Julia Bailey-Serres

Julia Bailey-Serres, BS'81

SBS Distinguished Alumna 2020

 

 

Julia Bailey-Serres, BS’81, is known for her research on mechanisms of plant adaptive responses to environmental stresses. She remembers enrolling in “a lot of lab classes in genetics, animal physiology and chemistry” at the U. And she fondly recalls a team-taught lab with now Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi. Other teachers and mentors she is quick to mention are Ray Gesteland, Joe Dickinson and E. Tucker Gurney, all emeritus faculty now.

A California native, Bailey-Serres transferred as a sophomore to the U where she immediately got a job in a lab with the late George Edmunds, an aquatic entomologist. “It was an early opportunity to understand what research was,” she says. “It gave me a home and then paid for a summer school class in electron microscopy on insects.”

After graduation, she attended he University of Edinburgh where she earned her PhD studying rearrangements of mitochondrial DNA in sorghum, a genus of flowering plants in the grass family Poaceae. Now Director at the Center for Plant Cell Biology and Distinguished Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Riverside, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2016 and, in 2020, recognized as a Distinguished Alumna of the School of Biological Sciences.

In addition to Edmunds, while at the U Bailey-Serres was mentored by SBS’s David Wolstenholme who would “steal” her away from his colleague. Cell and molecular biology outside of bacteria and viruses were just beginning to emerge, and Wolstenholme, who would become Department Chair, “didn’t guide me as much as just provided opportunities. [It was a] tremendous undergraduate opportunity,” she says, doing electron microscopy as well as some molecular biology. The research experience was accented by her work during her junior year as a teaching assistant for the non-majors biology class. “I was self-supporting as a student and needed the money for tuition.” Getting paid for lab work, she wryly attests, was “a lot more interesting than washing dishes.”

Even so, she remembers, “I was just this naïve young person interested in science and David gave me the push I needed.” She remembers Wolstenholme's explaining that she really needed to go to graduate school. As a consequence of her research experience at the U, Bailey-Serres has always had an undergraduate researcher in her own lab, over 100 to date. Fittingly, her first faculty award at Riverside was for her work with budding undergraduate researchers. The kind of relationship she formed with Wolstenholme was arguably prologue to what would become what is now the recently launched Science Research Initiative for undergraduates in the U’s College of Science.

Grains in the Rain

The Bailey-Serres group develops basic plant research discoveries into technologies or approaches that improve agriculture. By pursuing translational plant biology, says Bailey-Serres, “we aim to harness genetic mechanisms that provide climate change resilience to crops, particularly flooding, drought and nutrient stress resilience.” Her lab works from the single cell to the whole plant level. Their studies have defined mechanisms of low oxygen sensing and post-transcriptional gene regulation, from the epigenome to the "mRNPome" and translatome. “This knowledge is of importance to efforts that seek to stabilize crop yields,” she explains. “As Earth’s population grows, arable land decreases, and climatic patterns change.”

In a 2019 paper published in Science she disclosed how other crops compare to rice when submerged in water. Her research found that the plants – a wild-growing tomato, a tomato used for farming and a plant similar to alfalfa – all share at least 68 families of genes in common that are activated in response to flooding. “We hope to take advantage of what we learned about rice in order to help activate the genes in other plants that could help them survive waterlogging,” the paper reported.

Bailey-Serres has been involved in improving climate resilience in crops since her post doctoral fellowship at Berkeley where she first connected hypoxia responses with changes in translation. Traditional plant breeding demonstrated the presence of a gene that could confer submergence resistance (the SUB1 locus), but early breeding of the submergence locus into popular rice cultivars was mostly unsuccessful because it led to strains that had lost other desirable traits.

To get around this, Bailey-Serres was a member of a team that characterized the SUB1 locus molecularly. In her nomination of Bailey-Serres for the Distinguished Alumni Award, SBS’s Leslie Sieburth wrote that the 30-year research veteran’s “studies have led to much broader understanding of plant responses to hypoxia, and allowed marker-assisted breeding which introduced this gene to popular rice varieties.” By 2014, the rice cultivars that carried SUB1A were distributed to more than 4 million farmers throughout Asia. Sieburth applauded Bailey’s “extended … studies to understanding the gene regulatory networks underlying hypoxic responses, [including] the evolution of these responses in monocots and eudicots.”

The Climate Challenge

 While finding survival strategies for rice and other crops has always been critical, with climate change the challenge has become even greater. Currently, Bailey-Serres is embedded in a research group with other full professors in the Netherlands while she directs the National Research Traineeship program for graduate studies bridging plant biology and engineering. She also continues to collaborate with Sieburth, also a plant biologist, while continually being informed by others working in the field like Distinguished Professor and former SBS Chair Jim Ehleringer who is looking at how climate change effects where plants grow.

In addition to her research, Bailey-Serres is dedicated to promoting science education and professional development as well as fostering diversity and innovation in collaborative and interdisciplinary research. An example of this outreach is high school senior Susan Su who in 2018 took her project developed in the Bailey-Serres lab to the International Science and Engineering Fair where she placed third in her category (Plant Sciences). Su is now a student at MIT.

The technical advances taking place in plant translational research exemplify how basic research discoveries spawned at the School of Biological Sciences and elsewhere are being translated into methods to develop and improve important crop traits. Dr. Julia Bailey-Serres and her research group are at the forefront of making sure that happens.

 
by David Pace
 

The Daines Medical Dynasty

The Daines Medical Dynasty

Joseph Daines BS’68
Michael Daines BS’99   
Brad Daines BA’05

The School of Biological Sciences claims all of our alumni, but sometimes there’s a kind of harmonic convergence that elevates an entire family of U biologists into the spotlight.

Such is the case with the Idaho Daines Family of orthopedic surgeons—Joseph “Pete,”,BS’68; Michael, BS’99; and Brad, BS’05—a virtual dynasty in orthopedic surgery. Brian, who as an undergraduate attended BYU (the U’s traditional rival to the south) also practices orthopedics but in Arizona. The oldest son Gordon was the outlier. He found his passion in history and is now a university archivist with a doctorate in education.

The University of Utah Daines Dynasty goes back three generations, beginning in 1920 when the grandfather of Pete’s wife Susan--also mother to his sons--attended undergraduate school at the U and then went on to medical school in New York City, ultimately returning to the west to start a general medical practice in Preston.

Michael Daines, MD

Born in 1945, Pete was at first a math major at the U but changed to biology/pre-med before attending Columbia Medical School followed by an orthopedic residency at George Washington University. His father, who died a year after Pete’s return to Idaho in 1979, also practiced orthopedics in Boise.

Years later Pete’s son Michael would also graduate from the U and head east to medical school at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, followed by a residency in orthopedics at the University of Iowa. Later he was awarded a fellowship to Oxford University to study shoulder surgery for a year. He now specializes in shoulder surgery in addition to general orthopedic surgery at West Idaho Orthopedics near Boise, where he and his siblings grew up.

Not to be outdone by his older brothers, Brad entered medical school at the University of Washington following his graduation from the School of Biological Sciences. Subsequently, he completed a residency at the University of Vermont in orthopedic surgery followed by fellowship training in total joint replacement at the Hospital for Special Surgery/Cornell University. Brad focuses on hip and knee replacement which can include robotics.

For the first few years in practice, his father Pete was his assistant in the operating room. “I ended up not really quitting totally, from practice until 2018,” Pete says. In addition to assisting Brad, he provided medical evaluations for insurance companies, conducted independent exams and wrote up patient histories and reports for attorneys. "To have my dad with me has been an awesome experience” Brad said in a 2016 KBOI 2News story “because he is sort of a calming presence."

"How does it feel seeing three of your four boys following in your footsteps?" the reporter asked Pete in the same story. "Well,” said the patriarch, “it's sort of an ego trip, but I think it's great. I just wanted my sons to do something that they enjoyed." Says Brad, "Like my brothers, I always thought I was going to be a doctor. I didn't ever feel any pressure, but I noticed that my dad liked his job."

Clearly orthopedics is in the Daines Family blood, and clearly the University of Utah’s Biology Department--now the School of Biological Sciences--played a role in the family’s success.

Both Michael and Brad remember the invaluable experience they had in the Biology Undergraduate Research Program (BioURP) with Rosemary Gray, now an emerita faculty. Michael was a research assistant with Sandy Parkinson while Brad found a research mentor in Dave Carrier. “I learned a lot from him about the scientific method,” says Brad. “In addition, because his work did involve animal subjects, I learned much about the balance of the ethical treatment of animals and the need for scientific advancement. We worked with canine subjects, and the length to which he went to ensure good care of these animals was impressive.”

Brad Daines, MD and two future U Biology Alumni

Additionally, Brad really found his groove in the honors program and his upper level biology classes were also an incredible experience, particularly, he remembers, comparative vertebral morphology. Membership in the University Chorus and Sigma Chi fraternity gave him a musical and social outlet.

Both brothers recall the “incredible athletic programs” at the U which gave them a reprieve from the lab and the classroom. Along with sports, there was a love of the mountains and skiing. The combination of the Daines family legacy, recreational opportunities and the academic reputation of the U would converge for a memorable experience for both.

Michael’s research experience in the Parkinson lab was a segue for Columbia Medical, his father’s alma mater. While in New York City, Michael had the singular experience of living through the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Later, during his Oxford fellowship in the UK, he also worked on several research projects related to the shoulder.

An avid hunter, fisherman and triathlete, Michael enjoys spending time with his three kids, along with his hunting dog “Hawkeye.”

For all of the Daines, there have, of course, been challenges due to the current pandemic, including for Brian in Arizona who, his father remarks, finds himself overworked, doing “everything” related to joint medicine in a small clinic.

“I traveled a lot with my wife,” says Pete, remembering pre-COVID-19 times when he floated European rivers through places like Budapest and Vienna, sometimes through spectacular tunnels 30 miles long. A music enthusiast, he also sang bass in a choir and for five years sat on the board of the Boise Philharmonic. Along with Michael Brad also loves to fish and with his father enjoys music, opera in particular.

While the pandemic has slowed these activities, it has consorted to bring the family, which now includes thirteen grandchildren, closer together. Clearly the spread of the coronavirus has impacted the Daines and their respective medical practices just as it did Pete’s early relatives during the 1918 flu pandemic. “It was a bad pandemic as well,” Pete says, referencing family letters left behind, but “nothing like this one. [Back then] they lost family, this, that and the other thing. It took two years to get past it. That’s what it does. It comes and turns your life upside down.” Even so, he says, the earlier pandemic didn’t keep people out of work as much as the current one.

Says Michael, “I have had to navigate the need to care for patients and also keep my office staff safe. As a small business owner, we have had to find creative solutions to keep people working and keep the doors open.” Brad, too, has had to make the adjustments to the way he works.  “Life is always uncertain,” he says, referring to the past year. His advice? “Remain flexible and do the best you can every day. Embrace the fact that life will take you down unexpected paths. Upon reflection, many of the best things in my life happened when my plan deviated.”

Michael agrees: “Take your opportunities when they come up and have no fear!”

Will the Daines tradition of orthopedic surgery carry on into the next generation? “I think there’s going to be some of my grandkids going into medicine,” says Pete. “It probably isn’t going to be the conglomeration [of a medical life] like I got. I don’t know how that happened,” he quips, referring to three-fourths of his progeny who are surgeons.

“They just wanted to go and they did. Back then I could take my kids into the operating room with proper supervision and they could watch things. You can’t do that now. It’s not allowed. I had that opportunity to have some stuff in the operating room and I think that cemented for them going into medicine…. I didn’t mean for them to all become doctors, but that’s what happened. I’m very proud of them.”

As for Brad, his children are still too young (7 and 5) to have shown any interest in a career in medicine-- yet."

by David Pace

David Hillyard

David HillyARD

 

 

When David Hillyard, BS’73, was recognized in November with a Healthcare Hero Award, he was quick to share the love. “This honor should really go to the fantastic team of individuals I’ve been working with who have made high-capacity, quality COVID testing possible,” Hillyard said. “It’s very flattering, but every day I just think about the critical contributions front-line laboratory workers make for this effort every day.”

The sentiment is typical of the collaborative and generous nature of the Professor of Pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine and founding Director of Molecular Infectious Disease Testing at ARUP, the largest academic laboratory in the country.

“This year, Utah’s healthcare leaders went above and beyond, pivoting their time, creativity, ingenuity, and magnanimity to face off against a global pandemic,” read the Utah Business citation. “This is only the beginning of our nation’s battle against COVID-19 … and we are so grateful to these warriors for leading the charge.”

Hillyard’s interest in the U started with a love of Ute basketball in the era of its legendary coach Jack Gardner, known as “the Fox,” who shepherded five All Americans, including Billy “The Hill” McGill.

“In high school, I visited the U for hosted debate and drama competitions and got a glimpse of its campus. I never thought I could afford to go out-of-state for college and saved all of my earnings … to be able to pay for at least a first year at the U.”  Scores of lawn mowings later and he had tuition which at that time was $175 per quarter. “I also had the academic blessing,” he says,“ of my Uncle Charlie, a renowned nuclear physicist, who received his PhD at the U and gave the science departments a high rating.”

