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The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics hosts its 1st Annual Holiday Decorating Door Contest

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics recently held its 1st Annual Holiday Decorating Door contest. With only two labs participating in this year's contest, both labs were declared as winners. Congratulations to the Boutz Lab and the O'Connell lab!

O'Connell lab door

Boutz lab door

Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics Annual Toy Drive

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics held its annual toy drive this season to collect toys and items for the Golisano Children's Hospital. Dr. Alan Grossfield delivered a cart full of goodies to the Golisano Children's hospital on Tuesday, December 15th. The gifts are given to the children in the hospital during the holiday season. Any remaining gifts are used to support the needs of the children and playrooms throughout the year.

COVID-19 vaccine: What’s RNA research got to do with it?

Monday, December 14, 2020

The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

The vaccine made history not only because it reported a 95 percent efficacy rate at preventing COVID-19 in clinical trials, but because it is the first vaccine ever approved by the FDA for human use that is based on RNA technology.

"The development of RNA vaccines is a great boon to the future of treating infectious diseases," says Lynne Maquat, the J. Lowell Orbison Distinguished Service Alumni Professor in biochemistry and biophysics, oncology, and pediatrics at Rochester and the director of Rochester's Center for RNA Biology.

COVID-19, short for "coronavirus disease 2019," is caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Like many other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus. This means that, unlike in humans and other mammals, the genetic material for SARS-CoV-2 is encoded in ribonucleic acid (RNA). The viral RNA is sneaky: its features cause the protein synthesis machinery in humans to mistake it for RNA produced by our own DNA.

For that reason, several of the leading COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are based on RNA technology.

A contingent of researchers at the University of Rochester study the RNA of viruses to better understand how RNAs work and how they are involved in diseases. This RNA research provides an important foundation for developing vaccines and other drugs and therapeutics to disrupt the virus and stop infections.

"Understanding RNA structure and function helps us understand how to throw a therapeutic wrench into what the COVID-19 RNA does—make new virus that can infect more of our cells and also the cells of other human beings," Maquat says.

In the past few decades, as scientists came to realize that genetic material is largely regulated by the RNA it encodes, that most of our DNA produces RNA, and that RNA is not only a target but also a tool for disease therapies, "the RNA research world has exploded," Maquat says. "The University of Rochester understood this."

In 2007, Maquat founded The Center for RNA Biology as a means of conducting interdisciplinary research in the function, structure, and processing of RNAs. The Center involves researchers from both the River Campus and the Medical Center, combining expertise in biology, chemistry, engineering, neurology, and pharmacology.

Read More: COVID-19 vaccine: What’s RNA research got to do with it?

Daniel Steiner Wins The Sayeeda Zain Fall 2020 Travel Award

Friday, December 4, 2020

Congratulations to Dan Steiner for winning a Sayeeda Zain Fall travel award. Dan is planning to attend the SPIE Photonics West meeting, to be held at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, California, March 6-11, 2021, He states "I am excited to represent our department and present my work in San Francisco (virtually or otherwise) . Networking and reaching out to labs and PIs at this conference will help me learn more about the entrepreneurial side of science and how to develop my career after I defend." The Sayeeda Zain Travel Award honors the distinguished career and charitable life of Dr. Sayeeda Zain. The award is given in recognition of research excellence to support expenses associated with attendance at a scientific conference or corporate internship to gain practical experience. Dan Steiner is a Biophysics graduate student studying in Dr. Ben Miller's lab

Special Department of Microbiology and Immunology Seminar – Dr. Malika Grayson – November 9th at NOON

Friday, October 23, 2020

How do you make an impact when you are the only person in the room that looks like you? We hear the terms diversity and inclusion but forget that the term representation should be a reflection of diversity and inclusion combined. This isn't always the case. Dr. Grayson discusses her views on what it means to increase diversity and representation as an Individual Contributor. Learn more about her journey as the 2nd Black Woman to graduate with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from her graduate institution. Hear about her current work as both an engineer, a STEM Advocate, and her most recent success as author of 'HOODED: A Black Girl's Guide to the PhD' where she highlights her time and lessons learned during her PhD Program.


Nazish Jeffery, Biochemistry Ph.D. Candidate Pens Guest Column in the Democrat & Chronicle on Scientists’ Need to Communicate Clearly to the Public

Monday, October 19, 2020

Nazish Jeffery

Graduate student Nazish Jeffery published an editorial-style column entitled "Scientists Must Communicate More Clearly" which appeared on the Opinion page of the Sunday, October 4th edition of the Democrat and Chronicle. Ms. Jeffery argues that scientist have a civic duty to clearly inform and educate the public and public officials with regard to the results of biomedical research. She states "As scientists, our civic duty becomes twofold. Not only must we better our understanding of the world through research, we also need to use our training and expertise to help inform who govern so they can craft policies that are scientifically sound." Ms. Jeffery will be taking a brief hiatus from her laboratory research in Michael Bulger's lab to remotely participate in an internship with the American Institute of Biological Sciences in Washington DC, where she will focus on science and public policy.

