Fall class of faculty and new centers boost Biodesign research endeavors

Fall class of faculty and new centers boost Biodesign research endeavors

September 13, 2017

  • With move-in plans on track for next spring, a summer 2018 operational opening, and Biodesign C official grand opening to follow next fall, the Biodesign Institute has been quickly attracting top talent to quickly fill the research plans and themes for the expanded facility.

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September 13, 2017

With the start of the fall semester and official launch of the 2017-2018 ASU academic year underway, the Biodesign Institute is pleased to welcome two new center directors and eleven faculty joining its rapidly expanding research enterprise.

Recently, the Biodesign Institute celebrated Biodesign C's Topping Out ceremony, and watched the last beam – replete with hundreds of Biodesign employee signatures and well-wishes – lofted atop the framework and into prosperity.

With this construction milestone achievement, move-in plans for Biodesign C are on track for next spring, with a summer 2018 operational opening, and Biodesign C official grand opening to follow next fall.  

The institute has been quickly attracting top talent to fill the research plans and themes for the expanded facility.

Among these are an expansion of neuroscience, structural biology and two new research centers exploring the fundamental forces of evolution and the nature of computing.

The two new Biodesign Centers that are now being established will bring a total of 16 research centers at Biodesign). National Academy of Science member and evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch officially joins Biodesign in January of 2018; he is currently recruiting faculty and students for his Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution.

This new effort will advance the u­nderstanding of evolution across all scales of life, from whole populations to the key forces at work deep within a cell. The overarching mission of Lynch’s new Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution is to understand the primary forces of evolution to empower all areas of the life sciences and solve key practical and urgent societal issues such as our understanding of mutation and disease. His research interests concern the cellular and population-genetic mechanisms underlying evolutionary processes and are pursued using a variety of model organisms and mathematical approaches. Lynch will hold a faculty appointment in the School of Life Sciences.

In addition to a being a fellow of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Lynch has served as past president of the Genetics Society of America, Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, and Society for the Study of Evolution. He is also a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Stephanie Forrest, who draws on biological processes to better understand computer immunology, software, viruses and security, will also be joining Biodesign from the University of New Mexico. Forrest will lead a Biodesign center to explore the nature of computing and hold an academic appointment in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.  The center will focus on understanding and managing malicious and other undesirable behaviors across a wide variety of complex systems, focusing primarily on living systems and computation.  Activities will include computational and mathematical modeling of immunological processes, cancer, and evolutionary diseases such as influenza; and, it will also focus on cybersecurity issues, evolution of software, and ultimately robotics and other embedded devices.

Forrest is a computer scientist who studies the biology of computation and computation in biology, including biological modeling of immunological processes and evolutionary diseases, cybersecurity, software engineering and evolutionary computation. She also holds an MS in computer and communications sciences from the University of Michigan.

Biodesign leadership will continue to recruit for a world-renowned center director for the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. With the support and assistance of Eric Reiman, director of the ASU-Banner Neuroscience Initiative, Biodesign leadership has their sights set on attracting the strongest possible candidate in the arena of basic neuroresearch. 

In addition to two new centers, an existing center – the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security – will be changing its name to the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, under the leadership of Rolf Halden to better communicate how it uses environmental engineering to improve health.

Below are brief, overview snapshots of the esteemed Biodesign research faculty class of 2017-18:

  • Treavor Boyer, Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology

Associate Professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

Boyer’s research is broadly focused on water sustainability, and spans drinking water and wastewater treatment, and natural aquatic systems. His engineering passion is to develop robust approaches to the treatment of water at various stages in its lifecycle so as to maximize water conservation, recover valuable materials, sequester harmful contaminants, minimize the production of waste byproducts, and advance the water–energy–food nexus. He strongly supports taking a systems-thinking approach to water quality and treatment that considers global drivers such as urbanization, climate change, biogeochemical cycles, sustainable engineering, and disruptive innovation. In 2012, he earned a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his efforts toward using urine source separation and treatment as catalysis for new research directions in wastewater treatment and resource recovery.

  • Huansheng Cao, Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics

Assistant research professor, School of Life Sciences

Cao’s research lab focuses on microbial systems biology and microbiome. He is interested in the intersection of science to explore how life on earth originated from and has evolved in our technically inanimate chemical nature (in the universe), and its fundamental governance by the physical and chemical laws of energy and mass. He explores the self-sustaining biochemical machinery to varying degrees of organisms from three main life domains (archaea, bacteria, and eukaryote), and how they utilize resources (e.g., energy and mass) as populations, but more prevalently, within a community for life proliferation and evolution.

  • Anca Delgado, Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology

Assistant Professor, Fulton School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

Delgado’s research focuses on soil and water microbial processes that sequester, recycle, and transform carbon and chlorine compounds for (i) contaminant removal, (ii) minimization of harmful chemicals in food production, (iii) improvement of soil quality, and (iv) biofuel precursor production. Delgado has spent her entire academic career at ASU, most recently completing a postdoctoral fellowship in environmental engineering. During her postdoctoral appointment, Delgado studied strategies for enhanced bioremediation by combining biodegradation and chemical oxidants for remediating soils contaminated heavy petroleum hydrocarbons.  Prior to that, she received a Ph.D. in Microbiology in 2013 and B.S. in Microbiology in 2008 at ASU.

  •  Jia Fan, Biodesign Center for Personalized Diagnostics  

Fan has a strong background in biochemistry, molecular biology, analytical chemistry and nanotechnology. Her research focuses on developing and validating integrated nanotechnology-based strategies for marker discovery and development of non-invasive clinical diagnostics approaches that use blood or urine samples. Her goal is to provide translatable solutions for personalized medicine in early disease diagnosis to improve patient outcomes. Her studies served as the basis for three RO1, one R21 and two Foundation awards (total $8.5M) and has extensive experience with multidisciplinary approaches for leveraging nanotechnology applications in projects with clinicians, biostatisticians and clinical chemists.

  • Ian Hogue, Biodesign Center for Immunology, Virology, and Virotherapy

Assistant professor, School of Life Sciences

Hogue’s broad interests include virologyherpesvirusesretrovirusesvirus assembly and egress. His research examines on how herpes viruses hijack cellular machinery to move inside and spread between infected cells. Recently, he completed postdoctoral fellowship work in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. Prior to that, he received his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan, and B.A., Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor, School of Life Sciences

Professor Jensen is a population geneticist appointed in the School of Life Sciences and the Center for Evolution & Medicine. His group studies the process of adaptation, develops theory and statistical methodology for describing and quantifying evolutionary processes, and analyzes natural population data to describe the relative roles of these processes during the colonization of novel environments.

  • Efrem Lim, Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics

Assistant professor, School of Life Sciences

Lim is a virologist who uses the tools of virus discovery to study host-virus interactions in health and disease. The Lim lab studies the interactions and evolution of the human virome in development and immunity. His lab is particularly interested in understanding how the virome shapes the trajectory of infant development, how metagenomic changes induced by immunosuppression affect transplant outcome, and how viruses temper the homeostasis of the urinary tract.

  • Bo Ning, Biodesign Center for Personalized Diagnostics

Ning’s research includes a broad range of technical specialties in a wide variety of working experiences in biology, especially in molecular cloning, proteomics and immunotechology. His expertise includes plasmid construction, primer design, protein expression and purification in E.coli and yeast, isolation of total RNA from plant tissues, animal tissues, blood, and cells. In addition, he is familiar with proteomic software: PDQuest, ImageMaster, animal immunization, cell culture, and polyclonal antibody preparation and purification.

Assistant Professor, School of Life Sciences

Pfeifer is an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences and research in the Center for Mechanisms of Evolution in the Biodesign Institute. Pfeifer is interested in studying genetic and evolutionary processes by combining large-scale, high-throughput sequence data analysis, model-based statistical inference and modeling. She earned a BSc and MSc in computational molecular biology at the Max-Planck-Institute for Computer Science/Saarland University (Germany).

  • Abhishek Singharoy, Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery

Assistant professor, School of Molecular Sciences

The unified theme of Singharoy’s research is to combine rigorous statistical mechanical methodologies with state-of-the-art molecular dynamics and free-energy computations for capturing cell-scale biological responses with atomic precision. Spanning multiple spatio-temporal scales, these computations have led to discoveries in voltage-sensing and ion transport mechanisms, ribosomal insertion pathways, and allosteric networks controlling immunogenicity against viruses. His lab’s most recent endeavors focus on dissecting the evolutionary design principles of mitochondrial respiration. This research brings to light the molecular origins of cellular aging and programmed cell death, and inspires a novel computer-aided pipeline pertaining to intricate pathology of the respiratory network.

  • Petr Sulc, Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics

Assistant professor, School of Molecular Sciences

Sulc’s research focuses on applications of statistical physics and computer modeling to the study of complex systems. He works on the development of coarse-grained models of RNA and DNA to study their biophysical properties, as well as processes involving DNA and RNA in biological or nanotechnological settings. Dr. Šulc has further worked on smart-grid optimization and developed control algorithms that minimize losses and improve voltage stability in circuits with photovoltaic sources of energy. He has also studied random walks on sparse random graphs, applications of belief propagation to graph partitioning problems, and evolutionary dynamics of RNA secondary structures. Recently, he has extended his interests to olfaction and protein self-assembly.


For those in the ASU community who want to say hello and extend a warm Biodesign welcome to the new faculty and center directors, mark your calendar to meet everyone in person at the Biodesign Sept. 28 Fall Town Hall meeting at 3 p.m, in the main auditorium. This will be followed by the After Hours social mixer that will begin with food and drink at 4 p.m. and go until 6 p.m., hosted by one of Biodesign's newer centers, the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics.