Biochemistry and Biophysics
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Message from the Chair

Dear Friends of UNC Biochemistry and Biophysics,
We’ve had a fantastic 2018, with new students and faculty joining our department, new research initiatives in development and an exciting off-campus research retreat. Please read and share our stories and let us know what you think. For our departmental alumni and friends, please note our Alumni Updates. We look forward to hearing back from you and hi-lighting your stories in future newsletters.
As the end of the year approaches, please keep in mind that we have many needs in the Department for endowed professorships, research initiatives, student and postdoctoral fellowships, etc. that can benefit from your tax-deductible donations. Click the orange GIVE NOW link (to the right) for giving opportunities. Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about this or any other aspect of the department. Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year!
Leslie V. Parise, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Chair of the Faculty
Give Now

2018 Highlights

UNC School of Medicine Celebrates 2019-20 Yang Family Biomedical Scholars

The award, which recognizes the research achievements of young tenured faculty, is made possible through a generous donation from Lenovo Chairman and CEO Yuanqing Yang with additional financial support from Mr. To Hing Wu. This is the fourth annual class of Yang Family Biomedical Scholars, and the recipients are Chad Pecot, Li Qian, Gregory Scherrer, Greg Wang.

Researchers clock DNA’s recovery time after chemotherapy

In the time it takes for an Amazon Prime delivery to arrive, cells damaged by chemotherapy can almost completely fix their most important DNA. That is the case in the livers of mice at least, according to a new study from UNC School of medicine researchers.

UNC researchers captured a new culprit in multiple myeloma, a common hematological cancer

The research laboratory directed by Dr. Greg Wang, associate professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the Cancer Cell Biology Program at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, recently identified a gene termed PHF19 to be critically involved in the development and progression of multiple myeloma, and also provided proof-of-principle evidence supporting pharmacological targeting of this pathway for therapeutics of this common hematological cancer. These findings were recently published by BLOOD, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.

Suzanne Barbour becomes new Dean of UNC Graduate School and professor of biochemistry and biophysics

We are pleased to announce that Suzanne Barbour, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Georgia, will be dean of the UNC Graduate School and Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, effective September 3, 2019. In this role, Suzanne will continue to build on our commitment to offering world-class graduate education.

Scientists Visualize Competition Between Healthy, Dysfunctional Platelets

In some patients with blood disorders, platelet transfusion therapy doesn’t work. UNC School of Medicine scientists used real-time imaging and mouse models to show why. Their work could guide clinical studies and better use of platelet therapy.

The CryoEM Revolution has Arrived at UNC School of Medicine

This new technology will help basic scientists better understand macromolecular structures important for human health and diseases, such as cancers.

We rank 4th nationally in NIH funding in 2017!

The Department ranks fourth among all Biochemistry departments in the US, (both public and private institutions not just public) in 2017.

Carolina rises to fifth among U.S. universities for federal research funding

UNC Chapel Hill has reached the ranks of the top five research universities in the United States for federal research expenditures, according to the latest National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey.

Nobel Laureate: Aziz Sancar, M.D., Ph.D. featured in Carolina Stories

The prize honors Sancar’s work mapping the cellular mechanisms that underlie DNA repair, which occurs every minute due to environmental factors. He credited his success to his many collaborators, and to UNC’s supportive environment.

Student/Postdoc News

Graduate Student Pedro N. Pozo Publishes in Molecular Biology of the Cell and receives his PhD

Pedro N. Pozo, graduate student in Cook lab publishes his first-authored paper in MBoC and he receives his PhD.

Li, postdoctoral fellow in Sancar lab, receives 2018 EMGS and PARE Awards

Wentao Li, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Aziz Sancar, has received the 2018 Environmental Mutagenesis & Genomics Society (EMGS) New Investigator Travel Award & 2018 Postdoctoral Award for Research Excellence (PARE) from UNC Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Juanita Limas on planning committee for 4th Annual Diversity in STEM conference

One of the key strengths of our program is the ability for graduate students to become an integral part of planning committees such as the Diversity in STEM and coordinating other scientific events on campus.

Congratulations to Aspen Gutgsell who was awarded a Predoctoral Fellowship by the AHA and winner of best poster at the Southeast Lipid Research Conference!

Aspen was awarded a Predoctoral Fellowship by AHA, and the best graduate student poster at the Southeast Lipid Research Conference in Nashville, TN on November 2, 2018, as well as the best poster at the biochemistry & biophysics departmental research retreat in October 2018.

UNC Undergraduate Research Week November 5 – 9

Our department offers numerous undergrads opportunities to work in research laboratories.

Alex Chung Makes it to Three Minute Thesis finals

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is an academic competition that assists current graduate students with fostering effective presentation and communication skills. Participants had just three minutes to explain the breadth and significance of their research project to a non-specialist audience.

Vaughn awarded Scott Neil Schwirck Fellowship

Courtney Vaughn, MD-PhD student in the lab of Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, was awarded the Scott Neil Schwirck fellowship for her work studying the role of DNA damage repair and circadian rhythm in tumor response to platinum-based chemotherapy.

Why Pharmaceutical Companies Care About Your Saliva

Earwax stickiness. Neanderthal ancestry. Caffeine metabolism. Tasting soap when you eat cilantro. Direct-to-consumer genotyping companies like 23andme boast this kind of information in exchange for a tube of your finest spit ...

UNC scientists solve 3-D structure of CF protein in active, inactive states

The labs of John Riordan at the UNC School of Medicine and James Chen at Oregon Health & Science University published detailed cryo-electron microscopic analysis of the CFTR protein to gain insights into why a faulty chloride channel leads to serious disease.

Biochemistry Graduate Students Record Science Seminar Preview Podcasts

Our graduate students learned valuable science communication skills from Biochemistry 701.

New publication in Blood from Robert Lee PhD in Bergmeier Lab

Bergmeier Lab has a new publication in Blood: Functional redundancy between RAP1 isoforms in murine platelet production and function.

Putting the Brakes on CRISPR by Nicholas Martinez

UNC Graduate student, Nicholas Martinez (Campbell lab), contributes to The Pipettepen.

Graduate Student Ben S. Roberts first authored paper in The EMBO Journal

Ben’s paper explores the role of LMF1 in redox homeostasis.

UNC School of Medicine graduate students earn prestigious HHMI Gilliam Fellowships

Megan Agajanian, in the lab of Ben Major, PhD, and Juanita Limas, in the lab of Jean Cook, PhD, will receive up to $150,000 each to support their biomedical research at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Scientists discover new gene expression mechanism with possible role in human disease

UNC School of Medicine researchers, led by Brian Strahl, PhD, found surprising role for a protein called Spt6, which is crucial to the maintenance of proper messenger RNA levels in cells, a discovery that opens new research avenues and suggests a target for basic understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases.

Student and Postdoc news from Maness lab

Vishwa Mohan PhD and Elliott Wyatt published a paper in Front Cell Neuroscience. Vishwa Mohan PhD and Sarah Wade published a paper in Cerebral Cortex. Elliott Wyatt published a paper in Scientific Reports and also presented at the Cold Spring Harbor Meeting on Brains and Behavior on May 28, 2018.

UNC researchers discover how body temperature wrecks potential dengue, Zika vaccine

The UNC School of Medicine labs of Brian Kuhlman, PhD, and Aravinda de Silva, PhD, found that key components of a potentially potent vaccine fall apart due to body temperature, leaving us susceptible to severe infection.

BCBP Student Defenses for 2018

Graduate students: AMY BYRNES, LIOR VERED, SHARON GUFFY, and PEDRO N. POZO gave their defenses this year.

Faculty News

G. Greg Wang received a Career Development Program grant from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The LLS grant will enable Wang lab to carry out unbiased oncogene target screening and shift towards new therapies of hematological malignancies.

Scientists Gain Crucial Insights into Traffic Cop Function of Gene Expression Protein

UNC scientists led by Brian Strahl, PhD, and Raghuvar Dronamraju, PhD, uncovered a key regulatory step in gene expression that may be a significant factor in cancers and other major diseases.

Eron, Kuhlman named Smithies Investigators

The UNC School of Medicine selected professors from the departments of medicine and biochemistry & biophysics for the annual award in honor of the late Oliver Smithies, UNC’s first Nobel Prize winner.

Brian Kuhlman, Ph.D., Protein Robotics: Making Science Fun while Improving Human Health

Brian Kuhlman, Ph.D., is the dynamic co-developer of the popular molecular modeling software Rosetta. His laboratory in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is creating new methods in Rosetta for designing proteins with novel shapes and functions.

Jean Cook, Ph.D. Fundamentals of Cell Proliferation Control

Jean Cook, PhD leads a team of dynamic researchers in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her group explores unique aspects of basic cell proliferation control.

Epigenetics: Brian Strahl, Ph.D., Faculty Spotlight

Strahl lab has been at the forefront of deciphering how our genetic information or the blue print of life – which exists in the form of DNA – is packaged into cells and how it becomes accessed and read for the process of gene expression.

Congratulations to Five Biochemistry and Biophysics Faculty for their Long Service to the State

The UNC Chapel Hill Human Resources acknowledged the total state service for these members of the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics for the second half of 2018.

By solving a mystery of gene repair, scientists uncover an exception to biology’s rules

UNC Lineberger's Dale Ramsden, PhD, and his colleagues published a major study in the journal Science revealing surprising findings about the way major breaks in our DNA are repaired.

Can Scientists Change Mucus to Make It Easier to Clear, Limiting Harm to Lungs?

