Prof. Keriann Backus – 2020 Packard Fellowship

The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Packard Fellows are at the cutting edge of research into crucial issues like COVID-19 and climate change, and have gone on to receive the highest accolades, including Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, the Fields Medal, the Alan T. Waterman Award, the Breakthrough Prize, the Kavli Prize, and elections to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Notably, all three U.S. women who won the Nobel Prize in the past three years are Packard Fellows: Frances Arnold, Jennifer Doudna, and Andrea Ghez.

Awards Announcement Page


Professor Keriann Backus’ Research:

Protein interactions are at the core of nearly all cellular processes required for life. By developing and applying new high throughput methods to pinpoint the precisely where and when contacts occur, Backus’s group seeks to decipher the impact and therapeutic relevance of the millions of interactions occurring within every cell.

The Cell Wall – iBiology – by Siobhan Braybrook

DOE IGP Faculty Member Siobhan Braybrook hosts videos at iBiology on plant biology – the cell wall. Her 3 part video series:

  1. The Cell Wall
  2. Cell Wall Mechincs and Growth
  3. Cell Wall Mechanics and Growth: Beyond Plants

Manuscript at Biorxiv

UCLA-DOE Investigators Awards and Papers

Jose Rodriguez wins 2018 Pew Scholars Award


Other awards



Patrice Salomé selected as one of 16 Assistant Features Editors for The Plant Cell

Patrice Salomé, an assistant researcher in Sabeeha Merchant’s group, was recently selected as one of 16 Assistant Features Editors for The Plant Cell, owing to his breadth of knowledge in plant biology. He will contribute summaries of research articles published in The Plant Cell. He has already published 11 “in Brief” articles for the journal, covering a range of topics, including micronutrient uptake in plants, chromosome segregation and light- and hormone-regulated seedling development.
Patrice is also a writer for “Plant Cell Extracts”, on the blog site He coined the name of the blog, which is sponsored by the American Society of Plant Biology (ASPB), and contributes to ASPB’s science communication efforts by making cutting-edge research in the plant sciences accessible to the larger community.

In Brief articles:

  1. Some Like it HOT: Protein Translation and Heat Stress in Plants. in Brief, The Plant Cell, 2017. DOI:
  2. Know Your Histone (Zip)Code: Flowering Time and Phosphorylation of Histone H2A on Serine 95. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2017. DOI:
  3. Proliferate at Your Own Risk: Ribosomal Stress and Regeneration. in Brief, The Plant Cell, 2017. DOI:
  4. In the Heat of the Moment: ZTL-Mediated Protein Quality Control at High Temperatures. in Brief, The Plant Cell, 2017. DOI:
  5. This ICE/SCRM Melts in the Dark: Light-Dependent COP1-Mediated Protein Degradation in Stomatal Formation. in Brief, The Plant Cell 2017. DOI:
  6. Life’s a Gas Under Pressure: Ethylene and Etioplast Maintenance in Germinating Seedlings. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2017. DOI:
  7. Manganese is a Plant’s Best Friend: Intracellular Mn Transport by the Transporter NRAMP2. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2017. DOI:
  8. Hold Me Closer: Meiotic Crossover Formation and FANCD2. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2018. DOI:
  9. Developmental Timing Is Everything: TZP and Phytochrome Signaling. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2018. DOI:
  10. Divide and Conquer: High-Throughput Screening of Chlamydomonas Cell Cycle Mutants. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2018. DOI:
  11. Don’t Go Grocery Shopping When Hungry! Systemic Signaling in Zinc Homeostasis. In Brief, The Plant Cell 2018. DOI:

Medium articles:

  1. Some Like it HOT: Protecting Plants from Heat Stress.
  2. Plants Get Jetlag Too: A Play On Flowering Time.
  3. Plants: the Green Starfish of the World.

Methanospirillum hungatei cells and flagella structure

The archaeal motility structure (flagellum /archaellum)

During an initial structural and proteomic survey of the model archaeal microbe Methanospirillum hungatei we identified proteins comprising the attached cellular flagellum. Little was previously known about these archaeal appendages and we therefore characterized them and obtained the first atomic-level structure of a model archaeal flagellum. The findings reveal properties distinct from the bacterial flagellar counterpart regarding subunit size, post translational modifications and tertiary structure. Experiments are continuing to further characterize the post translational glycan modifications to the M. hungatei flagellum in collaborations by the Gunsalus and Loo Laboratories of the UCLA-DOE Institute.

Nicole Poweleit accepted Postdoctoral Scholar position at UCSF

Nicole Poweleit, recent PhD with Dr. Robert Gunsalus accepted postition at the  University of California, San Francisco, in the Department of Medicine. She will join Oren Rosenberg‘s lab in the Division of Infectious Diseases, working with microbial pathgenesis.

Genome-wide transcriptomics in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii during day-night cycles reveals new metabolic patterns in light and stress response (Merchant lab)

A day in the life of Chlamydomonas

The unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii excels at acclimating to a changing environment. We analyzed expression patterns of its three genomes in cells grown under light-dark cycles. Nearly 85% of transcribed genes show differential expression, with different sets of transcripts being up-regulated over the course of the day to coordinate cellular growth before undergoing cell division. Parallel measurements of select metabolites and pigments, physiological parameters and a subset of proteins allow us to infer metabolic events and to evaluate the impact of the transcriptome on the proteome. Among new findings is the observation that Chlamydomonas exhibits low respiratory activity at night and relies instead on fermentative metabolism; we propose that the ferredoxin FDX9 acts as the electron donor to fermentative hydrogenases. The light stress responsive genes PSBS, LHCSR1 and LHCSR3 all show an acute response to light at dawn under abrupt dark-to light transitions. LHCSR3 genes also exhibits a later burst in expression in the middle of the day in response to higher light intensities. Each response to light (acute and sustained) can be selectively activated under specific conditions. Our expression dataset, complemented with co-expression networks and metabolite profiling, should constitute an excellent resource for the algal and plant communities.

Figure 1: Heatmap representing gene expression for 11,306 differentially expressed genes over the diurnal cycle. Chlamydomonas cells grown under light-dark cycles accumulate biomass as a direct consequence of photosynthesis during the day, and divide shortly after dusk.

Figure 2: Diagram of Chlamydomonas cell division progression over the diurnal cycle.
Cells grow in volume and accumulate biomass during the day, using photosynthesis to fuel growth. Around dusk, cells will initiate the mitotic division and yield two daughter cells per mother cell. At night, daughter cells will regenerate their flagella, which were resorbed before cell division, and enter the quiescent phase of the cell cycle until the following dawn.