Chemical Biology

Featured Research

Rationally designed polymer tethers lead to growth factor dimers with higher activities than the native protein
 — Prof. Heather  Maynard
Protein dimers result in superagonist activity for applications in chronic wound healing

Prof. Maynard rationally designs biomimetic polymers to increase the stability and activity of proteins for use in medicine.


Many groups throughout the department conduct research at the interface of Chemistry and Biology. These researchers identify problems in proteomics, genomics, metabolomics, systems biology, medicine and the brain and utilize small molecules, polymers, and computation to help solve them. Problems can be fundamental in nature or applied.

Students in this tract are educated across disciplines enabling them to be maximally effective. They learn to use chemical tools to solve biology, or biology and medicine to inform and apply chemical research.

At UCLA this research is highly collaborative between groups. It also takes advantage of strong collaborations with the David Geffen School of Medicine and in Life Sciences.


Faculty List

Our Research Facility

Professor Anne M. Andrews
Professor Anne Andrews’ research group is centered on understanding how the serotonin neurotransmitter system modulates complex behaviors including anxiety, mood, stress responsiveness, and learning and memory. The expression and function of the serotonin transporter is studied in human peripheral blood cells and lymphoblast cell lines, and in genetic and pharmacologic mouse models.
Professor Keriann M. Backus
In the area of chemical biology, the Backus Group combines chemical probe synthesis with activity based protein profiling and chemical proteomics to develop chemical tools to manipulate the human immune system. Research within the group spans chemical biology, organic synthesis, pharmacology, immunology, biochemistry and systems biology.
Professor James U. Bowie
Professor James Bowie and his group are fascinated by protein structure, folding and stabilization. This interest has led them into three main areas: (1) learning how membrane proteins fold and how they can be stabilized; (2) the structures and biological functions of a biological polymer they discovered that is formed by a very common protein module called a SAM domain; and (3) developing and stabilizing enzyme pathways for the production of biofuels.
Professor Guillaume F. Chanfreau
Professor Guillaume Chanfreau's laboratory is interested in gene expression regulation in eukaryotic cells, with a particular emphasis on post-transcriptional steps. Within this large field, they are focusing on understanding how cells degrade RNAs that arise from malfunctions in gene expression pathways ("RNA surveillance"). In particular, they are analyzing the functions of the double-stranded RNA endonuclease RNase III and of the nonsense-mediated decay pathway in RNA surveillance, and how these enzymes regulate gene expression.
Professor Catherine F. Clarke
Professor Catherine Clarke and the Clarke lab study the biosynthesis and functional roles of coenzyme Q (ubiquinone or Q). Q functions in mitochondrial respiratory electron transport and as a lipid soluble antioxidant. The group is using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (bakers yeast) to elucidate the biosynthetic metabolism of Q. Their experimental approach employs a combination of molecular genetics, lipid chemistry and biochemistry to delineate the steps responsible for Q biosynthesis.
Professor Steven G. Clarke
A major interest of Professor Steven Clarke's Laboratory is understanding the biochemistry of the aging process. The group is particularly interested in the generation of age-damaged proteins by spontaneous chemical reactions and the physiological role of cellular enzymes that can reverse at least some portion of the damage. They have focused their efforts on the degradation of aspartic acid and asparagine residues and the subsequent metabolism of their racemized and isomerized derivatives. The group is presently determining the biological role of protein methyltransferases that can initiate the conversion of D-aspartyl residues to the L-configuration as well as the conversion of isopeptide linkages to normal peptide bonds. Such "repair" reactions may greatly increase the useful lifetime of cellular proteins and may help insure organismal survival. View Professor Clarke's YouTube Lecture
Professor Robert T. Clubb
Professor Robert Clubb investigates the molecular basis of bacterial pathogenesis. In particular, they study how microbes display and assemble cell wall attached surface proteins, and how they acquire essential nutrients from their host during infections. The group's study could lead to creating new inhibitors of bacterial infections.
Professor Albert J. Courey
Professor Albert Courey and his group study the molecular basis of cell development. During embryogenesis, a cluster of apparently undifferentiated cells is transformed into an ordered array of differentiated tissues. Using Drosophila as a model system, his research group combines biochemical and genetic approaches to study the molecular basis of this amazing transformation. Essentially all the regulatory circuits they study are conserved throughout the animal kingdom. Therefore, their studies have important implications for human health and development.
Professor Timothy J. Deming
The Deming group is focused on synthesis, processing, characterization and evaluation of biological and biomimetic materials based on polypeptides. His group utilizes innovative chemistry techniques to synthesize materials with properties that rival the complexity found in biological systems.
Professor David S. Eisenberg
Professor David Eisenberg and his research group focus on protein interactions. In their experiments they study the structural basis for conversion of normal proteins to the amyloid state and conversion of prions to the infectious state. In bioinformatic work, they derive information on protein interactions from genomic and proteomic data, and design inhibitors of amyloid toxicity.
Professor Juli Feigon
Professor Juli Feigon and her research group study nucleic acid structure and specific recognition of nucleic acids by proteins. Her group focuses on determining the three-dimensional structures of DNA and RNA, and on investigating their interactions with various proteins and ligands, and to study nucleic acid folding.
Professor Neil K. Garg
Professor Neil Garg and his coworkers develop new reaction methodologies and synthetic strategies to prepare complex organic molecules. Specific areas of interest include cross-coupling reactions, green chemistry, heterocycle synthesis, and natural product total synthesis.
Professor Robin L. Garrell
Professor Robin Garrell explores the mechanisms of biological adhesion and the chemistry of surfaces and films. She is also developing microfluidics devices and biosensors.
Professor William M. Gelbart
Professor William M. Gelbart directs a research program, with Professor Charles M. Knobler, which features the interplay between a range of theoretical and experimental approaches to elucidating the physics of viral infectivity. Differences between the life cycles of DNA and RNA viruses -- in particular, how their genomes are packaged into and released from virus particles -- are investigated in terms of the differences between DNA and RNA molecules as physical objects. The tools and methods range from the statistical mechanics of simple models to in vitro systems consisting of a few purified components and to cell culture studies.
Professor Patrick G. Harran
Professor Harran and his group explore new strategies for building complex small molecules. This includes both natural products and designed molecules. Structures having unique biological functions are of particular interest. The group uses its core strengths in synthesis to drive collaborative research in biology, pharmacology and medicine.
Professor Kendall N. Houk
K. N. Houk is the Saul Winstein Chair in Organic Chemistry. His group develops qualitative rules to understand reactivity, models complex organic reactions with computational methods, and experimentally tests the predictions of theory. Current interests include the computational design of enzymes to catalyze unnatural reactions, the quantitative modeling of stereospecific reactions used in synthesis, mechanisms and selectivities of organometallic reactions, studies of mechanisms and dynamics of cycloaddition reactions. especially bioorthogonal cycloadditions, the design, synthesis, and reactions of hemicarcerands and other host-guest complexes, and the computational design of organic materials for photovoltaic devices.
Professor Michael E. Jung
Professor Mike Jung explores innovative syntheses of natural products and molecules of pharmaceutical interest, notably, in the total synthesis of a large number of active antitumor and antiviral agents. The current cytotoxic targets include dichlorolissoclimide, tedanolide and 13-deoxytedanolide, aplysiapyranoids A-D, discodermide, dysidiolide, sclerophytin A, cylindramide A, and halomon and its alkene derivatives.
Professor Carla M. Koehler
Professor Carla Koehler and her research group encompass two major areas: Understanding the mechanism of protein import into mitochondria and determining the process by which defects in mitochondrial protein translocation lead to disease.
Professor Sriram Kosuri
The Kosuri laboratory develops methods to vastly increase our ability to empirically explore relationships between DNA sequence and biological function. This is being acheived by developing and combining three related technologies: DNA synthesis, DNA sequencing, and genome engineering. The ability to synthesize thousands to millions of designed DNA sequences and to link those sequences to phenotypes or readouts of various cellular functions makes it possible to probe the sequence-function relationships underlying diverse biological phenomena on unprecedented scales. This is allowing new discoveries on broad ranging systems from bacteria to humans.
Professor Ohyun Kwon
Professor Ohyun Kwon’s research revolves around the development of new synthetic methodologies, target-oriented synthesis (TOS) of natural products, and diversity-oriented synthesis (DOS) of small molecule probes for chemical biological applications. The methodology research involves phosphine catalysis, the development of novel chiral phosphines, asymmetric catalysis, and pericyclic reactions of nitrodienes.
Professor Chong Liu
Professor Liu's research group is an inorganic chemistry lab with specific interests in electrochemical systems for energy, biology, and environments. Combining his expertise in inorganic chemistry, nanomaterials, and electrochemistry, his research group aims to address some of the challenging questions in catalysis, energy conversion, CO2/N2 fixation, and microbiota. Their research focus includes advanced bioelectrochemical systems of CO2/N2 fixation as well as electrochemical nanodevices enabling the study of biological, medical, environmental applications.