Hillyard’s acceptance to the U was transformative for the Ogden native whose “first rate education” in biology and chemistry was elevated by the extraordinary opportunity to participate in basic research beginning his sophomore year. Professor K. Gordon Lark would arrive during Hillyard’s sojourn in the Department of Biology, now the School of Biological Sciences, and the legendary chair, who passed away in April, turbo-charged the department with newly recruited faculty of outstanding molecular biologists and distinguished visiting professors.

The expanding breadth and rigor of the department was an accelerant to Hillyard, allowing for him graduate level exposure to biology as an undergraduate but most importantly, he says, personal mentoring in bioresearch in “a thrillingly fun environment. Without question, these short years were the foundation for a happy career and any professional successes to come.”

As an undergraduate in Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera’s lab, he worked on differences in pathways and magnitude of turnover of the metabolic cofactor NAD in e. colio and Hela cells.  “My fondest memories of my time at the U are informal dinner parties with lab mates and visiting scientists at the home of [Toto]” he recalls, adding that the “[l]ate night jaunts with Toto to the Roadway Inn for apple pie ala mode and experiment planning rank way up there too.” Many would agree with him that Olivera’s mentoring of undergraduates at the U is legendary.

Later, with the advent of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a kind of molecular photocopying now commonly used in biology labs, Hillyard collaborated with Olivera on the identification and cloning of conopeptide genes from venomous marine snails, groundbreaking work that has since been widely celebrated as a potential replacement for opioids and their vaulting addictive properties. “As a clinical pathologist,” says Hillyard, “my work has focused on molecular infectious disease test development and the clinical application of these tests.”

Following graduation from the U, Hillyard pursued medical training at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City along with fellowship training in pathology. He then returned to the U for fellowship training in microbial genetics and medical microbiology followed by a position as assistant investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the U’s School of Medicine. He also joined the faculty of the Department of Pathology.

Hillyard figured prominently in establishing a test to meet the nationwide demand for diagnosing COVID-19. Beginning in January he and researchers at ARUP validated one of the first high-throughput diagnostic COVID-19 tests in the nation. With Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late February 2020, Hillyard and his team worked around the clock to ensure they had a test ready to launch in March with a turnaround time of less than two weeks.

More recently Hillyard and his team have worked on developing co-tests for Covid-19/Flu AB/ and respiratory syncytial virus. “The scale and urgency of the project has certainly been challenging and a bit life changing,” he confesses, “but is dwarfed by the positive experiences of working with teams of dedicated laboratorians stepping up to the plate with their hard work, problem-solving, and commitment to do good.”

“There are so many surprises with COVID-19 that you’re never fully prepared, no matter how ready you think you are,” said Hillyard in the Utah Business profile in November, as he described preparing for flu season with cases continuing to rise. “The flu season hasn’t been very bad in the southern hemisphere this year, perhaps because of physical distancing and other measures taken to mitigate COVID-19 spread, but the flu will come.”

The good doctor’s COVID-19 research has been in collaboration with Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks whose co-founder Reshma Shetty is another celebrated alum of the Olivera lab. Together with other government and non-profit health organizations they’ve studied the genetics of the virus in Utah and analyzed how its molecular makeup is evolving. The consortium has also conducted a major study comparing testing accuracy across different labs and instrument platforms.

No doubt the pandemic has been a singular time for all of us, but being on the frontlines of infectious disease testing has put a megaphone on all of it for Hillyard. Beyond family, he takes refuge in bicycling, especially hill climb racing. “I also love hiking, photography and as a wellness advocate for my department, [I] enjoy keeping up on the latest in food science. Unfortunately," he admits, "I’m a terrible cook."

Terrible in the kitchen or not, in his typical generous fashion Hillyard is quick to offer thoughtful advice to the next generation of scientists and health professionals. “[T]rain broadly, recognizing the importance of multiple skill sets for a successful career,” he says. “I would also suggest seeking out the best mentors at the best institutions in an environment where you can build personal relationships and also have fun.”

Dr. David Hillyard is a model U Biology alumni, transforming his immersion in undergraduate research with star, engaged faculty to a most elevated and award-winning legacy underscored by public service.

Uncle Charlie, it turns out, was right.

