Faculty Research

Faculty in PREP@UCD span the breadth of research in biomedical science.  All run active research programs, as demonstrated by major funding, and have outstanding records of mentorship of graduate students and undergraduate students who have advanced to graduate education.


Research in the John Albeck lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms of information flow in signal transduction networks controlling cell growth, survival, and metabolism. Albeck combines computational models with live cell data to identify temporal signaling programs that drive cell behaviors. This knowledge can be used to improve the results of therapeutic interventions in cancer and other diseases by predicting the cellular responses to signaling inhibitors.
Javier Arsuaga seeks to understand the three dimensional organization of the genome in different organisms. Specific areas of focus include breast cancer, organization of the mitochondrial DNA in trypanosomes, and topology of chromatin during interphase. His research uses mathematics to understand these fundamental questions in biology.
Charles Bevins is interested in host defenses against microbial pathogens, with a focus on the body’s antimicrobial peptides called defensins. The long-range goal of Bevins’ research is to understand the specific role that defensins play in mucosal innate immunity and to characterize the pathophysiology that characterizes impaired expression of these peptides, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Julie Bossuyt‘s research interests include the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cardiac plasticity and disease. Her lab applies cutting-edge high resolution fluorescence imaging techniques and novel biosensors to obtain unique insight into the spatiotemporal dynamics of signalling in cardiac cells.
Research in Sean Burgess’ lab focuses on a process fundamental to reproduction: understanding principles underlying chromosome organization in the nucleus. She uses yeast and zebrafish as model organisms to explore this with both meiotic and mitotic cells, and molecular, cellular, live-cell imaging, and mathematical approaches.
Luis Carvajal Carmona examines cancer genetics and Latino genetic demography using genome-wide association studies, linkage analysis and next generation sequencing. He has been involved in the discovery of over 25 cancer genes using these methods.
Frédéric Chédin focuses on epigenetics and its influence on mammalian genomics. In particular, his lab characterizes the distribution, function, and metabolism of R-loop structures. He works to elucidate how dysfunctions in R-loop metabolism are linked to human diseases, in particular neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders as well as cancers.
Joanna Chiu, 2019 UC Davis Chancellor’s Fellow, studies the animal circadian clock and its control over organismal physiology using biochemical, molecular genetics, and proteomic approaches. Defects in circadian rhythms and clock genes have also been implicated in a wide range of human disorders, including chronic sleep disorders, depression, metabolic syndromes, and susceptibility to cancer and drug and alcohol addiction.
Sean Collins uses human neutrophils to examine how individual cells process information, make decisions, and enact appropriate responses. To chase a pathogen or migrate to a site of infection, a neutrophil reorganizes its cytoskeleton and moves, even if the input signal is weak. Scientists know very little about how cells accomplish these fundamental processes, and the Collins lab uses imaging and modeling to gain new insights into these phenomena.
Lillian Cruz-Orengo focuses on sexual dimorphisms in the central nervous system and their role in autoimmunity. She uses the rodent model for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to elucidate the contribution of the blood-brain barrier to MS sexual-bias.
Megan Dennis studies disease genetics, human genomics and evolution. Her main interests lie in identifying previously unexplored genes and variants that contribute to human-specific neurological traits and diseases, developing next-generation sequencing methods to assay regions of the genome that are difficult to study with traditional techniques, and identifying gene variants associated with neurological disorders.
The Elva Diaz laboratory studies molecular and cellular mechanisms of brain development, function and disease in rodent model systems. They focus on two main areas: neural proliferation and synapse development using a combination of molecular, cellular, biochemical, and genomic approaches.
Bruce Draper studies the mechanisms that regulate adult stem cell behavior in zebrafish as a model organism. Stem cells, which self-renew as well as give rise to differentiated progeny, seem to play a central role in the biology of cancers, including acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), breast, and brain cancers.
JoAnne Engebrecht studies molecular mechanisms underlying germline biology in C. elegans. Germline stem cell divisions, meiotic differentiation and gametogenesis must be tightly coupled to ensure the formation of viable progeny; perturbations result in infertility, inviability and birth defects.
Marc Facciotti works in genetics, systems biology, and synthetic biology. He is currently interested exploring new, more integrated, approaches to engineering mammalian tissues by pursuing questions at the interface between genomic systems and synthetic biology. Facciotti is the program director for an HHMI Inclusive Excellence award and is also invested in creating more inclusive STEM training environments on campus.
Diasynou Fioravante studies the synaptic and cellular neurophysiology of small neural networks in the context of learning and memory. Her lab is particularly interested in understanding the activity-dependent principles that govern the formation of anatomical and dynamic functional microcircuits as well as identifying novel neural networks that regulate learning and memory.
Christopher Fraser explores the mechanism and regulation of mRNA translation in humans. Specifically, his lab works to identify and understand the fundamental mechanisms by which mRNAs are preferentially selected for translation and how their translational efficiency is regulated.
Melanie Gareau studies the microbiota-gut-brain axis, with a particular focus on the factors that shape the development of the axis during early post-natal life.
Aldrin Gomes, 2017 Chancellor’s Fellow, examines the molecular mechanisms of signal transduction, particularly in the role of protein homeostasis in cardiovascular disease.  Two main research areas are the role of the proteasome and immunoproteasome in cardiac and skeletal muscles, and the role of troponin in calcium regulation of muscle contraction in cardiomyopathies.
The Wolf-Dietrich Heyer laboratory studies the mechanism and regulation of recombinational DNA repair. Their studies integrate biophysical, biochemical, cell biological and genetic approaches, with translational studies that aim at harnessing the knowledge of the basic mechanisms of recombinational DNA repair to improve the understanding of cancer etiology and develop novel concepts in anti-tumor therapy.