Professor Joseph A. Loo
The research interests of Professor Loo's group include the development and application of bioanalytical methods for the structural characterization of proteins and post-translational modifications, proteomics-based research, and the elucidation of disease. The composition and structure of noncovalently-bound protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions are studied by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry and ion mobility.
Professor Heather D. Maynard
The Maynard group focuses on polymer chemistry and nano medicine. We design and synthesize polymeric mimics of natural molecules with the purpose of stabilizing proteins and siRNA. These materials are applied to wound healing, diabetes, and for the treatment of cancer. We also prepare polymers for conjugation of proteins to surfaces in specific orientations for diagnostics and biomaterials that control cell behavior.
Professor Sabeeha S. Merchant
The Merchant research program focuses on trace metal metabolism using Chlamydomonas as a reference organism. The group uses a combination of classical genetics, genomics and biochemistry to discover mechanisms of trace metal homeostasis in Chlamydomonas, especially mechanisms for reducing the quota or for recycling in situations of deficiency.
Professor Craig A. Merlic
Professor Craig Merlic develops novel synthetic methods based on organometallic reactions and applies these to natural product synthesis.
Professor Hosea M. Nelson
Professor Hosea Nelson and his colleagues develop novel methodology aimed at the construction of complex, bioactive molecules. His group utilizes concepts in organometallic chemistry and main group chemistry to facilitate the discovery of new organic transformations. Of particular interest are transformations of simple hydrocarbon substrates through polycyclization processes.
Professor Margot E. Quinlan
Professor Margot Quinlan and her group use biochemistry, microscopy and genetic approaches to study regulation of the actin cytoskeleton. The group is currently focused on Spire (Spir) and Cappuccino (Capu), two proteins that collaborate to build an actin network essential for early body axis development. Combining an in vitro understanding of the mechanism of Spir and Capu with in vivo studies of polar cells will provide insight into how the actin cytoskeleton is regulated and a broader understanding of cell polarity.
Professor Ellen Sletten
The Sletten Group exploits the unique properties of fluorinated materials to develop diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. Research within the group encompasses an interdisciplinary mix of organic synthesis, fluorous chemistry, chemical biology, nanoscience, supramolecular chemistry, polymer synthesis, photophysics and pharmacology.
Professor Alexander Spokoyny
Research in the Spokoyny laboratory is devoted towards establishing new synthetic avenues, structural understanding, and applications for inorganic and organomimetic clusters. These efforts will reveal novel and potentially useful solutions to important problems in the field, including: catalysis, energy storage and selective recognition and labeling of biomolecules.
Professor Yi Tang
Professor Yi Tang is interested in natural product biosynthesis and biocatalysis. In the natural product area, he is interested in elucidating biosynthetic pathways of polyketides, nonribosomal peptides and related compounds. His goal is to understand the biochemical and structural basis of different enzymes encoded in these pathways. In the biocatalysis area, his aim is to engineer enzymes that can be used in the synthesis and semisynthesis of pharmaceutical compounds.
Professor Jorge Z. Torres
Professor Jorge Torres’ research group is interested in understanding the mechanisms of cell division. Currently they are discovering and characterizing novel enzymatic activities that are critical for cell division (cancer targets) and discovering or designing small molecules that can inhibit their function (anti-cancer agents). To do this, they are taking multidisciplinary approaches that utilize human cancer cell lines and high throughput proteomic and small molecule screening with a combination of disciplines, including biochemistry, cell biology, chemoinformatics, chemical biology and microscopy.
Professor Shimon Weiss
Professor Shimon Weiss and his group develop and apply ultrahigh-resolution, ultrahigh-sensitivity fluorescence imaging and spectroscopy tools to solving outstanding problems in chemistry & biology. Specifically, they utilize (i) single molecule spectroscopy to study conformational dynamics and transient interactions of proteins; (ii) superresolution and /or ultrasensitive imaging methods to watch life process in live cells on the molecular scale; (iii) activate and/or perturb physiological processes in live zebrafish on the single cell level; (iv) develop unique reagents and chemistries to carry out research topics mentioned.
Professor Todd O. Yeates
Dr. Todd Yeates and his group focus heavily on structural, computational, and synthetic biology aspects of chemistry. The group's emphasis is on supra-molecular protein assemblies and synthetically designed protein assemblies, and conducts research in computational genomics in order to infer protein function and to learn new cell biology.