May 2015   

Message from the Dean

Graduation is around the corner and this year, we are proud to announce that Greg Louganis will give the keynote address at our 2015 Ayala School of Biological Sciences Commencement on June 14.

Greg Louganis is a UCI alumnus and one of the greatest divers in history. He is an inspiration to millions of Americans because of his resiliency as an Olympic Gold medalist and advocacy for HIV awareness as a worldwide health issue.

You can read more about our announcement here. Learn more about our upcoming events and lectures by visiting our events calendar at

News and Highlights

Ayala School Graduate Student Wins First UCOP Competition for Graduate Students
Ayala School graduate student Ashley Fong, in Professor and Chair Christopher Hughes’ lab, won first place in the first-ever University of California Grad Slam. In just three minutes, she succinctly explained her complex stem cell research in her talk titled, “Stem Cells: How to Mend a Broken Heart,” such that the general public could understand her research. Her work focuses on the heart microenvironment and how that affects stem cell-derived heart muscle cell growth. Read more.

Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Education
Congratulations to this year’s Celebration of Teaching Award Recipients from the Ayala School. Professor Rahul Warrior, Developmental and Cell Biology, was awarded School Honoree. Additionally, several mentor teaching assistants from the Ayala School were recognized: LuAnna Dobson, Kate Gallagher, and Lauren Javier. Recipients for the 2015 Celebration of Teaching Award recipients were competitively selected by the Academic Senate Council on Student Experience based on nominations from faculty and students. Read more. 

Congratulations to our Graduate Student Awards Winners
Several Ayala School graduate students recently received research awards. Rachel Cinco, graduate student in Developmental and Cell Biology, recently received the F31 Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award in Diversity. Additionally, Neurobiology and Behavior graduate students Andre White (in Professor Marcelo A. Wood’s lab) and Minhan Dinh (in Professor Karina S. Cramer’s lab) have been selected the 2015-2016 Pedagogical Fellows Program sponsored through UCI Teaching, Learning and Technology Center. 

Regional Biology Laboratory Education Leadership Meeting
The Ayala School recently hosted a regional Association of Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) meeting.  The mission of ABLE is to disseminate novel laboratory modules, to improve biology education internationally. This one-day event was organized and hosted by a number of our Lecturers in the school, including Brian Sato (MBB), Pavan Kadandale (MBB), Justin Shaffer (DCB), Debra Mauzy-Melitz (DCB), Nancy Aguilar-Roca (EEB), and Andrea Nicholas (NBB). Read more.

Ayala School Alumni is a Current White House Intern
Christina Phan is a recent alumnae of the Ayala School and her career is already off to a tremendous start. A 2014 graduate with her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in under three years and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction, Christina recently began an internship at the White House. “The White House Internship Program provides me with a unique opportunity to gain valuable professional experience and build leadership skills,” shared Christina. Read more. 

Inaugural Global Sustainability Poster Session 
Dr. Jessica Pratt, Lecturer PSOE in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, held the first-ever Global Sustainability Poster Session in Founder’s Court last month. The event attracted numerous attendees across campus including undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty, administrative staff, and sustainability leaders. "This poster session was an innovative way to get students to fulfill one of our course objectives," shared Dr. Pratt. Read more. 
Brain Imaging Featured at Allergan Lecture in Modern Biology
The Ayala School hosted the 28th Allergan Lecture in Modern Biology in April featuring renowned neuroimaging expert Arthur W. Toga, Ph.D. A packed auditorium listened to Professor Toga, the Director of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at USC, who spoke about mapping brain structure and function, and how he's applied strategies in those fields to future treatments for a variety of neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders. 

Students Recognized at Donuts with the Dean
The Ayala School hosted the inaugural Donuts with the Dean event in April for undergraduate students. "This was a great opportunity for the School to recognize our students in an intimate environment and learn about their future plans," said Dean Frank LaFerla. The School plans on hosting future sessions so others have an opportunity to participate. See the photo gallery of images here.

