Spotlights 2021


December 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Dongmyung Oh


I am an assistant professor in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I joined UTMB last summer from MBI Singapore. I have been working on living cells and molecule imaging to understand membrane proteins signalling in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In order to know gene function, it is important to know where gene product (eg protein) is located and what it is doing inside the cell. However, living cells are complex and dynamic systems in which protein behavior is constantly changing, making it difficult to measure. My approach to this problem is to use a single-particle photoactivatable localization microscopy (sptPALM) combined with substrate micropatterning manipulation to visualize individual molecules in real time on the sub-nanometer and up to 1 ms resolution. This process allows control of the amount of protein detected on the CCD screen where the protein of interest is spatially segregated in the patterned corrals. Therefore, we can get accurate dynamic information such as kon and koff of protein with a small number of events, as well as super-resolved spatial information with many events. Typically, a series of 1,000 – 100 k molecular events data (~ endogenous copy number) is used to extract local kinetics of receptors or protein-protein interactions in the cell membrane. Because of the complexity of cell membrane, the in vivo kinetics of receptors or membrane-associated proteins differ significantly from reported values performed in vitro systems. Therefore, in vivo kinetic parameters are essential for effective drug design, and I am involved in providing this information to various proteins including receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). My current study is to know how the mechanical signalling mediated by myosin IIA modulate Axl (RTK superfamily) activation for cell proliferation and migration in the absence of an its activating growth factors.
Recently, RTK has been highly appreciated in viral infections. For example, Axl promotes the entry of Zika, Ebola and SARS-Cov-2 viruses into host cells. And I am also interested in collaboration with groups working in this field.
After work, I play tennis, golf and fishing to cool off my brain.

Stuti Desai

November 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Stuti Desai


I am fascinated by how pathogens exist in different forms to survive and replicate in often fluctuating, host and non-host, environments. My research focuses on understanding the genetic and signaling events that enable the enteric pathogen, Salmonella enterica, to shift between the virulent and dormant lifestyles. In my postdoctoral work, we unraveled that atypical signaling by a virulence master regulator drives the expression of a central pathway involved in the formation of sessile Salmonella communities, or biofilms. Salmonella biofilms are necessary for persistence and carriage in asymptomatic patients. In fact, in chronic Salmonella infections, biofilms are formed on gallstones in the gallbladder, increasing the frequency of developing hepatobiliary carcinomas. I am now excited to harness the expertise at UTMB in biomedical sciences, to unravel the mechanisms of lifestyle changes in more aggressive strains of Salmonella and understand how it drives asymptomatic chronic infections. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly put a ‘spotlight’ on the dangerous role of asymptomatic infections in spreading human pathogens. You can know more about my work at my webpage (  Twitter: @stutikdesai

Dr. Xia

October 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Hongjie Xia

I am a research scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I work with Dr. Pei-Yong Shi in his lab. My research focuses on flavivirus including innate immune response, the molecular mechanism of viral replication, and the development of antiviral drugs and vaccines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I moved to SARS-CoV-2 research to understand the interferon response to SARS-CoV-2 infection, evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, and develop a novel safety strategy for high-throughput antiviral testing, diagnosis, and vaccine evaluation. I am always doing what I am interested in that keeps me going. My goal is to continue my antiviral research in industry to be a team leader or academia to be a professor in the future.


September 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Xuping Xie

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I am co-running the lab with Dr. Pei-Yong Shi. I got involved in virology research and drug development when I started my graduate program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Science. Before joining UTMB in 2016, I worked as a research assistant and later postdoctoral fellow in a world-leading pharmaceutical company-Novartis. Both academic and industrial experience allows my research to work at the interface between basic and translation research.

My research focuses on the molecular basis of viral replication, pathogenesis, and countermeasure (vaccine and antiviral) development for life-threatening RNA viruses, including Dengue virus, Zika virus, and SARS-CoV-2. I pioneered the study on NS4B as a novel target for antiviral development in the flavivirus field when I worked in Novartis. When I moved to UTMB, I switched to study the basis of ZIKV replication and assembly. When SARS-CoV-2 emerged in early 2020, I started to study SARS-CoV-2. My biggest achievement in UTMB so far is to develop the first peer-reviewed reverse genetic system for SARS-CoV-2 and high throughput platforms for measuring neutralizing antibody and antiviral screening. The system has been widely recognized by the scientific community and has been licensed to Pfizer for developing the first SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine in human use. My lab now is keep investigating the effects of SARS-CoV-2 variants on the pathogenesis and efficacy of therapeutic antibodies and vaccines. I hope with everyone’s contributions, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will be ended soon. My ultimate career goal is to become a research-track professor and to bring impactful means to our society to prevent life-threatening infectious diseases.  

