2018-19 Fowler Fellows

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Graduate students Kevin Murray, Scott McConnell, and Rebeccah Warmack have been selected as 2018-19 Audree Fowler Fellows in Protein Science.

The awards were announced at the Molecular Biology Institute’s 2018 Student Awards Ceremony in Boyer Hall on Tuesday, December 18, 2018.

About Dr. Audree Fowler

Dr. Audree Fowler (pictured top left) received her B.S. in chemistry from UCLA in 1956 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1963 working with Prof. Max Dunn, when that field was almost exclusively male. She served as a NIH postdoctoral fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and in UCLA’s Department of Biological Chemistry before becoming a research biological chemist in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Here on the Westwood campus Dr. Fowler forged a distinguished research career that spans the sciences and includes more than 80 publications. She also built strong connections with the Molecular Biology Institute, the UCLA Protein Microsequencing Facility (where she served as director for 15 years), the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry.

Fowler is one of the first four women to receive Ph.D.s from the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. The group was awarded the Inaugural UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Alumni Legacy Award in 2018. Learn more here.

“The sciences gave me a great life”, she explained. “Now I want to help others have access to the same opportunities I enjoyed.”  In 2008, an endowment from Dr. Fowler established the Audree Fowler Fellows in Protein Science for Ph.D. students in the Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Ph.D. Program, Biological Chemistry, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.  

Fowler awardees with Audree Fowler (left to right) Scott McConnell (Clubb lab), Audre Fowler, Kevin Murray (Eisenberg lab), and Rebeccah Warmack (S. Clarke Lab).  Photo by Helen Houldsworth/MBI.

About the 2018-19 Audree Fowler Fellows in Protein Science

McConnell ScottScott McConnell is a 4th year Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) graduate student in Professor Robert Clubb’s group.  As an undergraduate, Scott studied biochemistry and received his B.S. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2015.  He is currently a Philip Whitcome Pre-doctoral Fellow. 

Scott’s graduate research focuses on uncovering the mechanism of pilus construction at the cell surface of Gram-positive bacteria by specialized transpeptidase enzymes called sortases. Because they mediate attachment to a wide range of host tissues during infections, pili are important virulence factors for many pathogenic bacteria. Scott primarily uses NMR spectroscopy and biochemical approaches to study the protein structure, dynamics and function of sortase and its pilin substrates. Leveraging these insights, Scott is concurrently developing this enzyme into a novel bioconjugation tool that is capable of catalyzing isopeptide linkages between biomolecules.

Murray%2CKevin 0Kevin Murray is a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) student, currently in the 3rd year of the MBIDP program in the laboratory of Professor David Eisenberg. Kevin graduated from Montana State University, where he studied transition metal coordination complexes using quantum-level calculations and X-ray absorption spectroscopy in the laboratory of Professor Robert Szilagyi. After graduating, he studied at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland as a US Fulbright Scholar where he worked in the laboratory of Professor Clémence Corminboeuf, studying the electronic structure of Fe-based biomimetic catalysts designed for production of hydrogen gas. He is currently a Chemistry-Biology Interface (CBI) Predoctoral Research Trainee.

In the Eisenberg lab, Kevin’s research focuses on applying computational methods to study the structure and function of amyloids, protein aggregates present in multiple neurodegenerative diseases. Using de novo protein design, he is designing inhibitors capable of preventing amyloid aggregation. Additionally, he is applying computational modeling and bioinformatics, as well as structural and biochemical methods, to identify disease mutations which potentiate amyloid formation. He enjoys the outdoors, surfing, and one day hopes to have a dog.

Warmack%2CRebeccaRebeccah Warmack is a 6th year BMSB graduate student in Professor Steven Clarke’s group. Before coming to UCLA, Rebeccah worked on the development of a cofermentation system for the production of ethanol from gluconate with Professor Zhiliang Fan at UC Davis.  

During her Ph.D. research, Rebeccah has focused on characterizing protein modifications, with a primary focus on the racemization and isomerization of aspartate residues within the context of cellular aging. Proteins which avoid protein turnover and repair, such as the crystallins of the lens and the beta-amyloid peptide of the brain, are particularly vulnerable to the accumulation of these isomerized residues. Rebeccah’s research has shown that the addition of these residues to proteins and peptides can significantly alter their properties, including increasing the aggregation propensity of both crystallin and beta-amyloid derived peptides.

Previous Fowler Fellows from the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry:

2017-18 – Michael Hughes (Eisenberg lab), Yuxi Liu (Yeates lab), Kanishk Jain (S. Clarke lab) 

2016-17 – Brendan Amer (Clubb Lab) and Jeff Vinokur (Bowie Lab)

2015-16 – Henry Chan (Feigon lab), Smriti Sangwan (Eisenberg lab), Nicholas Woodall (Bowie lab)

2014-15 – Dan McNamara (Yeates lab)

2013-14 – Alex Jacobitz (Clubb lab), Alexander Patananan (S. Clarke lab), Carly Ferguson (Loo lab)

2012-13 – Letian Xie (C. Clarke lab), Anni Zhao (Eisenberg lab)

2011-12 – Timothy Anderson (Clubb lab), Soohong Kim (Weiss lab)

2010-11 – Zeynep Durer (Reiser lab), Cecilia Zurita-Lopez (S. Clarke lab)

2009-10 – Luki Goldschmidt (Eisenberg lab), Kristofer Webb (S. Clarke lab), Sheng Yin (Loo lab)

2008-09 – Nathan Joh (Bowie lab), Neil King (Yeates lab)

Article by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry