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Research in molecular cell biology at UC Merced is rich and varied. We encourage you to visit MCB faculty members' websites for more details on their research.

Here is a small sample of the kinds of research our faculty members are working on:

Professor Patricia LiWang

The overall theme of our laboratory’s research is to study proteins at the molecular level using biochemical analyses alongside powerful tools such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). This includes not only structure determination, but also biological assays of proteins and their mutants to understand the structural underpinnings of biological function. We often work with members of the chemokine family of proteins, which are inflammatory proteins, several of which have been shown to block infection by HIV-1, making an analysis of their action crucial for AIDS research. Most recently we have made an extremely potent HIV inhibitor against both R5 and X4 virus using the RANTES variant 5P12-RANTES (originally discovered by the Hartley group) linked to a C-peptide.

We are using a combination of mutagenesis, NMR techniques, cellular assays and HIV assays to learn about chemokines and chemokine binding proteins and to elucidate their role in inflammation and suppressing HIV-1 infection.

We also have a long-standing interest in saccharide binding, leading to our ongoing work with the potent HIV entry inhibitor griffithsin. We have linked this protein with a C-peptide, leading to even more potent HIV inhibition, and are also studying the details of the biochemical properties of griffithsin.

Our work with chemokines and chemokine binding proteins also includes a study of how to inhibit the chemokine system to stop inflammation. This work includes both the proteins vMIP-II and vCCI.

For more information, visit the LiWang lab site.

Professor Rudy Ortiz

Our lab is interested in elucidating the mechanism by which dysregulation of metabolism, or metabolic derangement, contributes to impaired glucose and lipid metabolism in conjunction with the development of insulin resistance and ultimately cardiovascular and kidney disease.

This includes the examination of: 1) redox signaling and balance in target tissues such as heart, kidney, liver and pancreas, 2) angiotensin and insulin receptor signaling, 3) cellular metabolism of glucose and lipid, and 4) inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways. The metabolic derangement associated with diet-induced obesity is of particular interest.

For more information, visit the Ortiz lab site.

Professor Fred Wolf

Our lab studies the genes and the neural circuits that specify simple behaviors. The fruit fly Drosophila has a much smaller brain than ours, yet flies are capable of remarkably sophisticated behaviors. The genetic tools available in flies allow precise manipulation of gene activity, the signaling properties of cells in the brain, and a rapid pace of discovery. We suspect the high level of molecular conservation between flies and humans reflects a conservation of the roles of molecules in behavior, and that some of the logic of how circuits function will be universal.

Current research in our lab focuses on the actions of the widely abused drug alcohol and the motivational properties of food. Our long-term goal is to understand how cues with positive value are represented in the brain.

Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the world, and yet it is unique amongst addictive drugs because it is also economically and socially important. Understanding the neural and genetic mechanisms of alcohol action is critically important for designing effective treatments for alcohol abuse.

Moreover, alcohol taps into some of the most primitive circuitry of the brain, giving us a means to study how these circuits work. Flies and humans share an evolutionarily ancient association with ethanol, and flies exhibit many behaviors that model features of addiction in higher organisms. In flies and humans, ethanol exposure causes lasting adaptations (sensitization and tolerance) to both its pleasurable and aversive effects. Flies can also develop a preference for ethanol, and they find it rewarding. We are identifying genetic programs in neurons and glia that specify ethanol-induced behavioral plasticity.

Satiation state is an important driver of animal behavior: nutrient deprivation strongly motivates food seeking. Despite a great deal of knowledge about how the hormonal signals that convey metabolic status to the brain work, the circuitry in the brain that controls the behavioral response to satiation state is barely known. Mammalian brain regions that are co-opted by drugs of abuse also regulate feeding behaviors, and they use overlapping molecular pathways. What is the extent of this functional overlap? Are shared circuit elements used similarly in food seeking and by drugs of abuse? We are developing new quantitative behavioral assays and are carrying out screens to find genes and brain regions that regulate the motivation to seek food.

For more information, visit the Wolf Lab Site.

Professor Clarissa J. Nobile

Sociomicrobiology is a research area aimed at understanding the social aspects of microbes. The Nobile lab is interested in the molecular and mechanistic basis of microbial communities. We are particularly excited about figuring out how transcriptional networks underlie the regulation of gene expression during biofilm development. Much of this work is carried out in the species Candida albicans, the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans.

Our lab is also beginning to study interspecies interactions between different fungal and bacterial species. Questions that the lab is pursuing include: How are microbial communities regulated? How are microbial communities built? How are their unique and specialized properties maintained? How have microbial communities evolved?