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From the College of Natural Sciences
Ancient Cousins, New AI Could Reveal Clues About Causes of Birth Defects

Ancient Cousins, New AI Could Reveal Clues About Causes of Birth Defects

Editor's note: Each December, the journal Science identifies one scientific discovery as its "Breakthrough of the Year." For 2021, this recognition went to AlphaFold and RoseTTA-fold—artificial intelligence software that accurately predicts the 3D structure of proteins. Guest writer and microbiology graduate student Colleen Mulvihill reports on one example of how UT Austin scientists are using the new technology to solve longstanding questions in human health.

Keiko Torii Receives Asahi Prize

Keiko Torii Receives Asahi Prize

University of Texas at Austin professor of molecular biosciences Keiko Torii has won the Asahi Prize from the Asahi Shimbun Foundation in recognition of "her breakthroughs on growth control of plants and the development mechanism of stomata."

Put No Effort into Teaching (and Other Advice Janice Fischer Ignored)

Put No Effort into Teaching (and Other Advice Janice Fischer Ignored)

A geneticist and award-winning teacher on the resurgence of teaching at research universities, how students have changed since she's been in the business, and the joys of repetition.

UT Austin's McLellan Receives O'Donnell Award in Medicine

UT Austin's McLellan Receives O'Donnell Award in Medicine

UT Austin structural biologist Jason McLellan, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2022 Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas). He was chosen for his breakthrough research in mapping, modifying, and stabilizing coronavirus spike proteins, which paved the way for the creation of leading COVID-19 vaccines.

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Scientists have found over a thousand versions of a natural gene editor in bacteria, which could lead to better gene editing tools to treat diseases. Image courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute.

Few developments have rocked the biotechnology world or generated as much buzz as the discovery of CRISPR-Cas systems, a breakthrough in gene editing recognized in 2020 with a Nobel Prize. But these systems that naturally occur in bacteria are limited because they can make only small tweaks to genes. In recent years, scientists discovered a different system in bacteria that might lead to even more powerful methods for gene editing, given its unique ability to insert genes or whole sections of DNA in a genome.

UT Austin Harnesses Power of Biology in Partnership with Army Research Laboratory

UT Austin Harnesses Power of Biology in Partnership with Army Research Laboratory

Jimmy Gollihar at work in the "biological foundry." Photo credit: Callie Richmond.

Early last year, Jimmy Gollihar was deep into building a unique facility on the Forty Acres, what he calls "the biological foundry" – a turbo-charged, biotech playground with a focus on rapid scientific discovery. The foundry was to be a key element of a partnership in synthetic biology research between The University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. military. Then, as fate would have it, COVID-19 would change everything.

Breakthrough in Fight on Tick-Borne CCHF Virus is Latest Use of New Strategy Against Diseases

Breakthrough in Fight on Tick-Borne CCHF Virus is Latest Use of New Strategy Against Diseases

A 3D atomic map, or structure, of the Gc protein (red and yellow) bound to two antibodies (green, blue and white) produced by a recovered patient. The Gc protein is a key molecule on the surface of the CCHF virus enabling it to infect cells. Credit: Akaash Mishra/University of Texas at Austin

Using the same approach they recently used to create effective vaccine candidates against COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), scientists are tackling another virus: the tick-borne Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF). It causes death in up to 40% of cases, and the World Health Organization identified the disease as one of its top priorities for research and development. The results appear today in the journal Science.

Innovative Cancer Research Bolstered by Grants from CPRIT

Innovative Cancer Research Bolstered by Grants from CPRIT

A slice through a cluster of about 20 human cells with mitochondria highlighted as green and red dots. Image courtesy of Lulu Cambronne/University of Texas at Austin.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recently awarded grants to six faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin, including Xioalu "Lulu" Cambronne in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. The funding will support ongoing, innovative cancer research at UT Austin and enable advances in immunotherapy, drug development and cancer prevention efforts.

As Cryo-EM Capabilities Expand, Cool Science at UT Gets a Boost

As Cryo-EM Capabilities Expand, Cool Science at UT Gets a Boost

David Taylor with the Glacios cryo-EM. Photo credit: Vivian Abagiu.

Imagine biological and chemical imaging tools so advanced that they are able to show the molecular details of a virus as it attaches to and enters cells, or the alignment of vanishingly tiny crystals at an atomic level so as to lend insights for new solar energy technology.

Simulation Reveals How a SARS-CoV-2 ‘Gate’ Opens to Allow COVID Infection

Simulation Reveals How a SARS-CoV-2 ‘Gate’ Opens to Allow COVID Infection

Despite more than a year and a half of research, there are still many unknowns about how the virus that causes COVID-19 infects human cells. A deeper understanding could lead to new treatment approaches.

Bacterial Warfare Provides New Antibiotic Target

Bacterial Warfare Provides New Antibiotic Target

Pseudomonas bacteria use a kind of harpoon to attack nearby bacteria, injecting them with a toxin that targets a critical molecular machine called the transamidosome complex. Credit: Despoina Mavridou/University of Texas at Austin.

Antibiotic resistance, where disease-causing bacteria evolve resistance to drugs that usually kill them, is a rising problem globally, meaning new antibiotics need to be found. However, it is difficult for researchers to know which parts of bacterial cells to target with new drugs.

Unlocking Secrets of Some of the World’s Smallest Viruses

Unlocking Secrets of Some of the World’s Smallest Viruses

A typical flu virus is so small that a thousand of them could fit in the width of a human hair.

Jason McLellan Named Texas Inventor of the Year

Jason McLellan Named Texas Inventor of the Year

Jason McLellan, a faculty member in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, has been selected as the Texas Inventor of the Year for his role in biomedical research linked to the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The award is given annually by the State Bar of Texas's Intellectual Property Section in recognition of an individual whose invention "has significantly impacted the Texas economy."

New Insights Could Lead to Crops Adapted to a Warming World

New Insights Could Lead to Crops Adapted to a Warming World

Pairs of seedlings show the difference in growth patterns for plants living in 22°C (left one in each pair) versus 28°C (right). Pairs of seedlings are shown for each day, from 2 to 7 days.

When air temperatures rise, plants tend to grow differently: they grow taller, their roots grow deeper, they bloom earlier and pores in their leaves get fewer. By helping them stay cooler and retain more water, these changes might enable them to adapt to our rapidly warming world. But there's a big downside for us humans. When it's hotter, crop plants that we depend on tend to have a lower yield.

Carlos Baiz and Shelley Payne Earn Prestigious Teaching Awards

Carlos Baiz and Shelley Payne Earn Prestigious Teaching Awards

Two College of Natural Sciences faculty members were named the winners of prestigious national and state teaching awards this spring.