Read More: Nazish Jeffery, Biochemistry Ph.D. Candidate Pens Guest Column in the Democrat & Chronicle on Scientists’ Need to Communicate Clearly to the Public

Cool Technology Allows for Better Views of Cancerous Blood Cells in Quest for New Treatment

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Clara Kielkopf, Ph.D., left, and Laura Calvi, M.D., stand by the University's new cryo-microscope

With the recent acquisition of Nobel Prize-winning technology and two new grants, Wilmot Cancer Institute researchers are streamlining their investigations into a malignant blood disease known as MDS, working toward discovering targeted therapies.

Laura Calvi, M.D., and Clara Kielkopf, Ph.D., are leading collaborative teams that will be using a device at the University of Rochester Medical Center — a cryo-electron microscope — that has ushered in a new era in biochemistry. The microscope allows scientists to see 3D snapshots and more details of living molecules than ever before, down to near-atomic resolution, to understand disease and uncover new ways to design drugs. The developers of the technology were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017.

Calvi and Kielkopf each received Edward P. Evans Foundation awards totaling $1.2 million for this project. Evans grants go to scientists seeking a cure for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which originates in the bone marrow and disrupts healthy blood cell formation. MDS often leads to leukemia.

The Kielkopf lab will use the cryo-electron microscope to obtain 3D views of recurrent MDS mutations as guides for targeting molecular therapies. The modern microscope is the first of its kind in the Rochester region, Kielkopf said, and will be accessible to all UR researchers through the Electron Microscopy Shared Resource Laboratory. She is a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Center for RNA Biology.

Read More: Cool Technology Allows for Better Views of Cancerous Blood Cells in Quest for New Treatment

David Mathews, MD, PhD installed as first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

We are thrilled to announce that Professor David Mathews, MD, PhD, was honored at this year's School of Medicine Opening Convocation by being installed as the first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. The professorship was awarded by Dr. Mark Taubman, Dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. The Convocation was held virtually this year and can be viewed at the link below.

Congratulations to Professor Mathews!

Read More: David Mathews, MD, PhD installed as first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology

RNA Essay Contest Results and Congratulations

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The UR Center for RNA Biology offered an exercise during the time when COVID-19 became a sufficient threat to largely shut-down our research enterprise. We're pleased to announce the winners of the UR's Center for RNA Biology Essay Contest on "The role of RNA research in community health". These awards are sponsored by a grant from the RNA Society & Lexogen to the UR Center for RNA Biology, and funds from UR RNA Structure & Function Cluster.

Our Gold prize (~$1,000 value) award goes to Sydney Simpson, an Immunology, Microbiology & Virology graduate student in Steve Dewhurst's lab in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, for her essay: "Nucleoside Analog Inhibitors: Timeless & Timely Beacons of Hope".

The Silver Prize (~$250 value) award goes to Omar Hedaya, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology graduate student in Peng Yao's lab in the Department of Medicine/Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, for his essay: "Know the Fundamentals when Seeking the Future".

Omar Hedaya

Sydney Simpson

Both awardees have become members of the RNA Society and will use their winnings toward technology needs for the upcoming semester.

The RNA Society now features our contest results, including the winning essays, in its latest RNA Salon update:, see bullet #3.

We would like to acknowledge Honorable Mentions for the following applicants:

  • Sai Shashank Chavali -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Wedekind Lab
  • Lily Cisco -- Graduate student; Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology; Lueck Lab
  • Gabrielle Kosoy -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Miller Lab
  • Ashwin Kumar -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Topham Lab
  • Li Xie -- Graduate student; Genetics, Development & Stem Cells; Pröschel Lab

We thank all who participated -- and our judges, too!

Kielkopf Lab Awarded EvansMDS Research Grant

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Prof. Clara Kielkopf has been awarded an EvansMDS research grant to use the new, state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope at the U of R Medical Center EM facility. The Kielkopf group will use this revolutionary technique to study 3D structures of mutant U2AF1-splicing complexes in human malignancies. The title of the EvansMDS grant is: "Cryo-Electron Microscopy Structures of Mutant U2AF1-Containing Ribonucleoproteins Associated with Myelodysplastic Syndromes". This grant was made possible by our new Talos cryo-EM.

New article discusses biological implications of the intrinsic compactness of mRNAs

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Mathews and Ermolenko labs have recently showed that RNAs universally fold into secondary structures with short end-to-end distances. In this new article, possible roles of the inherent mRNA compactness in translation and mRNA decay are reviewed.

Cancer Investigators Pivot, Take on Coronavirus Research

Friday, June 12, 2020

While other cancer researchers had to temporarily close their labs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Isaac Harris, Ph.D., and Josh Munger, Ph.D., shifted their focus to the contagion that has reshaped the world.

Using their specialized knowledge of viruses and genomics technology at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, the duo is searching for new and existing, U.S Food and Drug Administration-approved medications that could block the coronavirus.

They've tested 624 drugs on thousands of human lung cells infected with a strain of the coronavirus to see if the drugs have any impact. So far, they've discovered 15 potential compounds that appear to have anti-viral activity. Their criteria for a "hit" is for the drug to block 50 percent of virus-induced cell death. The team is validating the 15 drugs and trying to understand the mechanisms behind their potential anti-viral activity, Harris said.

This type of research is known as high-throughput drug screening -- a process that plays a big role in drug discovery in modern medicine. But instead of finding a new drug, here, investigators are looking to repurpose existing, available drugs for treatment of the coronavirus. This involves using automated, robotic equipment to match drug candidates with cellular events that occur during disease transformation. This form of drug-screening is often less expensive and faster than developing treatments from scratch.

Read More: Cancer Investigators Pivot, Take on Coronavirus Research

Ermolenko lab uncovers a new mechanism causing ribosome pausing

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


Chen Bao

In a new paper just published in the journal eLife, the Ermolenko lab in collaboration with the Grigorieff lab at HHMI uncovers the underlying mechanism by which secondary structure in mRNA causes ribosome pausing. Specifically they show that mRNA stem-loops can cause translation pausing by inhibiting binding of tRNAs to the A site of the ribosome. The lead author on the work is Chen Bao, a Biochemistry graduate student. The work was funded by NIH.

Biophysics Students Win Hooker Fellowships

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Congratulations to Chapin Cavender and Michael Bryan for winning University of Rochester's Hooker Fellowships, recognizing their achievements in their thesis research. Chapin and Michael are Biophysics students working in the labs of David Mathews and Ben Miller, respectively.


Michael Bryan


Chapin Cavender

This week’s URMC Research Heroes featured the Maquat lab’s Tatsuaki Kurosaki, PhD, and Shuhei Mitsutomi, MS

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

This week's URMC Research Heroes featured the Maquat lab's Tatsuaki Kurosaki, PhD, and Shuhei Mitsutomi, MS, who were recognized today for their work on SARS-CoV-2.

Both Tatsuaki and Shuhei have worked as members of the Maquat Lab (Center for RNA Biology and the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics) during the sequestration on SARS-CoV-2, collaborating with a lab at Harvard to determine the mechanism by which the virus inhibits human-cell nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) so as to express and replicate its RNA efficiency.

From Tatsuaki: "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic, is a novel enveloped RNA virus carrying a large (~30 kb) positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome. Although human cells innately have an RNA surveillance pathway called nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) that generally protects cells from infection by many different types of viruses, little is known about how SARS-CoV-2 inhibits NMD to proliferate in human cells. We hope that our research helps to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 proliferation in human cells, eventually contributing toward the development of therapeutic strategies to combat COVID-19."

University of Rochester RNA Essay Contest: “The role of RNA research in community health”

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sponsored by the RNA Society & Lexogen, UR RNA Structure & Function Cluster, and UR Center for RNA Biology

Who is eligible: Any University of Rochester graduate student or post-doc with an interest in RNA biology

Entry rules: Essays should be no more than two pages, single-spaced (excluding references, which should be present), 11-point Arial font, with half-inch margins all around.

Prizes: Two prizes will be given out. Gold (valued at ~$1000), and Silver (valued at ~$250). Additionally, winning essays along with photos of the winning authors will be posted on the Center for RNA Biology webpage and featured on the RNA Society's RNA Salon page, offering international exposure.


The UR's Center for RNA Biology is running an essay contest, sponsored by the RNA Society & Lexogen, and UR's RNA Structure & Function Cluster, on "The role of RNA research in community health". This contest, which is open to all UR graduate students and post-docs, aims to promote creative yet data-driven thinking about the importance of RNA in the "big picture".

Considering that reliable technology is required for research in an increasingly virtual world, prizes will consist of a PC or Mac laptop for Gold winners (~$1000), and software licenses or peripherals (e.g., second monitor or laptop dock) for Silver winners (~$250), subject to the needs of each recipient.

Submissions must be emailed to Liz by Monday, July 13th, 2020.

Winners will be announced in the beginning of August.


The RNA Society:

RNA Structure & Function Cluster:

Center for RNA Biology:

Chris Goodwin, Sierra Fox Celebrate 2020 Commencement at Home Along with 4,000 Students

Monday, May 18, 2020

PALMYRA, NEW JERSEY: New biochemistry doctoral graduates Chris Goodwin and Sierra Fox celebrate at home.

Chris Goodwin and his wife, Sierra Fox, received their doctoral degrees in biochemistry from the School of Medicine. They met at the University years ago and both received master's degrees in 2016. They celebrate Friday at their home in Palmyra, New Jersey. "Going from grad school into quarantine has been very weird," Goodwin says.

They celebrated by baking cinnamon buns and eating them while they watched the online commencement videos and the School of Medicine and Dentistry biochemistry and biophysics department virtual award ceremony. "We had a 'Sierra and Chris' banner left over from our post-thesis defense party months ago and hung that up behind us for a more festive atmosphere," Goodwin says.

Read More: Chris Goodwin, Sierra Fox Celebrate 2020 Commencement at Home Along with 4,000 Students

Biochemistry & Biophysics Hold First Virtual Awards Ceremony

Saturday, May 16, 2020

On Friday May 15th, the department held it's first virtual awards ceremony. Please see the video below: