April 2015   

Message from the Dean

As the last quarter of the 2014-15 school year approaches, I want to reflect on some of the strides we’ve made in student engagement. Students are at the heart of our mission here at UCI and I believe that the Dean should keep an open door with our student body to facilitate dialogue. Over the past year, I’ve been meeting regularly with the Bio Sci Student Council to discuss students’ needs, which led to my office hosting an undergraduate career panel to educate students on professional career choices they may consider after graduation. I also see an opportunity for the school to recognize the excellence of our undergraduates, so we will host an upcoming event to honor our top graduating seniors.

Next month, our alumni will be receiving a letter in the mail featuring one of our graduating seniors. His story echoes exactly what the Ayala School of Biological Sciences represents and why your participation is imperative.

Our accomplishments at the Ayala School are credited to the philanthropic support of our most loyal alumni and benefactors therefore, we plan on launching a special program to recognize their dedication. Impressively, some of our constituents have been supporting the School for 39 years. It is because of the generosity and commitment of our great donors that we are able to implement innovative new research and provide scholarship support to our undergraduate and graduate students. Philanthropic gifts also enable the School to educate the local community about pertinent issues in biology like health and disease, environmental and energy matters, and food production.

As you will observe in the letter, your gift of any amount can make a profound difference. Thank you for considering these important efforts.

News and Highlights

New Ocean Research and Education Initiative
UC Irvine is set to embark on one of its boldest experiments yet: a brand-new research and education initiative called UCI OCEANS (Oceans, Changing Environments, Arts and Nearshore Societies). “People really love the ocean,” said Professor Adam Martiny, (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Earth System Science), who specializes in ocean plankton and who will lead the initiative. “The UCI OCEANS committee shares this love of the ocean and feels like there are so many things we could do together.” Read more.

Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Gets Renewed
UCI's Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (MIND) received a prestigious renewal designation as one of 27 Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers in the nation by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The renewal designation for UCI’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), a major center grant as a part of UCI MIND, means the NIH will fund the center for another five years of Alzheimer’s disease research and education. Read more.

Ayala School Alumni Share Experiences with Undergraduates
In March, seven distinguished Ayala School Alumni spoke with our undergraduates at an Alumni Panel Presentation. Sponsored by the Bio Sci Student Council, each alumnus shared their undergraduate journey and spoke to students about the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. Speakers also emphasized how their education at UCI was such a critical foundation for their successful careers. Read more.

Six Minority Science Program Students Awarded at AAAS National Meeting
Six undergraduate students participating in the Ayala School of Biological Sciences Minority Science Programs received awards for their research presentations at the poster competition of the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting. AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society and their poster competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students from domestic and international institutions. Their awards will be recognized in an upcoming issue of Science. Read more.
Regeneration and Pattern of Stem Cells Featured at Dean’s Distinguished Lecture
A crowd of nearly 400 attended the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on "Regeneration – Pattern – Stem Cells” featuring Professor Susan V. Bryant, Developmental and Cell Biology and former Dean of the Ayala School. Professor Bryant’s lecture discussed how cells behave in response to injury and can regenerate lost body parts. She and her research team have been able to identify many common features of development and regeneration in animals and have discovered signals that trigger regeneration response in salamanders. Read more.

Nobel Laureate Featured at Dean's Distinguished Lecture
Nearly 300 community members, alumni, UCI faculty and staff attended the special Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on March 30 featuring Nobel Laureate John O’Keefe, Ph.D., University College London. Dr. O’Keefe, who was awarded half of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, spoke about his Nobel-winning, pioneering research characterizing how the brain creates a map of the space surrounding us and how this map can be used to navigate complex environments. Read more

National Science Foundation Awards 17 Ayala School Graduate Students
Seven Ayala School graduate students received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) Awards and ten graduate students received honorable mentions. NSF GRFP is a program that recognizes and supports graduate students who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees in areas such as science, technology, engineering, and math at accredited U.S. institutions. Congratulations to our NSF GRFP Awardees: Jaleal Salah Sanjak, Kirstie Jay Salinas, Susan Gil, Caitlin Erika Askew, Jorge Bustamante, Bryan James Boubion, Sahlin Nelson. Read more.

Research in the News

Study Sheds Light on Tissue and Organ Size
How tissue and organ sizes are specified is one of the great unsolved mysteries in biology. Recently, Donald Bren Professor Arthur D. Lander, Developmental and Cell Biology, conducted research that sheds some light on how tissue and organ size are controlled. Working together with engineers Genti Buzi and Mustafa Khammash from Switzerland, Professor Lander modeled the effects of various kinds of disturbances on the behaviors of stem cell lineages. Read more.

