Rodriguez came to the U.S. from Mexico at a young age, went to public school in Los Angeles, and then to UCLA, where he received his B.S. in BioPhysics in 2007. During his senior year as an undergraduate he was awarded the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Graduate Studies (one of five in the nation) and decided to join the UCLA Molecular Biology Inderdepartmental Ph.D. program (MBIGP) because it allowed him to pursue interdisciplinary research. During his graduate studies he conducted cancer research with Prof. Manuel Penichet in the David Geffen School of Medicine. In his spare time, Rodriguez worked on the development of imaging technologies and computational methods for biological systems in the lab of Prof. Jianwei (John) Miao. Jose was the first MBIGP Whitcome Fellow.
After receiving his Ph. D. in Molecular Biology in 2012, Rodriguez joined the laboratory of Professor David Eisenberg in the UCLA Department of Biological Chemistry as an A.P. Giannini postdoctoral research fellow. There he embarked on a new but challenging project - MicroED (Electron Diffraction of Microscopic Crystals), which allows the 3D structure determination of protein molecules using extremely small crystals. This project required specialized electron microscopes, one of which is located at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of the Janelia Research Campus. Over a three year period, Rodriguez traveled to Janelia several times and had solved several unknown protein structures. The first one, the protein α-synuclein at 1.4 Å, was published in Nature as an article of which he was the first author.
In the spring of 2014, Rodriguez was an instructor for the newly revamped undergraduate laboratory course in biophysics at UCLA. In the new course, students build a coherent diffractive imaging set-up using an optical laser, a charge-coupled device and other components, then use this set-up to image biological specimens in two and three dimensions.
Rodriguez joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as assistant professor in 2016 and holds the Howard Reiss Development Chair. He now studies macromolecular structures at high resolution. His work is largely based on diffraction phenomena and combines computational, biochemical and biophysical experiments. The development of new methods is central to this work, particularly using emerging technologies in cryo-electron microscopy, nano and coherent x-ray diffraction, and macromolecular design.
Learn more about UCLA's 2017 Searle Scholars on the UCLA Newsroom website.
About the Searle Scholars Program
The Searle Scholars Program makes grants to selected universities and research centers to support the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry who have recently been appointed as assistant professors on a tenure-track appointment. The Program’s Scientific Director appoints an Advisory Board of eminent scientists who choose the Scholars based on rigorous standards aimed at finding the most creative talent interested in pursuing an academic research career. This year, 196 applications were considered from nominations by 143 universities and research institutions.
“The new class of Searle Scholars is truly outstanding. Our Scientific Advisory Board members remarked that the selection process this year was the most difficult ever because there were so many meritorious applicants,” said Dr. Doug Fambrough, Scientific Director. “The new Scholars are pursuing fundamental research in chemistry and the biomedical sciences—from determining molecular structures to working out the neuronal circuitry underlying various behaviors. All of these Scholars have chosen to take on risky projects that, if successful, will have great impact upon their fields and, in many cases, contribute directly to the betterment of human health.”
Seventy Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Sixteen Scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant.” And a Searle Scholar has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Since 1981, 587 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the Program has awarded more than $129 million.
Photo by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.