UNC School of Medicine and Duke University researchers, led by Brian Button, PhD, show why coughing can’t force mucus free from airways to help people battle cystic fibrosis and chronic bronchitis, and how new treatments could alter mucus to make coughing more therapeutic.

HPV blood test shows promise for tracking head and neck cancer after treatment

A new blood test developed by University of North Carolina researchers shows promise for tracking HPV-linked head and neck cancer patients to ensure they remain cancer-free after treatment.

Insights about prostate cancer resistance could lead to treatment strategies

Findings from a University of North Carolina study could help predict which advanced prostate cancers will develop a key driver of resistance – a discovery that could lead to new therapeutic strategies.

Researchers Reveal Hidden Rules of Genetics for How Life on Earth Began

UNC researcher Charles Carter, PhD, and Peter Wills, PhD, from the University of Aukland, show how genes were first translated into proteins to offer insight into a long-time scientific mystery.

Kuhlman wins DeLano Award for computer applications to enhance research

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology issued 12 awards to top scientists, including Brian Kuhlman, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics.

Greg Wang and Qi Zhang become associate professors with tenure

Congratulations to Greg Wang and Qi Zhang, associate professors of biochemistry and biophysics who received tenure as a UNC faculty effective June 1, 2018.

Could Reading our Circadian Clocks According to DNA Repair Optimize Chemotherapy?

For the first time, UNC School of Medicine scientists led by Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar analyzed whole-genome DNA repair in an animal over 24 hours to find which genes were repaired, where exactly, and when, laying the groundwork for a more precise use of anti-cancer drugs.

Edward Bahnson one of 60 New US Citizens Naturalized at UNC

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Raleigh-Durham Field Office held a naturalization ceremony at the FedEx Center on UNC’s campus last Friday where residents from 30 different countries across the world were sworn in as American citizens.

UNC Lineberger’s Griffith elected into National Academy of Sciences

A pioneer in high-resolution electron microscopy, Jack Griffith, PhD, earned one of the most prestigious honors in science during a career packed with distinguished research and collaborations that began prior to him coming to UNC-Chapel Hill in 1978.

Strahl earns MIRA award from NIH

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences awarded Brian Strahl, PhD, $1.9 million over five years to continue investigating the detailed mechanisms of gene expression and chromatin, which are crucial to various diseases, especially cancers.

How Does Plant DNA Avoid the Ravages of UV Radiation?

The lab of UNC Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, reveals first-ever repair map of an entire multicellular organism to illuminate some interesting inner workings of the plant kingdom’s DNA highly efficient repair system.

Large Aggregates of ALS-causing Protein Might Actually Help Brain Cells

UNC School of Medicine scientists led by Nikolay Dokholyan, PhD, add to evidence that small aggregates of SOD1 protein are the brain-cell killing culprits in ALS, but the formation of larger, more visible, and fibril-like aggregates of the same protein may protect brain cells.

Sancar and Peifer labs inspire the next generation of potential scientists

Dr. Aziz Sancar and Dr. Mark Peifer hosted a group of 20 ESL students from Grady Brown Elementary school on March 9th. The students came to Carolina's campus to tour facilities and conduct science experiments.

Prognostic tool could identify high-risk breast cancer patients

In the journal Cell Chemical Biology, researchers led by UNC Lineberger's Xian Chen, PhD, report on potential prognostic tool that could be used to identify high-risk patients within particular subtypes of breast cancer.

Researchers define structure, function of enzyme key to blood cancers

In the journal Nature, UNC Lineberger's Greg Wang, PhD, and colleagues reported findings about the structure and function of the DNMT3A enzyme complex, which helps control gene expression.

Gene therapy researchers find viral barcode to cross the blood-brain barrier

UNC School of Medicine scientists led by Aravind Asokan, PhD, reveal how certain gene-carrying AAV vectors can penetrate the brain more efficiently to treat brain and spinal cord conditions, while reducing liver payload.

Yeh and Strahl named Smithies Investigators

The UNC School of Medicine selected professors from the departments of surgery, and biochemistry and biophysics for the annual award in honor of Oliver Smithies, UNC’s first Nobel Prize winner.

Where Cigarette Smoking’s Damage is Done . . . Down to Your DNA

A new technique from UNC School of Medicine scientists led by Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar reveals the genome-wide DNA damage that a major carcinogen causes.

Alumni Updates

Thomas Wong Alumni in the News for his support of UNC Scholarships

Thomas and Sandy credit their fulfilling careers to the education they received at UNC-Chapel Hill. To show their appreciation, they have a long history of sharing their time and talents to support Carolina.

2011 Alumni Update Michael D. Johnson receives MIRA R35 grant

Dr. Johnson just received a MIRA R35 grant for 1.8 million dollars from NIGMS entitled “Elucidating the orchestrated bacterial response to copper toxicity.”

Dr. Mary Sue Coleman delivered The Thomas Willis Lambeth Lecture on Nov. 29

Dr. Mary Sue Coleman spoke at UNC on “The Educated Citizenry: An Endangered Species?”

1996 Alumni Update Gene Godbold PhD contributes to FunGCAT for the IARPA

Working as a contractor at Signature Science, he has developed ways to assess the threat of biological sequences so they can be grasped with machine learning.

Alumni Seth Zimmerman Awarded 2017 JCS Prize

Thomas and Sandy credit their fulfilling careers to the education they received at UNC-Chapel Hill. To show their appreciation, they have a long history of sharing their time and talents to support Carolina.

Jeanie McMillin VanWinkle PhD Looks Back – Interview with 1967 Alumna

In an interview in October 2018, Jeanie McMillin VanWinkle shares memories of her time as a graduate student in the department of biochemistry and biophysics.

Staff News

Carolyn Clabo and Ming Jing Wu PhD receive 2018 Staff Excellence Awards

Congratulations to our 2018 Staff Excellence Award winners, Carolyn M. Clabo, Communications and Development Manager, and Ming Jing Wu PhD, Neher Lab Manager for their teamwork, creativity and innovation, positive attitude, enthusiasm, productivity, flexibility and leadership.

Biochemistry Staff Spotlight: Jamie DeSoto

Jamie DeSoto, executive assistant to Leslie Parise PhD, Chair of Biochemistry and Biophysics and UNC Chapel Hill's Chair of Faculty.

Carolyn Clabo applies Heath’s principles from Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture

UNC provides opportunities to community members to attend various lectures at UNC. Carolyn Clabo was mentioned in the Daily Tarheel after attending the 2018 Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture.

2017 Staff Excellent Award winners John Hutton and Tina Leisner PhD

In 2017, the Staff Excellent Award was given to two staff members who display dedication, service and commitment to Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Event Highlights

2018 UNC Biochemistry and Biophysics Seminars

1/16/18 11:00 a.m. - 12/11/18 12:00 p.m.
Special thanks to Jamie DeSoto for scheduling this years' Spring and Fall 2018 seminars.

Our Student Defenses for 2018

3/16/18 4:00 p.m. - 11/8/18 4:00 p.m.
Graduate students: AMY BYRNES, LIOR VERED, SHARON GUFFY, and PEDRO N. POZO gave their defenses this year.

2018 Biochemistry and Biophysics Research Retreat Highlights

10/4/18 8:30 a.m. - 10/5/18 4:00 p.m.
2018 Biochemistry and Biophysics Research Retreat held at Graylyn International Conference Center on October 4 and 5th.

2018 Biochemistry and Biophysics Student Symposium

10/18/18 9:00 p.m. - 11/1/18 4:00 p.m.
Students presented their research on October 18 and November 1, 2018 at the Biochemistry and Biophysics Student Symposium.

11th Biennial North Carolina Biophysics Symposium brought together North Carolina Biophysicists

10/25/18 8:00 p.m. - 10/26/18 5:30 p.m.
The symposium brought together North Carolina Biophysicists and this year’s meeting was organized & sponsored by NC State, Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, and the NIEHS. Sessions focused on RNA Structure and Dynamics, Cellular Microenvironments, Protein Engineering and Design, and Blood Coagulation.

2018 UNC Three Minute Thesis finals

10/30/18 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Well wishers came to cheer on the finalists of the UNC Graduate School’s Three Minute Thesis competition. Of the ten finalists, three are are from UNC School of Medicine departments: Alex Chung in the Parise lab, and Susanna Harris and Bhawana Shrestha in microbiology and immunology.

2018 Thanksgiving Potluck Tradition Returns to Biochemistry and Biophysics

11/14/18 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics held a Thanksgiving Potluck on November 14.

2018 GPSF Holiday Card Making for UNC Hospitals

12/3/18 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
GPSF held a Holiday card drive at the Beach Café to be distributed to Children at UNC Hospitals and to Unaccompanied Immigrant Children. Special thanks to Ben S. Roberts and graduate students.

2018 Biochemistry and Biophysics Department Winter Holiday Party and Staff Excellence Awards

12/12/18 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Our department gathered at the Carolina Club to celebrate the holidays. After a delectable dinner, Dr. Beverly Errede presented the Staff Excellence Awards to Carolyn Clabo, Communications and Development, and Ming Jing Wu PhD, Lab Manager (Neher lab). Graduate students Aaztli Coria and Gage Leighton led us in a trivia game. Congratulations Team Butter Ball. Raffle prizes added to our fun!

2019 BCBP Holiday Party

12/17/19 5:30 - 8:00 p.m. Carolina Club Alumni Hall
Once again our department will gather at the Carolina Club to celebrate the holidays. We hope you can join us for a delectable dinner and revelry.

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