December 2016

Message from the Dean

It is hard to believe that 2016 is coming to a close, but the year’s end is always a great time to reflect on our accomplishments and to look forward to our goals for the next year.

In 2016, the School and campus welcomed its largest and most diverse class of students ever. The Ayala School boasts one of the best minority science programs in the country, and many of our minority science students have won recognition for their outstanding research contributions. In addition, our faculty have made important advances in areas of cancer, obesity, the microbiome, skin biology, dementia, head trauma, malaria, and the environment. I am very proud of the significant and impactful accomplishments of our hardworking and dedicated faculty. This year, we saw some of them receive recognition for their research in genetics and from prestigious organizations like the Pew Foundation and also the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 
In the upcoming year, we will work diligently to strengthen ties to our alumni, providing them with opportunities to increase their network and to ensure that the Ayala School still plays a pivotal role in their lives. I hope you all enjoy this festive time of year and I wish a healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

Biology for a Better Tomorrow

Targeting Cancer Metabolism
Using an innovative approach, Professor Aimee L. Edinger (Developmental and Cell Biology) and colleagues have discovered a new drug that starves cancer cells to death by disrupting two pathways that supply nutrients for cell growth. Their team also discovered the drug was lethal to only cancer cells and not toxic to normal dividing cells, overcoming a critical roadblock towards therapeutic use. Read more.

Recycling Greenhouse Gases
Professor Yilin Hu (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry) has been working with the enzyme nitrogenase, a key enzyme that helps regulate global nitrogen, along with methods to utilize the enzyme to help produce renewable biofuels.  Recently, Professor Hu and her team discovered that the reductase component of nitrogenase could convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO), a syngas used to produce useful biofuels and other chemical products, independent of its natural catalytic partner. Read more.

New Insight into the Evolutionary Process  
The native Hawaiian flora has the highest frequency of unique species anywhere in the world, but little is known about their interactions with other species, including potential pollinators of native plants.  In a study led by Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professors Stephen G. Weller, Ann K. Sakai, and Diane R. Campbell, they have discovered that a moth new to science is a missing component to the evolutionary mystery surrounding speciation in Schiedea, the fifth largest plant lineage in the Hawaiian Islands. Read more.

Study Quantified Global Soil Carbon Loss Due to Warming
Professors Steven D. Allison and Kathleen K. Treseder (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) were part of a Yale-led global study appearing in the journal Nature that found that global warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, or about 17 percent more than the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. Read more.

Jelly-like Pods Wash Up on Local Beaches
In late November, visitors to the shores of Huntington Beach were greeted by strange-looking jelly-like pods that had recently washed ashore. Intrigued by the pods, people began to speculate on their origin, including Professor Matthew Bracken (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), an expert in marine biology whose research seeks to understand the factors that drive species diversity in a given marine community. Read more.

Are You Drinking Too Much Caffeine?
Professor Michael Yassa (Neurobiology and Behavior) is the director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and an expert in the biology of the brain. Processor Yassa has recently commented on the effects of caffeine on the brain in a feature on the overconsumption of coffee in Prevention Magazine. While a common drink among Americans, there are potential harmful side effects to drinking too much coffee. Read more.

News and Highlights

Bio Sci Professors Receive Prestigious Recognition
Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Professors David A. Fruman and Sheryl Tsai have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, serving 10 million individuals in more than 90 countries around the globe. It is a multidisciplinary scientific society that seeks to “Advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Read more.

When It Comes to the Brain, Sex Matters

Professor Larry Cahill's (Neurobiology and Behavior) research centers on understanding sex influences on nervous system function.  Professor Cahill was selected to serve as guest editor on a first-of-its-kind themed publication titled “An Issue Whose Time Has Come: Sex/Gender Influences on Nervous System Function,” in the Journal of Neuroscience Research. Read more.

60 Minutes | The Alzheimer's Laboratory
Professor Claudia H. Kawas (Neurobiology and Behavior and Neurology), a distinguished clinician scientist, studies Alzheimer’s disease and aging in the oldest old (people over 90 years of age). Professor Kawas was prominently featured in the 60 Minutes November special on Alzheimer’s disease, titled “The Alzheimer’s Laboratory.”  In the feature, Professor Kawas talked about her past experiences as an Alzheimer’s researcher and provided insights into the importance of a new study featured in the special. Read more.

Teaching the Principles of Neurobiology
Teaching Professor Andrea C. Nicholas (Neurobiology and Behavior) is the author of a new series of online learning tutorials published by Garland.  Professor Nicholas’ tutorials will accompany a new textbook titled “Principles of Neurobiology,” by Stanford Professor Liqun Luo. The tutorials will help supplement student classroom learning with the online use of engaging stories, including important experimental and medical examples.  Read more.

A Call to Public Action on the Salton Sea
Professor Timothy J. Bradley (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and Professor David L. Feldman (from the School of Social Ecology) have recently written an opinion letter warning of the potential public health threats posed by the current legislation governing the Salton Sea.  The opinion was featured in The Sacramento Bee and focused on the environmental impact that may occur in 2018 once the sea’s major source of water is diverted. Read more.

Minority Science Programs Students Recognized for Outstanding Research
Sixteen students participating in research training with the Ayala School Minority Science Programs (MSP) received awards for their research presentations at this year’s Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), or the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference. At this year’s ABRCMS, UCI MSP students received more awards than any other participating institution. Read more.

Rose Hills Scholars
Five students from the Ayala School were named Rose Hills Foundation Undergraduate Science & Engineering Scholars for the 2016-2017 school year.  Congratulations to Mercado Mayalen, Cassidy Nguyen, Anais Panossian, Ava Pournejad, and Devan Nisson for their wonderful achievement. Read more.

Preparing the Next Generation of Educators
Graduate students Emily Abbott and Kerianne Wilson (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Dail Chapman and Heather Karner (Developmental and Cell Biology), and Matthew Mahavongtrakul and Julia Overman (Neurobiology and Behavior), have been selected as Pedagogical Fellows by the Pedagogical Fellows Program. Read more.

Special Event:
Practical Neuroscience for Everyday Life


Happy Holidays from the Ayala School!


Eminent Psychologists of the Modern Era

Professor James L. McGaugh (Neurobiology and Behavior), has been named one of the most eminent psychologist of the modern era.  In a list published by The American Psychological Association, Professor McGaugh was ranked 42nd out of 200 prominent psychologist selected from the past 75 years. Read more.


Jennifer B. H. Martiny

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Professor Jennifer B.H. Martiny has spent her career at UCI uncovering the mysteries of the microbial world beneath us, and sometimes within us.  Her lab studies microbial diversity (which includes viruses, bacteria, and fungi) in terrestrial and marine ecosystems and recently, the human gut. Read more.


Christine Liu
Immunology and Microbiology
Christine Liu is a third year student at the Ayala School majoring in Immunology and Microbiology, with a minor in Film and Media Studies from the School of Humanities. Christine is exceling in her studies at the School and has plans to pursue a career in medicine following graduation. Read more.


Owen Shimizu

Staff Research Associate

UCI alumnus Owen Shimizu is a Staff Research Associate for the Ayala School.  Owen began working with the School as a Lab Assistant in 1995, after graduating with a B.S. in 1994. While working as a Lab Assistant, Owen continued his studies at UCI and obtained a second B.S. in Psychology from the School of Social Sciences. Owen’s current duties involve working with professors and teaching assistants to develop and sustain undergraduate teaching labs. Read more.


Charles C. Greene, M.D., Ph.D. 

Class of '84

Charles C. Greene M.D. Ph.D., has been recognized as a 2016 Health Care Hero by the Jacksonville Business Journal.  Dr. Greene received his B.S. from the Ayala School of Biological Sciences in 1984 and then went on to pursue a career as an otolaryngology head and neck surgeon. Read more.


UC Irvine Distinguished Lecture Series on Brain, Learning and Memory
What can we learn from the sleeping brain?
  • Tuesday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. featuring Ruth Benca, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, in the Irvine Barclay Theater. Register here.

Dean's Distinguished Lecture featuring Professor Claudia Kawas
  • Tuesday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m. featuring Claudia Kawas, M.D.,  Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology and Behavior, in the Crystal Cove Auditorium - UCI Student Center. Register here.

Donuts with the Dean

At this year’s freshman welcome, Dean Frank M. LaFerla invited incoming students to join their peers at the fall quarter “Donuts with the Dean” event in the foyer of the Office of the Dean in Natural Sciences II.  Donuts with the Dean has rapidly become a popular vehicle for students to meet and engage with the dean, school faculty and special guests. Read more.