 

 
by David Pace
 

James Detling

James K. Detling

 

 

James K. Detling (PhD’69) arrived at the University of Utah from Ohio State University where he had just finished his Master’s degree in botany. He followed his graduate advisor, Dr. Lionel Klikoff, who transferred to the U as a tenure-line faculty member. While his advisor guided Detling’s research and mentored him in the ways of becoming a university faculty member, “perhaps my fondest memories are of Dr. Kimball Harper,” he says. Detling’s PhD research involved a study of physiological ecology of saline-tolerant halophytes in the salt deserts west of Salt Lake City. Of Harper, Detling says, “He always graciously shared his vast knowledge of the ecology of Utah’s various ecosystems, and made himself available to answer questions or discuss ideas. Imagine my disappointment,” he says somewhat cheekily, when several years later he learned that Harper had left the U to join the faculty at the Ute’s traditional rival located south of Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University.

In Utah, Detling enjoyed exploring the mountains and deserts, “first to scout out potential field sites for my research in plant ecology,” he says “and then to explore the fabulous outdoor recreational opportunities they provided.” After teaching at the U for one year as a replacement for Harper who went on sabbatical, he taught at a private liberal arts college in Ohio for five years. Following that, in 1975, he returned to the west, to Colorado State University where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 2010.

In Fort Collins his professional activities included the study of biotic and abiotic factors affecting both structure and function of grassland ecosystems. On the editorial board of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the Berkeley California native was also elected Fellow of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, he was also designated an ISI Highly cited researcher.

In the 80s Detling retreated to the field of the mixed-grass prairie at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. There he studied and reported on how black-tailed prairie dogs create habitat patches characterized by altered species composition, lower standing crops of plants, but also higher forage quality. “Native wildlife species such as bison, pronghorn, and elk preferentially feed on these prairie dog colonies and likely derive nutritional benefits from doing so,” he reported. Findings supported his hypothesis that genetically-based morphological and physiological differentiation had occurred in several native grass species as a result of strong selection pressures from grazing mammals on prairie dog colonies.

A decade later he turned his attention to “Grassland Vegetation Changes and Nocturnal Global Warming,” resulting in a  paper of the same title co-authored by Richard D. Alward and Daniel G. Michunas published in Science.

Since retirement Detling has continued research on grassland ecology with former students and colleagues. He has also turned from the study of one kind of grassland to another--the golf course—which has come in handy since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed other beloved activities: traveling and dining out.

 
by David Pace
 

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams

Michelle’s story sounds like it must have been deliberately calculated and executed. How else does someone go from Jamaica at an all-girls boarding school to college in New York City to graduate school at the University of Utah to Global Group President of Arkema, a billion-dollar subsidiary of Altuglas International? Turns out, Michelle had zero plans whatsoever to lead an international company along her career path. Instead, she thought she might like teaching. As she says, “Plan A never works out, and sometimes it’s Plan H or Plan G that finally works!”

She came to the University of Utah after breezing through college so much so that it was all a blur, and she found herself in Dr. David Grant’s research group at the age of 19. “I had no idea what I was getting into.” She, like most 19-year-olds, was looking for adventure and eagerly said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother at the airport. Michelle was checking off her adulting list: she rented an apartment--her ​own​ place; figured out her schedule; supported herself on her tiny teaching and research stipend; and she made her way, “I mucked my way through it.”

Michelle is emphatic that “this is where I grew up.” Only second to her decision to have children, coming to the University of Utah Chemistry Department was the best decision she ever made. Despite her overwhelm when she began her graduate research, she was quick and willing to ask for help, and she’s continued to do so throughout her entire career. “The reality is that I have always found that there are people who will help you. There are always people who see something in you.”

As she was completing her PhD research and dissertation defense, Michelle began casually interviewing with companies while she waited for her experiments to finish. She turned down a job offer from Dow Chemical though the interview was one of the most impactful conversations she would have about her career. The interviewer advised her, “young lady,” at which Michelle rolled her eyes, “you’re going to have opportunities and opportunities, and you need to find a company that has the right personality to match your personality.” She turned down the Dow Chemical position, and, instead, accepted a job at Rohm and Haas.

The job at Rohm and Haas was a continuation of the sense of community she had come to love at the University of Utah. It was a small enough, family-owned company where she could build relationships, and the focus was on learning, training, development and growing people. From a young age, Michelle has developed and followed her core values through every step of the way.

 
by Anne Vivienne
 

Doon Gibbs

Doon Gibbs is currently the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Brookhaven is a multi-program U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with nearly 3,000 employees, more than 4,000 facility users each year, and an annual budget of about $600 million.

