Bowie, James U.

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Vice Chair
Structural and Computational Biology
Systems Biology and Biological Regulation
Bioenergy and the Environment

Contact Information

Boyer Hall 655A
(310) 206-4747
Boyer Hall 659
(310) 206-7481

Short Biography

  • B.A. Carleton College 1981
  • Ph.D. MIT 1989
  • Life Sciences Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow (1989-1992)
  • American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow (1992-1993)
  • Assistant Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry, UCLA (1993-2000)
  • Associate Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry, UCLA (2000-2004)
  • Professor,Chemistry & Biochemistry (2004-present)
  • Vice Chair Chemistry & Biochemistry(2013-present)
  • Protein Society Executive Council (2006-2012)
  • Protein Society President (2013-present)
  • Editorial Board of Journal of Molecular Biology (2006-), Biochemistry (2006-), Protein Science (2000-) and Proteins (1997-2005)
  • Advisory Board Swedish Biomembrane Center (2005-2010)
  • Co-chair, FASEB summer conference on Mol. Biophys. Cell. Membranes (2006 & 2008)
  • Co-chair Gordon Conference on Proteins (2010 & 2012)
  • Co-chair of Biophysical Society Thematic Meeting on Membrane Protein folding (2013)
  • Founder and co-chair of Gordon Conference of Membrane Protein Folding (2015)
  • Member NIH BBM study section (2006-2010)


Bowie got hooked on proteins at an early age and never looked back. The obsession began as a high school student when he did a research project on blood clotting enzymes with Kenneth G. Mann at the Mayo Clinic in his hometown of Rochester, MN. The research project won him a trip to the International Science and Engineering fair and a Westinghouse Award, experiences that further stimulated his interest in science. He went on to Carleton College, where he got a B. A. degree in Chemistry with Distinction. He did research in carbohydrate chemistry with Gary R. Gray at the University of Minnesota before entering graduate school at M.I.T. There he returned to proteins in the laboratory of Robert T. Sauer, using experimental and computational methods to probe and predict protein structure. After completing his Ph.D. work, he did postdoctoral work with David Eisenberg at UCLA, continuing work on structure prediction and structure determination by x-ray crystallography. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1993 and is now a full professor.

Research Interest

Membrane Protein Folding

Membrane Protein Folding  Bowie ResearchProtein folding is a fundamental process of life with important implications throughout biology. Elaborate mechanisms exist to regulate and assist folding. Moreover, tens of thousands of mutations have now been associated with diseases and it is thought that most of these mutations affect protein folding and trafficking rather than function. Consequently, there has been an enormous effort over the years to understand how proteins fold. Essentially all of the effort has been directed at soluble proteins, however, and membrane proteins have been largely shunted aside. The lack of effort has not occurred because membrane proteins are unimportant or uninteresting, but because of the great technical challenges they present. It is a challenge that we must overcome if we ever hope to understand membrane biology and disease mechanisms involving a large fraction of the protein universe. We are working to understand folding mechanisms and to develop techniques to study folding and expand the field.

Bowie Research Protein Folding


Synthetic Biochemistry for Green Production of Chemicals and Biofuels

Considerable effort is currently directed to engineer micro-organisms to produce useful chemicals. The greatest potential environmental benefit of metabolic engineering would be the production of high volume commodity chemicals, such as biofuels. Yet the high yields required for the economic viability of low-value chemicals are particularly hard to achieve in microbes due to the myriad competing biochemical pathways. We are developing an alternative approach, which we call synthetic biochemistry. Synthetic biochemistry throws away the cells and builds biochemical pathways in reaction vessels using complex mixtures of isolated enzymes. As the only pathway in the vessel is the desired transformation, yields can approach 100%. The challenge for synthetic biochemistry is to replace the complex regulatory systems that exist in cells in a simplified form. We are designing and testing various ideas for building highly robust systems that can operate continuously for long periods of time.


SAM Domains

SAM domains are one of the most common protein modules found in eukaryotic cells. We discovered that many SAM domains can form polymers, establishing the existence of a new biological polymer. We explore how SAM domains are involved in building large biological structures and how SAM domain mutations lead to disease.


Honors & Awards

  • 2012 Elected President of the Protein Society for 2013-14
  • 2012 UCLA Society of Postdoctoral Scholars Postdoctoral Mentoring Award
  • 2009 Dreyfus Foundation Postdoc Prog in Envir. Chem. Mentor
  • 2008 Re-elected to Protein Society Executive Council
  • 2008 Elected Fellow of AAAS
  • 2007 Elected Chair, 2009&11 Gordon Conference on Proteins
  • 2006 Elected to the Protein Society Executive Council
  • 2004 Elected Chair, 2006&8 FASEB Conference on Mol. Biophys. of Cell. Membranes
  • 2001 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar
  • 1998 McCoy Award in Chemistry
  • 1994 NSF National Young Investigator
  • 1994 Pew Scholar
  • 1992 American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 1989 Life Sciences Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 1981 Distinction in Chemistry, Carleton College
  • 1981 Elected to Phi Beta Kappa