Bowie, James U.


Bowie James


Bowie got hooked on proteins at an early age and never looked back. As a high school student 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. He went on to Carleton College, where he got a B. A. degree in Chemistry with Distinction. Bowie 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, pioneering in the areas of membrane protein folding, large protein assemblies, and synthetic biochemistry. He retired from UCLA in 2021 while continuing to work with Invizyne Technologies, a company he founded with former members of his lab.


  • 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 (2004-2021)
  • Vice Chair Chemistry & Biochemistry(2013-2019)
  • Protein Society Executive Council (2006-2012)
  • Protein Society President (2013-2015)
  • Editorial Board of Journal of Molecular Biology (2006-2019), Biochemistry (2006-2011), Protein Science (2000-2012) 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)
  • Co-founder of Invizyne Technologies (2019)

Research Interests

As of 2024, Bowie’s work had been cited nearly 30,000 times with an H-index of 76

-Bowie invented the field of “Fold Recognition” as a postdoc with David Eisenberg. Fold recognition is a structure prediction technique that evaluates how well a protein sequence fits with an already known structure.  The original publications have been cited thousands of times.

-Bowie pioneered studies in membrane protein folding. Folding studies with membrane proteins are particularly challenging because they reside in a complex, non-homogenous environment.  To drive unfolding of membrane proteins, Bowie developed a number of novel approaches:  first he used denaturing detergents, and then he invented a “steric trapping” approach to stabilize proteins in the unfolded state. Finally, in collaboration with the Tae-Young Yoon laboratory, he employed single molecule forced unfolding methods.  These techniques allowed Bowie to investigate the energetics and folding pathways of helical membrane proteins, ultimately demonstrating the co-translational folding model in which helical membrane proteins can fold as they enter the membrane.

-Bowie discovered that Sterile-Alpha-Motif (SAM) domains can polymerize. SAM domains are among the most common protein modules in eukaryotic cells.  Bowie discovered that SAM domains can form polymers, thereby enabling diverse proteins to form large assemblies.  Bowie showed how SAM domains can contribute to the creation of large protein complexes at neural synapses, how they create transcriptionally repressed chromatin domains, how assembly can be regulated, and how mutations in SAM domain lead to disease.

-Bowie pioneered “synthetic biochemistry” for industrial chemical production. Biomanufacturing had traditionally envisioned introducing enzyme pathways into cells so that they produce the chemicals that we desire. Yet biomanufacturing using engineered microbes suffers from often insurmountable challenges including low yields, low titers, or expensive product isolation.  These challenges are particularly problematic for low-value products like biofuels where cost is critical.  Bowie developed an alternative approach in which the pathway enzymes are housed in a bioreactor rather than within cells.  Bowie developed methods to build robust enzyme systems, much more complex than previously thought possible for industrial chemical production.  In 2019 Bowie co-founded a company, Invizyne Technologies, to develop chemical manufacturing using these enzyme systems, thereby providing environmentally friendly chemical production processes.

Honors & Awards

  • 2020 Stein&Moore Award of the Protein Society
  • 2019 Paul M. Horowitz Memorial Lecturer, UT San Antonio
  • 2018 Fellow of the Biophysical Society Award
  • 2018 Choh Hao Li Memorial Lecturer, Academia Sinica
  • 2018 UCLA Postdoctoral Society Postdoc Mentoring Award Finalist
  • 2017 Biophysical Society Anatrace Membrane Protein Award
  • 2016 Higgs Lecture at Kings College, London
  • 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

Representative Publications