Biological Research in Non-Jargoned English @ Cal



  • Helen Bateup – Associate Professor of Neurobiology

Neurons have unique ways to allow them to fire signals and form a balanced system. The goal of Bateup’s lab is to understand which neurons have influence on synapses and their functionality. The lab is interested in learning about how gene mutations that are associated with epilepsy and autism contribute to changes in the development and functions of neurons. The lab takes a multidisciplinary approach using molecular, biochemical, imaging, electrophysiological, and behavioral analysis in addition to mouse models and human stem cell derived miniature brains. 

  • Gloria Brar – Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

The Brar lab studies genes that impact each other’s expression through transcription factors and how they relate to the creation of gametes. Her work involving canonical models (established pathways with standard features) has revealed new ideas in gene regulation that may apply to cellular change. The lab’s study of meiosis has also shown that both the regions that are expressed and how they are regulated are not well explained using the standard gene regulation rules. Using a comprehensive map of gene expression, the lab hopes to understand the rules that govern how cells use their genomic resources.


  • Christopher Chang – Class of 1942 chair and professor of Biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology and of chemistry

The Chang Lab studies the chemistry of biology and energy where they hope to develop new concepts in imaging, the study of proteomes, drug discovery, and catalysis. The work used inorganic, organic, and biological chemistry to develop activity-based sensing (ABS), which is a platform for biology and medicine. The tool has identified copper, hydrogen peroxide, and formaldehyde as singles in the regulation of the binding between an enzyme and a molecule in a place other than the active site. They hope their findings can impact areas of health and disease relating to neural activity, neurodegeneration, cancer, obesity, and metabolic diseases. They plan to develop new molecular and hybrid catalysis for the sustainable synthesis of chemical compounds in an electrochemical cell and apply this to fix other global challenges like capturing and conversion of carbon dioxide and the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

  • Michelle Chang – Professor of Biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology and of chemistry

Professor Chang is interested in mechanistic biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology approaches to design and create biofuels that are tested in microbial hosts. The fuels will be created from crop feedstocks and pharmaceuticals. Her work focuses on understanding the chemistry in living cells and how the metabolic pathways can apply in other projects. She hopes that her works can solve energy and human health problems.





  • Andrea Gomez – Assistant Professor of Neurobiology

Professor Gomez’s lab aims to understand the organization of neural networks using electrophysiology, functional imaging, and molecular biology and potentially fix the current lack of understanding about solutions to psychiatric disorders. The focus is on mechanisms that are related to specific synaptic properties and how they differ from the sequence of information processing by neurons. Her lab works on examining the synaptic dysfunctions in autism, intellectual disability, and the degeneration of neurons.


  • Iswar Hariharan – Department Co-Chair and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

The Hariharan Lab is interested in studying the mechanisms that regulate growth of individual cells and the entire organism during development. They are also fascinated in the regeneration of damaged tissues. The lab uses genetic studies in the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, to identify genes involved in growth, cell proliferation (increase in cells due to cell growth and division), and cell death. Their studies have discovered some key regulators of tissue growth in Drosophila and identified genes that are mutated in human cancers.

  • Rebecca Heald – Department Co-Chair and Flora Lamson Hewlett Chair and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

The Heald Lab explores cell division and size control using cytoplasmic extracts from eggs of the frog Xenopus laevis that reconstruct mitotic chromosome condensation and spindle formation and function in vitro. They have used Xenopus tropicalis, a smaller frog, to study interspecies scaling, and used extracts from fertilized eggs at different stages of the development of the embryo to study developmental scaling. The research has provided new insight on cell division and shaping of an organism through differentiation, both areas that are important in the studies of human diseases such as cancer. The lab hopes to provide new understandings about the principles of spindle assembly and biological size control in addition to the molecular variations that contribute to mutations and evolution.

  • Dirk Hockemeyer – Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

The Hockemeyer lab aims to shed light on the functions of telomeres and telomerase in tissue homeostasis, formation of tumors and aging. Telomeres and telomerase are essential to the genetic share during replication and disruption during this process is associated with cancer and aging. The lab uses genetic mouse models to gain insight into how the telomere evades recognition by the DNA-damage machinery, the consequences of telomerase loss, and how the single stranded telomeric overhang is created. Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) are the ideal model system to study telomerase regulation since they are cells where telomerase is active, but can be differentiated into cells where telomerase is inactive. The lab has successfully overexpressed or silenced genes, corrected disease-causing mutations, and engineered genes to a regulatory sequence of a gene of interest in hPSCs.




  • Richard H. Kramer – CH and Annie Li Chair in Molecular Biology of Diseases and Professor of Neurobiology And Member, Graduate Group in Biophysics and Vision Science Program

The Kramer lab is interested in ion channels, proteins that generate electrical signals, and synaptic transmission, the process that allows neurons to communicate with other cells. They use new chemical tools to modify ion channels and synaptic proteins, making them sensitive to light. The approach is non-invasive and allows optical manipulation and sensing of neuronal activity in intact tissue in various parts of the nervous system like the brain, spinal cord, and retina. Some of their studies focus on understanding functions of particular ion channels and synaptic proteins, while others focus on developing new therapeutic approaches where light can give information on sites of nervous system injury or degeneration. 

  • John Kuriyan – Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Chancellor’s Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology

The Kuriyan Lab uses biochemical, biophysical, structural, and cell biological analyses to explain and study how the mechanisms in cellular signal transduction evolve. The lab focuses on the allosteric communication that allows proteins to respond to input signals and they have used mutational analysis to determine the sensitivity of the mechanisms to understand the regulation and specificity of the molecular principles. They have advanced the understanding of the regulation of several signaling proteins (Ras activator SOS and CaMKII which is an oligomeric kinase that plays a central role in neuronal signaling). The lab also determined the structures of the clamp-loader, a pentameric ATPases of the AAA+ family that ensures DNA replication, and the sliding clamp (a bind for DNA polymerases to prevent it from dissociating from the template DNA). The lab hopes to understand the function of AAA+ ATPases that form on the clamp-loader.


  • Samantha Lewis – Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental BiologySamantha Lewis – Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) encodes functional RNAs and proteins that are critical for the production of ATP. Defects in mtDNA would cause hereditary metabolic diseases that impact the brain, muscle, and heart. It is also linked to cancer and innate immune response. The Lewis Lab uses quantitative imaging, genetics and systems biology approaches in hopes of revealing mechanisms that ensure mtDNA integrity and inheritance in metazoans. They hope to understand how mtDNA replication is regulated since proper mtDNA replication is key in maintaining a characteristic number of mtDNA copies in bone marrow, placenta, and specifically the brain, where cells increase mitochondrial numbers and turnover continue.

  • Kunxin Luo – Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology And Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Division of Life Sciences

The Luo lab is interested in using in vitro mechanistic studies in tissue culture cells and biological analyses of in vivo mouse models to understand how disruption of normal signaling leads to developmental defects and human cancer. They specifically study signal transduction pathways that are linked to development and cancer.