Dr. Guy NIr

August 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Guy Nir

A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the human genome, along with its bound proteins, is packed 600 times more densely than it would be if folded at random. Something is going on here! In fact, we know of two major genome folding mechanisms that shape our genomes. But we are still trying to figure out how can the 3D structure of our genome regulate gene expression.  My lab, which is part of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UTMB, utilizes state-of-the-art imaging approaches to relate structure to function. In the long term, I’d like to use the models we build to design gene circuits that are modulated by their 3D structure. Outside of my research, I enjoy sports (unfortunately, in recent years I have been more of a viewer than a participant) and hiking. I certainly miss traveling and discovering new places, but hopefully, not for long. If you are interested in learning more about my lab and myself, please visit our website and follow me on Twitter @GuyNir5.

Dr. Rovshan Sadygov

July 2021 Spotlight
Dr. Rovshan Sadygov


I am an Associate Professor at the UTMB. I joined UTMB in 2008 as an Assistant Professor. At that time, we worked on UTMB’s Clinical Proteomics Center projects, funded by NIH. We developed a model to quantify mass spectral data of labeling with 18O-water and used it to identify differential protein expression between normal and diseased states.

My research interests are broadly in bioinformatics and mass informatics of proteomics and their application to biomedical problems. One project focuses on studies of in vivo protein turnover using heavy water metabolic labeling and LC-MS. Our novel model of isotope profile evolution during gradual label incorporation allows direct extraction of protein turnover rates. The methods are applied to study protein turnover in the liver of mouse model of non-Alcoholic Fatty liver disease. Another project developed a Gaussian Graphical Model of protein networks from large-scale proteomics data. The network generation model is used to describe changes associated with a transition to HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma. We have a long-standing interest in bioinformatics and statistical models for integrating large-scale and high-throughput data sets from omics experiments.


Dr. Petr Leiman

June 2021 SpotlightDr. Petr Leiman

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I joined the UTMB in the summer of 2016. Prior to that I was an Assistant Professor at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL), a French-speaking sister organization of ETH Zurich. My lab studies various aspects of the structure and function of bacterial viruses (bacteriophages) and related systems. An absolute majority of these viruses carry a special organelle - a tail - that plays a critical role in the recognition and attachment to a susceptible bacterial cell. Some of the tails are remarkable in their complexity. We also study phage-encoded RNA polymerases that can recognize unusual or modified DNA bases. My long-term goal is to be able to merge different scientific disciplines, methods, and tools to explain how the systems we study work in quantitative terms. For example, how phage tails are put together, how they store energy, and how they are triggered precisely upon establishing an interaction with the host membrane.

In my free time, of which there is not much, I enjoy playing tennis with my wife and my two boys. I also enjoy doing home improvements and working in the garden. 


May 2021 SpotlightDr. Binhan Yu

I am a research scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I work with Dr. Junji Iwahara in his lab. I got involved in research when I was an undergrad in Peking University.  As a medicinal chemistry student, I used to synthesize many potential biologically active compounds and check their structures using various spectroscopic methods. That was the time when I discovered NMR. Later on, I went to National University of Singapore and did my graduate studies on protein dynamics in Dr. Daiwen Yang’s lab. My biggest achievement there was to have established a new fitting protocol for collective analysis of data from several different NMR experiments. Using this protocol, I was able to discover more hidden states of a protein for the first time. The graduate training has given me solid research skills and benefitted me in the long run. Working at UTMB has been a great learning experience for me. My research focuses on biophysical studies on protein-DNA, ion-protein, and ion-DNA interactions using various advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods and computational approaches. Recently, we have developed an NMR method for De novo determination of near-surface electrostatic potentials around proteins. I believe this exciting new approach will have broader impacts in the field. My goal is to do research that I am interested in. Hopefully I can become a professor in the future.

Dr. Muge Martinez

April 2021 SpotlightDr. Muge Kuyumcu-Martinez

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The theme of my lab is the RNA biology of the heart. It is a perfect fusion of RNA and cardiovascular biology. More specifically, we study gene regulation by RNA binding proteins in the heart. Our goals are to understand why and how dysregulation of RNA binding proteins contributes to a variety of heart diseases with the ultimate goal to prevent or treat heart diseases. I feel privileged to have been working with outstanding collaborators and talented people in my laboratory. For more info regarding me and my lab, you can check out my lab website and my lab twitter account.