Research in the News

Fish Oil May Affect Brain Development 
In a recent study in The Journal of Neuroscience, UCI neurobiologists led by Professor Susana Cohen-Cory, Neurobiology and Behavior, reported that dietary deficiencies in the type of fatty acids found in fish and other foods can limit brain growth during fetal development and early in life. The findings suggest that women maintain a balanced diet rich in these fatty acids for themselves during pregnancy and for their babies after birth. Read more.

Heading off Concussions 
As a result of ongoing probes into the short- and long-term effects of concussions in football, other sports are looking into whether additional steps can be taken to protect their athletes. Professor James W. Hicks, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Director of UCI’s Exercise Medicine & Sport Sciences Initiative, is leading a novel probe of impact injuries in water polo.  Read more.

Genetic Chain Reaction Sets Off Scientific Debate
Distinguished Professor Anthony A. James, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, was recently featured in a KPBS news article. Professor James weighed in on how a newfound research will be able to relieve mosquito-borne malaria. James has already discovered ways to make mosquitos incapable of transmitting malaria by altering their genes. The problem is, he can't go around modifying every mosquito in the world by hand. "What we need then is something that would move these genes into field insects, or wild mosquitos," he said. Read more

The Best Brain Exercise Might Be Physical
Professor Carl W. Cotman, Neurobiology and Behavior and Neurology, and his team have produced research showing that in older rodents, exercise increases the number of synapses and also stimulates the brain to develop more neurons in the hippocampus, which he calls "a critical region in learning and memory formation and a target of massive decline in Alzheimer's disease." Read more about his study and recent work in the Chicago Tribune article here.

Community Spotlight

Joanna Gerry, Class of 1995

Ayala School Alumna Joanna Gerry is currently involved in assuring that pharmaceutical and device employers are complying with global standards, regulations, clinical trials, and drug development. She is responsible for performing audits all over the world, as well as working on projects designed to ensure companies are vigilant about their products’ global safety.

As an undergraduate, Gerry was able to study abroad in Granada, Spain, write for the New University, participate in the on-campus Christian group “CRU”, volunteer with the American Diabetes Association, and create her own research opportunities within the UCI Medical Center’s Genetic Counseling department. Read more



Calling all Bio students! Send us your selfie representing the Ayala School with pride in a lab, out with friends, where you study, etc. and you could be featured in our next newsletter! Send photos to or tag the Ayala School page on Facebook #ayalaschool.


Find out how you can help other students today by contacting Andrew DiNuzzo at or visiting Make a gift to the Ayala School here.


Professor Ron D. Frostig, Neurobiology and Behavior, received a $6 million grant from the Leducq Foundation to study various aspects and mechanisms underlying sensory-based protection of ischemic stroke that his lab discovered. Read more.

Professor Carl W. Cotman, Neurobiology and Behaviorreceived the Clinical Translational Scientist Career Achievement Award from The Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

Professor Steven P. Gross, Developmental and Cell Biology, received the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) award.

Dr. Aaron Wilber, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Professor Bruce McNaughton’s lab, Neurobiology and Behavior, received the Notice of Grant Award (NGA) for his K99.

Professor Raju Metherate, Neurobiology and Behavior, received the Notice of Grant Award (NGA) for the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Hearing Research grant renewal.

Professor Michael A. Yassa, Neurobiology and Behavior, was nominated by student members of the National Society of Leadership and Success to receive their Excellence in Teaching award, a recognition granted to faculty who have positively influenced students through their extraordinary skill in teaching. 


Drake Dinh
Ayala School Senior
Drake Dinh is a fourth-year Biological Sciences major, specializing in Pharmacology. Coming from a low-income family, Drake was uncertain if he would have the means to attend a four-year university. However, thanks to scholarship support, his dream was made possible. Read more.


Robyn Stiffler
Director of Building Management    
Robyn Stiffler is the Director of Building Management at the Ayala School. She has worked for the School the past 12 years, eight in her current role.  Robyn is responsible for all aspects of building operations management, which include approximately one million square feet, maintaining space inventory and implementing construction and renovations projects. Read more.