Jeffrey Barrick

Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Barrick is broadly interested in understanding evolution as a creative force. His lab uses experiments with populations of bacteria, biomolecules, and digital organisms to study the fundamental constraints and opportunities common to evolving systems. They formulate and test new biological organizing principles from a systems perspective that integrates ecology, population genetics, genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and computer science. Learn more

Karen Browning

Professor - Molecular Biosciences

Mechanism And Regulation Of Eukaryotic Protein Synthesis

We are seeking a molecular description of the process in which initiation factors (eIF4A, eIF4B, eIF4F, eIF3, eIF2 and PABP) select, prepare and bind messenger RNA to the 40S ribosome. Plants have a unique second form of eIF4F (eIFiso4F), and we are using a variety of methods (genetic knockouts, gene silencing, DNA arrays, etc.) to discover the function of this novel initiation factor. We are also interested in the features of messenger RNAs that make some messenger RNAs translate more efficiently than others and why plants need two forms of eIF4F.   We are using a variety of techniques to study the interactions of initiation factors with each other and with messenger RNAs (expression of cloned factors, site-directed mutagenesis, crystallography, yeast three-hybrid system, fluorescence, etc.). From our studies we hope to gain a better understanding of the protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions that must occur for successful initiation of translation of a specific messenger RNA to occur.

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Bryan Davies

Assistant Professor, Molecular Biosciences

Pathogenic bacteria make news headlines daily. From hospital outbreaks, to tainted food and water sources, to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, we are constantly aware of the impact these microbes have on our health and well-being. The Davies lab aims to understand the molecular mechanisms used by pathogenic bacteria to cause disease and to exploit this knowledge for the development of preventative and therapeutic options.

The Davies lab is currently focused on three areas of research:

  • The molecular mechanisms that allow pathogenic bacteria to persist and spread to new patients in hospitals.
  • Control and mobility of genetic elements that spread antibiotic resistance and virulence factors.
  • Development of high-throughput methods for antimicrobial discovery and development.
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Andrew Ellington

Associate Director

Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry

His research focuses on using evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers and cells. Researchers in the Ellington lab select binding species (aptamers) and ribozymes from random sequence populations in order to apply the selected species to solve real-world problems. For example, his lab has selected aptamers that can interact tightly and specifically with the Rev protein of HIV-1 in attempts to block viral replication. Similarly, they have selected ribozymes that can be allosterically activated by a variety of effectors, including proteins, and are using these ribozymes to design and build biosensors that may be useful in diagnosing disease. Learn more

Ilya Finkelstein

Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Genomic DNA acts as the blueprint for life and all organisms have evolved complex protein machines that faithfully maintain our genetic material. Genomic instability, which arises from defects in these proteins, is a defining feature of most cancers. Elucidating the mechanisms of DNA maintenance is therefore fundamental to the understanding of the molecular basis of many cancer types.

The Finkelstein research program provides an interdisciplinary approach combining aspects of single-molecule biophysics, molecular biology and micro-/nano-scale engineering to understand how organisms are able to maintain their genomic integrity. To increase understanding of this essential problem, the Finkelstein team develops new techniques that allow for the direct observation, in real time, of key biochemical reactions as they occur on DNA.

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Vishwanath Iyer


Professor in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Nearly all cells respond to physiological or developmental cues by large-scale transcriptional reprogramming – altering the expression of hundreds to thousands of genes throughout the genome. Such sweeping changes in gene expression also underlie the development of diseases such as cancer, and they can also be caused by normal or abnormal genetic variation between individuals. The Iyer lab is interested in understanding how gene expression is regulated across a eukaryotic genome. They focus on gene expression at the level of transcription, but are also interested in post-transcriptional regulation mediated by miRNAs.