Brookhaven Lab’s largest facilities include the National Synchrotron Light Source II, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials – some of the finest research instruments in the world.

Doon was born in Illinois, where his father was a post doc, but grew up in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah. His father, Peter Gibbs, was a prominent physics professor at the U, and his mother, Miriam, was a school teacher at Wasatch Elementary in the Avenues district. The family home was just off First Avenue and Virginia Street, only a few blocks from campus.

Doon and his younger siblings, Victoria and Nicholas, attended East High School. Upon graduation, Doon moved to Portland to attend Reed College, a private liberal arts school. After two years, he returned to Utah and enrolled at the U. He worked on campus as a writer and reporter with The Daily Utah Chronicle, the University’s student newspaper.

“I tried just about everything else except physics in school,” says Gibbs. “But, there was one physics course that sounded intriguing. It was Gale Dick’s entry-level class, ‘Physics for Poets.’ I signed up for summer semester 1974. Despite my best efforts to not do exactly what my dad did, I found that physics was totally compelling.”

Additional physics and math classes soon followed. He changed his major to Mathematics in 1975, added a Physics major in 1976 and graduated with both degrees in 1977. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.

Although his father was a well known professor of physics at the U, and chairman of the department from 1967-1976, Doon didn’t take a single class from his dad.

“Well, I got physics lessons from my dad every day, but it was usually at home on the front porch or in the kitchen,” says Gibbs. “I didn’t get any college credit.” He chuckles.

Doon pursued a Master’s degree in physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ironically, the same school at which his father had been a post doc. He stayed at Illinois to complete a doctorate degree in condensed matter physics in 1982 – the same field as his dad, although Doon is an experimenter and his father is a theorist. During this time, his research interests focused on the utilization of synchrotron radiation to perform spectroscopy of surfaces.

After graduate school, Doon found an entry-level job as an assistant physicist. The place was Brookhaven National Laboratory. The year was 1983.

At Brookhaven, he specialized in condensed matter physics and X-ray magnetic scattering and was promoted to a senior physicist in 2000.

In 2003, Gibbs was honored with the Advanced Photon Source Arthur H. Compton Award “for pioneering theoretical and experimental work in resonant X-ray magnetic scattering, which has led to many important applications in condensed matter physics.”

He was named Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology in 2007.

By 2010, Gibbs’ management experiences at Brookhaven included the positions of Group Leader of X-ray Scattering, Associate and Deputy Chair of Physics, Head of Condensed Matter Physics, Interim Director of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and Associate Laboratory Director for Basic Energy Sciences.

“A science background is a great preparation for an increasingly complex world. The ability to analyze and creatively solve complicated problems is a wonderful advantage,” says Gibbs.

Gibbs was instrumental in overseeing the design and construction of Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and has played a significant role in advancing other major Lab projects including the National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Interdisciplinary Science Building. He has also overseen the growth of Brookhaven’s basic energy sciences programs in chemistry, materials science, nanoscience, and condensed matter physics.

“Brookhaven is moving in new and exciting directions,” says Gibbs. “In the next decade, we hope to expand our nuclear and particle physics efforts to build a next-generation electron-ion collider, among other projects. In general, national labs develop and use science and technology to address critical issues such as energy security, national and nuclear security and environmental clean-up.”

Doon met his wife, Teri Barbero, on a blind date in New York City. “We went to a cool Indian restaurant in midtown,” recalls Gibbs. “We were inseparable after that, and were married about a year later.”

The couple lives in Setauket, New York. They have two sons, Theo, 20, and Alex, 18. The family enjoys skiing, soccer, and backyard barbecues.

Doon visits Utah on occasion to visit friends and family. His father is always ready with a physics lesson for the youngster.

Amy Davis

“I enjoy learning about how infectious diseases have shaped human history because I find it inspiring to frame my current work in a broad historical context,” says Amy Davis, PhD’03.

A Senior Director, Biochemistry Research & Innovation at Utah-based BioFire Diagnostics, LLC, Davis says she was “fortunate to be born into a world with antibiotics and large-scale vaccine production,” while reminding us that “these tools in humanity’s struggle against microbial pathogens have only been around for the last 70-80 years.”

With her work at BioFire whose systems have become the new standard for syndromic infectious disease diagnostics, what she calls her “obsession” with the history of medical science could not have converged at a more timely, and daunting, time. The coronavirus pandemic in the United States is currently emerging in a scorching third wave, and there is a herculean effort underway to bring a vaccine to market. This, of course, will require accelerated and accurate diagnostics, something BioFire’s co-founder Randy Rasmussen, also a PhD alumnus (’98) from the School of Biological Sciences, recently reiterated during a virtual COVID Salon sponsored by SBS in May of this year.

Davis, who earned her BS in biology with honors from Penn State, followed by a year as a Fulbright Scholar, recalls what first drew her to graduate school at the SBS. It was the “fabulous faculty, collaborative culture,” and, of course, the spectacular mountain setting. “My graduate education at the University of Utah taught me how to think critically, work diligently, shake off setbacks, and thrive on the pursuit of understanding,” she says. “I loved everything from the journal clubs to late nights in a quiet lab dissecting tetrads to ‘TA-ing’ for Joe Dickinson's Genetics course to planning the next experiment.”

She remembers that seeing the mitochondrial net phenotype for the first time in a yeast mutant she had isolated in a genetic screen was “pretty exciting!” She also remembers fondly Professor Janet Shaw. While studying the molecular mechanisms of mitochondrial dynamics in Shaw’s lab, Davis was taught by her “amazing mentor and friend…how to ask the right questions, how to write, how to present, and how to balance.”

That training, experience and mentoring have served Davis well. Following her graduation from SBS, she did a post-doc on the other side of the Rockies--at the University of Colorado, Boulder. There she was at the bench researching the biology of the yeast telomerase RNA, an essential core component of the telomerase ribonucleoprotein (RNP) enzyme that synthesizes telomeric sequences onto chromosome ends.

The call of the Wasatch Front, however, as well as that of the U’s Brain Institute, propelled Davis in 2007 back to Salt Lake City where she was manager and then associate director at the Institute for a total of six years. Following that she moved to the U’s Medical School for a two-year stint to help establish a research program development office.

A career in what’s been called “The Century of Biology,” especially as it relates to health, can take one on a circuitous route. Davis’ has been no exception. After spending 20 years in academic environments, Davis made the leap to work in industry. At BioFire she learned to work with dozens of complementary teams to translate research ideas in robust clinical diagnostic tools. To broaden her experience in the biotech space, Davis accepted a role at the start up IDbyDNA as VP of Operations. The company, also located in the U’s Research Park with BioFire, works in metagenomics technology to simultaneously profile tens of thousands of microorganisms and pathogens in any sample.

Emblematic of the extraordinary synergy Research Park was designed for, companies like BioFire and the newer IDbyDNA create opportunities for not only advancing medical technology but the careers of many University of Utah alumni. Davis later returned to BioFire as a Senior Director in research and development, where she is enjoying applying the perspective gained from operations roles to early-stage innovation projects.

To date, no other company has FDA-cleared and CE-IVD (European Union-cleared) marked assays for more pathogens than BioFire. Again, the timing of the company’s ascendancy has proven auspicious.

In the kitchen with the whole fam dam.

“As we are learning from COVID,” says Davis, “emerging pathogens (and emerging antimicrobial resistance of old pathogens) can challenge societies in significant ways. …The more we learn about the patterns of infectious diseases and human efforts to understand and combat their microscopic agents, the better we can prepare for present and future threats.”

While COVID has focused global attention on the threat of emerging viral respiratory pathogens, she says she hopes that this “reality check bolsters efforts to combat emerging antimicrobial resistance in pathogens that have been with us for centuries.”

Meanwhile, Davis continually returns to her passion for the history of medicine. She finds that her reading deeply informs her intense career at BioFire, providing perspective, inspiration and context for their work. And what exactly is on her bedside reading stand? The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard; the portentous sounding Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic by Matt McCarthy; and Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif.

From these historical tomes she is happy to base her advice to new graduates of the School of Biological Sciences, particularly telling during this pandemic time: “Take the long view and train for a career that will fulfill you ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now.”

by David Pace

Jason Allen

Jason Allen knew early on of the opportunities the state’s flagship research university could offer him just an hour north of where he grew up in Springville.

“I had always wanted to attend the University of Utah due to its prestige within the state and nationally,” he says, especially due to the U’s stellar reputation in science and technology.

