treatments in hopes to find new ways to prevent, stop, and slow Alzheimer’s disease. Through collaborative research and technological advances, researchers and scientists have been able study possible causes to the progressive disease and have been able to associate 21 genes to Alzheimer's and how these genes are playing a role in the neurological behavior in patients. Clinical trials are underway to find new preventative drugs and treatments. In Discover Magazine, Hana and Francisco J. Ayala Dean Frank M. LaFerla shares his expertise on the subject. Read more.

Community Spotlight

Anna Walsh, Class of 1981
Anna Walsh joined the Ayala School in 1976 as an undergraduate. With wide-eyed enthusiasm and excitement, she dedicated herself to the rigorous core curriculum and research program and quickly gained creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills that would last a lifetime. 

As an undergraduate, Anna actively participated in both laboratory and medical research through the Bio Sci 199 Research Program, which gave her the opportunity to work with pioneering professors in biological and medical sciences. “This was the game changer for me!” shared Anna. Read more.



Federal support for university research is significant, but it's been declining for years in real dollars. The current budget environment makes such funding even more precarious. Help the Ayala School’s researchers and students continue to seek new and novel approaches to solve societal problems, both big and small. 

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Bio Sci
Student Council
The Ayala School’s Bio Sci Student Council (BSC) was founded in 2012 as a leadership organization charged with unifying the School’s members, working actively to represent student needs to administration, and otherwise improving the experiences for our undergraduates, both academically and socially. This year, BSC has made it its mission to increase its visibility as a resource among Ayala School students.
“We want students to know our organization exists to help them and therefore we strive to offer impactful events, significant guidance, aid and support,” shared Matt Tsai, a second-year biological sciences major and BSC Vice President of Academics. “If our work can make a significant impact in another students’ life, and perhaps contribute to his or her future success, then it’s worth doing.” Read more.


Larry Herman
Academic Coordinator

Larry R. Herman has been at the Ayala School since 1965, starting as a student and part of the first graduating class. Larry has served the Ayala School for nearly 50 years, starting in the lab of Dr. Grover Stephens and eventually rising to the position of Academic Coordinator, involved with undergraduate teaching laboratories.

“The thing I enjoy most at UCI is the intellectual environment on campus,” shares Larry. “Where else can you interact with people on the leading edge of research for practically any topic?”

Larry shares that the most rewarding aspect of his job is the interaction with students mentoring them through their career and challenges. He shares that while he takes his job very seriously, he also tries to incorporate a sense of humor into everything. Read more


Dean's Distinguished Lectures
Allergan Lecture in Modern Biology