Message from the Department Head – 2023
Big ideas and the drive to understand the world around us motivate research endeavors. In this issue of the newsletter, we introduce you to several of the big ideas pursued by departmental faculty and their students. You will read about recent findings from some of the groups within the research breadth housed in the department. Basic research paves the way for discoveries that could become solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Some of BCMB’s researchers’ big ideas that you will read about in this newsletter address the most challenging issues of our times: human health and crop resilience and productivity to meet growing demands for food in a changing climate. I trust reading about ongoing research in BCMB will inspire you to connect with us and share your own big ideas.
Associate Professor Barrera and his research team have made recent progress deciphering the molecular mechanisms of a virulence factor produced by the fungal pathogen Candida albicans, a peptide aptly named candidalysin. Using single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, a powerful approach to decipher molecular dynamics in biological macromolecules, Assistant Professor Lamichhane’s laboratory is continuing to break barriers in our understanding of molecular mechanisms of GPCR receptors, including understudied representative members of this large group of proteins that are prime pharmaceutical drug targets. Our newly recruited Assistant Professor Sarah Shelby is also using super-resolution microscopy to address lipid-membrane receptors interactions in receptors of the immune system, with this research having broad and potentially transformative applications to human health and the development of new therapies. One example of such application that you will read about below is regarding her plans to characterize Chimeric Antigen Receptors, or CARs, that are considered promising in cancer immunotherapies applications.
Food is a prerequisite to human health: basic plant biology research can’t be unentangled from human welfare. In this newsletter, you will read about recent findings in Professor Binder’s laboratory and his team that highlight how a plant hormone ethylene, may modulate plant resilience to stress. I also invite you to read about Professor Shpak’s laboratory research that uncovers fundamental mechanisms of plant development that could be used to enhance plant productivity, including fruit production.
I believe that there are no big ideas or research leadership outside of a demonstrated commitment to training the next generation of students, whether they become scientists or not. In this newsletter, you will read about the talented next generation of scientists BCMB is helping train. These include graduate students Morgan House and Logan Dunn, as well as the amazing Amie Sankoh, the first Deaf Black woman to earn a STEM doctorate and graduate from BCMB.
Last but certainly not least, I want to recognize my colleague and predecessor, Professor Emeritus Dan Roberts, who officially retired from UT and BCMB in December 2022 after over 35 years of outstanding service, including as a department head for 2013-2018. I hope you enjoy reading about Dan’s new hobbies and get in touch with any story you would like to share with us.
As always: please, keep in touch!
Gladys Alexandre, Professor and Head