Twitter: @KuyumcuLab

Rebecca Whitton

March 2021 SpotlightRebecca Whitton

I have been working as a team member for UTMB Galveston for almost 11 years, with one of those years as a contractor. I started off in Records Management as a temporary position, never thinking I would still be here 10 years later. I accepted a full-time position in the Auxiliary department as their Senior Business coordinator. Five years later 2015, I decided to join BMB. I was ready to learn something new, and that is where I got my feet wet in learning about the financial side of research, grants, etc. It has been a learning experience for me. And I was exposed to all these brilliant minds in research, so many highly educated individuals. Working here at UTMB has provided me with many rewards such as stability and confidence that I so needed in my life. With my growth here, I realized that I wanted to continue my career at UTMB and what better way, than to start my master’s degree. This has been one of my goals for many years, but with growing children, marriage, divorce, and life in general, I put that on the back burner, but now that my children our grown, I figured this is a perfect opportunity. In addition, I am hoping that through this journey I can prove to my boys that no matter what age you are, you can still set goals and achieve them no matter the obstacles. I am so excited about the next step I have taken and the journey it will lead me to.

Dr. Eric Wagner

February 2021 SpotlightEric Wagner

Dr. Eric Wagner is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular biology. His lab focuses on RNA processing and transcription. It is a small group with lots of talented collaborators. The biggest challenge they face is when he gets involved in benchwork. So Eric distracts himself with other duties to ensure the success of his team - there's the secret sauce!! For more information about Dr. Wagner, please go to his department website page.

Dr. Camila Fontes-Garfias

January 2021 SpotlightCamila Fontes-Garfias — Pei-Yong Shi Lab

My research focuses on the Zika and COVID viruses. I work with Dr. Pei-Yong Shi in his lab. In high school my favorite subject was science, but I enlisted in the Army.  After my military service I took advantage of my G.I. Bill and enrolled in all the science classes I could, I fell in love with biochemistry and research. My COVID work has made feel like I am serving my country once again. Hopefully, I will be able to be a good scientist, wife, and mother. I am a veteran of the US Army, I spent 9 years in active duty. My advice to new student is, if you have the opportunity to do what you love, do it!

Aaron Bailey

December 2020 SpotlightAaron Bailey — William Russell's Lab/ BMB Mass Spectrometry Core Facility

My research focuses on protein structure analysis using liquid separations and high-resolution mass spectrometry. I have wanted to be a research scientist since childhood. After undergraduate work I was introduced to the world of proteomics as a technician in John Yates III lab at The Scripps Research Institute. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about cutting edge science using multidimensional liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. I became particularly excited about mass spectrometry after seeing firsthand the power of this approach in the analysis of a wide variety of complex protein mixtures. Research has taught me a lot about myself, other people, and how humanity can interact with nature to understand how the world and universe works. In my path to becoming a researcher I was very fortunate to be able to pursue training as a doctoral student in two distinct scientific fields: analytical chemistry and structural biochemistry. In navigating the unknown to the completion of my degree, I learned a great deal about the value of communication as well as that of technical accuracy in successfully conducting a multidisciplinary research program.

My biggest goal is to leave this world in a better place than I found it. In pursuit of this goal, I follow the mantra "contribute where you can", with the aim that my contributions will be meaningful. I enjoy writing original music, playing guitar, and singing. For many years I have had the unique pleasure of performing in a band with my wife and several other family members. I also love to camp/travel to remote desert places in search of solitude and a chance to recharge. When at home, I try to occasionally keep my skills sharp on my favorite Nintendo NES game Dr. Mario.

My ultimate career goal is to become a research-track professor to focus on innovation of next-generation techniques and instrumentation for studying protein structure and function. My dream is to provide mentorship in protein mass spectrometry research to students and postdoctoral fellows and help these junior researchers achieve their own research goals.

Seth Scott

November 2020 SpotlightSeth Scott — Kay Choi Lab

My research focuses on how the Hepatitis C Virus balances viral translation and RNA synthesis by the competition between miRNA-122 and Poly-C Binding Protein 2 binding to the 5’ Untranslated Region of the virus. I want to better understand the mechanisms viruses use to react to complex stimuli with their limited number of proteins and genetic material. After graduate school I hope to continue my studies in the structure of virus components in a postdoc, potentially going back to the NIAID. My interest into science was fostered at a young age. My father is a veterinarian pathologist and biomedical science was normal table-talk at dinner while I was growing up. When I was able to intern at the NIAID, Rocky Mountain Labs in Hamilton, MT it cemented my interest in research. UTMB has been a great place for my graduate studies; I enjoy the relaxed island lifestyle that was unique amongst the programs I interviewed with. My advice to new students is to cultivate a hobby and focus on work-life balance to avoid burnout. For me, I unwind with hikes through the Sam Houston National Forest if I can get away from the island and otherwise enjoying a good book or board game.