The Missing Link: Pollination Biology in a Remote Island Ecosystem
The Hawaiian Islands have long been known as a hot spot for evolution and more recently, as one of the extinction capitals of the world. Professors Ann K. Sakai and Stephen G. Weller, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, used Schiedea, a Hawaiian plant group that has undergone a spectacular adaptive radiation, as a model system to understand the evolutionary processes involved in speciation of organisms. Read more
Same Chromosome Interactions May be More Involved with Shaping Gene Clusters During Evolution 
Despite a century of research with chromosomes, the organization of genes at the chromosomal level is still puzzling. One of the organizational aspects of chromosomes that remains poorly understood, is the formation of functionally related gene clusters. Recently, Professor José M. Ranz, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and colleagues studied a specific gene group to learn whether genes generated by tandem duplications that became separated by initial chromosomal rearrangements, could be reunited later via additional chromosomal rearrangements. Read more.
Expert Weighs in on Chemical Links to Health Problems
Recent studies on how hormone-disrupting chemicals are being linked to serious health problems, have gained the attention of several national publications. National Geographic highlighted a series of recent studies which found that exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone. One of the studies features Professor Bruce Blumberg, Developmental and Cell Biology, who co-authored a paper that examines the links between hormone disrupting chemicals and obesity and type 2 diabetes. Read more.

Salton Sea Initiative Team Visits Borrego Spring Students
Professor Timothy J. Bradley, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and team members from the Salton Sea Initiative, traveled to the Borrego Springs Schools to meet with approximately 30 high school students in February. As a part of outreach efforts for the Salton Sea Initiative, Professor Bradley and colleagues provided expertise and mentorship to them about their science fair projects, helping them with questions and concerns. Read more

UC Irvine and Fellow Chemists Find Way to Unboil Eggs
UC Irvine and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites - an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published recently in ChemBioChem. Professor Gregory A. Weiss, Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and undergraduate chemistry major Stephan Kudlacek, led the study, which has become an internet sensation. Read more.

The Language of Viruses
Professor Luis. P. Villarreal, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, was recently featured in a Huffington Post Science article, discussing his career and views on viruses. Notably, Professor Villarreal discussed his recent New York Academy of Sciences paper and stated that he considers viruses active organisms that are not only the biggest component of the biomass but comprise 10 percent of the human genome. Read more.

Being Social Makes a Better Brain
In honor of Brain Awareness Week (March 16-22), articles and blogs have been dedicated to tips and tricks, like sleep, a nutritious diet, and physical exercise, for optimal brain health.  In a recent article, Professor Claudia H. Kawas, Neurology and Neurobiology and Behavior was asked to provide her expertise on what social interactions can do for the brain. "There is quite a bit of evidence now suggesting that the more people you have contact with, in your own home or outside, the better you do,” states Professor Kawas. Read more.

Community Spotlight

Jasmine Jefferson, Class of 1998
Ayala School alumnae Jasmine Jefferson will never forget her undergraduate animal physiology research. “Have you ever thought about how hard it is to train a Savannah monitor lizard to run on a treadmill?” she joked. “It actually isn’t too hard, but they do need motivation in the form of a finger gently poking them.”
Jasmine came to UCI after researching the course offerings and the frequency of core courses for the biological sciences major. Read more



We are so grateful that the Victor and Virginia Voth Foundation has funded a planned five-year graduate research team and project that will be overseen by the Ayala School Center for Environmental Biology.  Their generous support is instrumental in maintaining excellence in research and education at the Ayala School and will ultimately lead to more knowledgeable approaches to how we conserve and steward our native landscapes.

Find out how you can help other students today by contacting Andrew DiNuzzo at or visiting

Click here to make a gift to the Ayala School.


Professor Leslie M. Thompson,
Neurobiology and Behavior, Psychiatry and Human Behavior and with the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, was awarded $5 million by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to continue her CIRM-funded effort to develop stem cell treatments for Huntington’s disease. Read more.

University Professor and Donald Bren Professor, Francisco J. Ayala, recently spoke at the Orange County chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Read more.


Brittany Keiser
Ayala School Senior
Brittany Keiser is a fourth year undergraduate in the Ayala School, double majoring in Genetics and Psychology and Social Behavior. She is currently in the process of starting a genetic counseling organization on campus, working alongside UCLA’s genetic counseling organization and the UCI medical center. This organization will be aimed towards educating students from a variety of majors about the field of genetic counseling as well as providing students with resources and experience to be involved in the field. Brittany is hopeful that the group organization will run this Spring Quarter 2015.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give to entering students is to get involved,” shared Brittany. “You will hear it throughout your entire time at UCI, but it truly is the best thing you can do. The connections you make here will carry you throughout your college career and into your future.” Read more.


Andrew DiNuzzo
Senior Director, Development

Andrew DiNuzzo joined the Ayala School four years ago. In his role as Senior Director of Development, his primary responsibilities include engaging our external constituents –  alumni, parents, volunteers, and benefactors– and promoting the research and education mission of the School. 

Andrew has helped our donors connect with over $8 million in philanthropic funding options to support scholarships, research programs, and student services.  This support is vital and allows the Ayala School to remain competitive among peer institutions and influential in the global scientific community.

Andrew shares that he thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to be exposed to cutting edge research in not only the sciences, but in all areas of human interest. Read more.