Wilsaan Joiner studies how humans use information to aid behavior ranging from visual perception to movement planning and updating. Specifically, he examines how external and internally-generated sensory information is integrated in healthy individuals, in comparison to impaired populations (e.g., people with schizophrenia and upper extremity amputees). Achieving this understanding may lead to better methods for diagnosing and treating impairments of the nervous system.
Ian Korf works in genomics at the interface between biology and quantitative methods. His work has advanced gene prediction, sequence alignment, motif detection, epigenetics, intron function, protein-DNA interactions, ChIP-seq analysis, centromere evolution, DNA repair, high performance computing, RNA processing, and milk biology. Students in the Korf laboratory are co-mentored by experimental molecular biologists so that students get a multi-disciplinary experience that integrates in vivo and in silico biology.
Janine LaSalle studies epigenetic mechanisms that act at the interface of genetic and environmental factors in the developing brain, with multiple pioneering studies on neurological diseases and epigenetics.
Anna LaTorre seeks to decipher the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie neuronal progenitor competence and differentiation using a combination of retina cell lines, transgenic mouse models and biochemical approaches. Current projects include examining the role of microRNAs in the dynamic regulation of progenitor competence during retinal histogenesis, mechanisms of cone photoreceptor fate determination, and early eye field formation in development.
Jamal Lewis focuses on the development of novel biomaterial systems that can manipulate the immune system. He seeks to design immunotherapeutics for applications in immune-related diseases. This multidisciplinary work incorporates aspects of biomaterials engineering, drug delivery, immunology, biochemistry and cell biology.
Susan Lott studies the interplay between development, genetics, and the evolution of developmental phenotypes. Students in her lab combine embryology and genetics with advanced imaging, high-throughput sequencing and computation, primarily in Drosophila as a model system.
Angelique Louie focuses on the application of engineering and physical sciences imaging principles to improve the diagnosis and management of human disease, with an unifying theme of the application of imaging techniques and the design of contrast agents to characterize molecular phenomena in diseased versus normal states.
Gerardo MacKenzie studies the role of diet and other lifestyle factors in cancer development and prevention. Current research projects include understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the link between obesity, inflammation and cancer; evaluating the role of zinc in pancreatic carcinogenesis; and investigating the use of select nutraceuticals as potential chemopreventive agents.
Benjamin Montpetit studies how components of nuclear pore complexes direct and regulate RNA export at a cellular, molecular, and atomic level. Lab members use techniques from cell biology, biochemistry, structural biology, and single molecule imaging with both the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and mammalian cell culture models. Ultimately, their research will yield insights into the interplay between nuclear RNA export, gene expression, human biology, and disease.
Alex Nord explores gene regulatory circuits and chromatin dynamics in the brain, studying how these features contribute to brain development, evolution, and function. His work uses a combination of genomics, mouse- and cell-based models, and human genetics, with both experimental and computational approaches to understand the biological components of human diseases and disorders of the brain.
Jodi Nunnari investigates the biology and roles of mitochondria in cellular homeostasis. The Nunnari lab has characterized key features of mitochondrial behaviors, including the physiological functions and mechanisms of mitochondrial division and fusion. Her group’s work addresses fundamental behavior and roles of mitochondria in cells and will illuminate how mitochondria contribute to pathogenesis.
Crystal Rogers studies the molecular mechanisms that control the formation of cranial neural crest cells and the process that neural crest cells use to leave the neural tube and separate from each other. This process occurs in normal embryonic development, but it also occurs in disease states such as tumor transformation and fibrosis. The lab uses both chicken and axolotl as model organisms.
The Lesilee Rose laboratory elucidates the molecular mechanisms of spindle positioning during asymmetric division, using the embryo of the nematode C. elegans as a model system. This research addresses mechanistic questions about basic cell and developmental biology.
Jared Shaw focuses on the stereoselective synthesis of natural products and other biologically active molecules, including natural products that target bacteria resistant to current antibiotics. He also coordinates and hosts the Davis Science Café, a popular public outreach program.
Sergi Simó seeks to understand how migrating neurons integrate guidance information by regulating signaling pathways to navigate and successfully reach their final destinations. Specifically, he investigates the molecular mechanisms that control neuronal positioning in the neocortex and the cerebellum. He is also interested in the evolution of neuronal progenitor competence during nervous system development.
Mitch Singer seeks to understand the mechanisms by which extracellular stimuli control the cellular processes of growth, differentiation, and morphogenesis by modeling how Myxococcus xanthus recognizes nutrient deprivation and initiates a multicellular developmental program.
Daniel Starr studies processes involved in the movement and positioning of nuclei to specific locations within a cell. He and his students use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism to study this basic problem in developmental biology and human disease. They are particularly interested in how nuclei squeeze through constricted spaces, which is a hallmark of many metastatic cancer cells.
James Trimmer studies cell signaling in mammalian neurons, neuronal cell biology, and membrane protein trafficking and function. He also directs the NIH-funded training program in Molecular and Cell Biology.
Mariel Vasquez studies the shape and structure of DNA. She examines the mechanisms that underlie site-specific recombination of DNA and the packing of chromosomes in human cells and viral capsids using simulations and knot theory, and chromosomal aberrations using biophysical models and data analysis.
Karen Zito seeks to understand how synaptic connections form during development, and how they are modified by sensory experience and altered in disease. Zito uses imaging techniques in combination with molecular genetic and pharmacological manipulations to probe the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive the refinement of neural circuits in the mammalian brain.