Whitcome Pre-doctoral Fellowships in Molecular Biology

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Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) graduate students Andrew Goring (Clubb/Loo groups) and Alexander Stevens (Zhou group) have been awarded prestigious Whitcome Pre-doctoral Fellowships in Molecular Biology for 2023-24.

The fellowship will provide them support in the form of tuition/fees, a monthly stipend and travel funds.

About Andrew Goring

Andrew Goring (pictured above left) received his bachelors in biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he worked in Professor Songi Han’s lab characterizing the biophysics of Tau and its relation to neurodegenerative taupathies. He then worked in a biochemical assay development and screening team at a synthetic biology company in South San Francisco. In 2019 Andrew joined UCLA’s Chemistry and Biochemistry as a joint student in labs of Professors Robert Clubb and Joseph Loo.

“My research is focused on gaining a fundamental understanding on the molecular basis of heme acquisition by pathogenic Actinobacteria using novel mass spectrometric methods,” Goring said. “The Actinobacteria phylum is home to some of the most clinically important pathogens including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the second leading cause of death from a single infectious agent after COVID-19. A striking feature of members from this phylum is their unique cell envelope, markedly different from Gram- and other Gram+ bacteria with a thick, hydrophobic and highly impermeable outer mycolic acid membrane. This serves as a strong barrier to the exterior environment, and the way molecules are transported across it serve as an exciting avenue of research.”

“My work is focused on defining the role of proteins in the heme-acquisition system of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a model actinobacterium,” Goring explained. “In doing so, I am employing novel proteomics approaches to gain access to the mycolic acid layer and defining the heme acquisition process with native top-down mass spectrometry.”

After graduating Goring wants to continue research to characterization of molecular systems with clinical relevance. “It is very exciting to watch technology progress and the research fields I work in move forward,” he said. “I am happy I can contribute and want to continue to do so for years to come.”

About Alexander Stevens

Alex Stevens (pictured above right) received his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Arizona State University, where he researched G protein-coupled receptor structures in the lab of Professor Wei Liu. In the fall of 2019, Alex joined the Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) graduate program under the tutelage of Professor Hong Zhou.

Alex’s graduate work leverages the recent advancements in cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) to resolve high-resolution structures of the proteins that drive assembly and replication in double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses. Because dsRNA is alien to eukaryotes and thus a powerful inducer of the antiviral response, these viruses have evolved to transcribe nucleotides at transcriptional enzymatic complexes (TECs) within their proteinaceous capsids which simultaneously undergo large architectural changes. Alex investigates this dynamic within complex dsRNA viruses, like the economically important aquareovirus, to determine how their TECs and capsids change throughout their lifecycle. He has also characterized a minimally complex dsRNA virus which he plans to use as a model to probe the rules of intracellular replication amongst these ubiquitous pathogens.

Alex is passionate about deepening our understanding of disease and hopes to contribute to the discovery of therapies that improve people’s lives and wants to improve the manner in which we conduct science so it may realize all its promises to stakeholders. After receiving his PhD, Alex plans to pursue research roles uncovering the mechanisms underpinning pathogenesis of harmful microbes and hopes to one day branch into science policy. “UCLA gave me the perfect environment to collaborate with preeminent scholars, learn techniques from the leading edge of my field, and produce impactful work, and I look forward to applying what I’ve learned to my future work.”

About the Whitcome Fellowships

In 2005 UCLA received an $8,000,000 bequest from the estate of Philip Whitcome.  Dr Whitcome received his Ph.D. in 1974 from the Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Ph.D. Program and went on to a stellar career in the biotechnology industry. His gift allowed the establishment of the Whitcome Fellowship Program designed to attract highly talented students to a unique graduate training environment that emphasizes rapid progress toward groundbreaking scientific discoveries. 


Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.