The Iyer group works in human cells and also uses yeast as a model system to address various questions regarding global gene regulation. They use genomic and molecular experimental methods coupled with computational analyses. The genomic methods involve extensive use of DNA microarrays and next-generation sequencing (Illumina, SOLiD). Some major lines of research in the lab are as follows: i) Transcriptional regulatory networks in yeast; ii) Role of chromatin in gene regulation; iii) Regulatory networks in human cell proliferation; iv) Regulation and function of miRNAs during proliferation; and v) The ENCODE Project.

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Edward Marcotte


The Marcotte group studies the large-scale organization of proteins, essentially trying to reconstruct the ‘wiring diagrams’ of cells by learning how all of the proteins encoded by a genome are associated into functional pathways, systems, and networks. Such models let us better define the functions of genes, and to link genes to traits and diseases, as we have shown for a variety of developmental processes including angiogenesis, neural crest, and neural tube development. The research is evenly split between experimental and computational approaches, with the former tending to be high-throughput functional genomics and proteomics approaches for studying thousands of genes/proteins in parallel, including mass spectrometry and automated fluorescence microscopy.

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Andreas Matouschek

Professor in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Andreas earned his first degree in biology at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and then later a Ph.D. with Alan Fersht in the chemistry department of the University of Cambridge. Following graduation, he did a postdoc with Jeff Schatz at the Biocenter of the University of Basel before moving to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL for a position as an Assistant Professor. Andreas’ graduate research investigated the mechanism of protein folding in vitro and his postdoctoral work studied protein import into and folding in mitochondria. Andreas’ own lab currently investigates more complex biological processes, like the Ubiquitin Proteasome System, in order to understand simple enzymatic reactions in mechanistic detail. The goal is to reveal novel principles of cellular regulation and allow for the engineering of new cellular functions.

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Howard Ochman

Professor - Department of Integrative Biology

Ochman was originally trained as a population geneticist at the University of Rochester, where he received his Ph.D. in 1984. Technical advances in molecular biology prompted his switch to studying the organization and evolution of bacterial genomes and for the past three decades he has been investigating molecular evolution and the diversity of interactions among microbes. After a postdoctoral stint in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, he worked as a research scientist on the Human Genome Project and in 1987 moved to Washington University to study the evolution of bacterial pathogenesis. Prior to joining the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin, Ochman held faculty appointments at the University of Rochester (1991-1998), the University of Arizona (1998-2010), and Yale University (2010-2013).

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Chris Sullivan

Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

The discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) and small regulatory RNAs such as siRNAs and miRNAs, has dramatically changed our understanding of the regulation of gene expression. Consequently, RNAi has generated much excitement due to its regulatory and therapeutic potential. The Sullivan lab’s research focuses on understanding the interaction of viruses with the RNAi machinery in mammalian cells. So far research has shown that members of two different DNA tumor virus families encode microRNAs; likely to aid in their own replication and to promote infectivity. Members of the Polyoma virus family induce tumors in model organisms and at least one member (MCV) is associated with human tumors. Kaposi’s Sarcoma associated Herpes Virus (KSHV) promotes highly vascularized skin lesions and rare B cell lymphomas, predominantly in immunosuppresed AIDS patients. The lab’s goals are several-fold: (1) to understand the functions of viral and host encoded microRNAs and how they contribute to viral lifecycle, pathogenesis and tumorigenesis, (2) to identify novel interactions of mammalian viruses with the host RNAi machinery, (3) to uncover new mechanisms of gene regulation utilized by tumor viruses, and (4) to use viruses as “molecular divining rods” to probe for news classes host defense pathways.

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John Wallingford

Associate Professor in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology

The process by which embryos acquire their final shape involves the coordination of cell fate decisions with cell movement. The Wallingford lab takes an integrated approach to understanding this process in chordate embryos. They combine molecular manipulations, time-lapse imaging, bioinformatics and even old-fashioned cut & paste embryology to investigate molecular signaling, individual cell behavior, and tissue rearrangement. By considering all of these components and how they affect the final body plan, the Wallingford group hopes to build a comprehensive picture of early embryonic morphogenesis.

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