He wasn’t disappointed. Now a Physician and Medical Director of the Breast Imaging section in the University of Colorado Health South Region, this doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) cut his teeth as a researcher in Dr. David Stillman’s lab with Dr. Leena Bhoite. “It was in his lab that I got great exposure to real ‘at the bench’ lab work as well as all the frustrations and excitement that go along with it,” he says.

Working in the Bioscience Undergraduate Research Program (BioURP) at the U was also formative for Allen, including the introductory summer course which he counts as “a great introduction to the program overall, [to] new people and some of the intricacies of basic … lab work.” He especially enjoyed working with Dr. Rosemary Gray and Dr. Janet Shaw, both of whom were “great mentors and significantly helped cultivate my interest in learning about the biological sciences.”

Additionally, the spring undergraduate research symposium “amply prepared me for the requirements of medical school, internship and [a] residency, and even now working in the field of medicine,” he recalls. It wasn’t just the technical know-how and scientific rigor of BIOURP that propelled him forward into his career; the public speaking requirements and likely the network were also useful to him as he prepared for professional school.

After graduating from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 2005, Allen completed a residency in Radiology with the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium in 2010. Following that he began a career in the United States Air Force at David Grant Medical Center as a general radiologist teaching radiology residents. After four years there and nine years of active duty service, he separated from the Air Force and completed fellowship training with the University of California at Davis Hospital in Sacramento.

In the Centennial State Allen is the lead interpreting physician in the breast imaging section. “Our group provides radiology interpretation services and image guided interventions for the University of Colorado Health system, as well as a number of additional smaller hospitals in southern Colorado,” he explains.

It may seem like a relative straight line for Allen’s career path, but he knows as well as most who have successfully arrived at the top of their game that it requires hard work. “Study hard,” he reminds those at the U who are just beginning their academic and professional careers. “Accept challenges and learn from mistakes (both your own AND the mistakes of others).” Setbacks and failures, he concludes, “are stepping stones toward great success!”

Dr. Allen with his son Gavin at his school in the “Watch D.O.G.S” (Dads Of Great Students) program.

The current pandemic has been one of those setbacks for many, including Allen. “Covid-19 has caused our group and the hospital systems we provide services for to streamline our processes and has really pushed us to embrace the use of technology to enable us to communicate with patients and other medical providers in new ways,” he says. “Although it has significantly limited in person interactions, Tele-Health interactions have increased significantly and have enabled us to provide services that were once difficult or impossible to provide.”

It’s not just about work for Allen. A fluent speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, he says he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and his personal hobbies of camping, fishing, water sports and photography.

For Jason Allen, the University of Utah and the School of Biological Sciences was not only the portal for his early initiation into science and medicine, but it turbo-charged his career through early experiences in research, or as he puts it, “at the bench,” not only in the lab but in life.

 

by David Pace

Steve Mimnaugh

Steve Mimnaugh and Jay Johnson

Most people get to live one life. So far, Steve Mimnaugh has lived at least three.

"I was always the new kid on the block," he says. From Seattle to Spokane, Washington, and from Wallace, Idaho where his father worked as a mining engineer, to Kearns, Utah, to survive Mimnaugh tacked through life as an extrovert, ending up in student government. His extroversion served him well as this biology alumnus advanced into a spirited life as an emergency physician, member of a rock-and-roll band and co-founder of the innovative and celebrated 'SPLORE (Special Populations Learning Outdoor Recreation and Education), a nonprofit founded in 1978 and dedicated to getting folks with disabilities out into white water rafting and other outdoor sports.

Diverse interests, especially as a young person, can make it difficult to get one’s footing. Such was the case for Mimnaugh, at least at the University of Utah where he moved into research during his undergraduate years, started a PhD, and haltingly applied to medical school three alternating years before being admitted to the U’s. There he was also elected class president. The deviations in his academic career seem to have had more to do with his personality rather than any kind of deficiency. In short, this self-described "granola cruncher" has been in a high evolutionary state his entire life, seemingly barreling through whole epochs in record, breathless time.

On the Green River, Desolation Canyon

Being a biologist, evolution tracks well with Mimnaugh's start-and-stop, somewhat circuitous path. His impetus has always been the need to adapt to a changing environment whether it be particularly onerous (sometimes bizarre) medical emergencies in critical care, securing an audience for the fledgling band The Disgusting Brothers, or raising funds to execute outdoor recreation geared toward those with disabilities. Sometimes all three lives would overlap if not converge, but his time at the School of Biological Sciences was always propulsive with associations that included future Nobel Prize laureate Mario Capecchi who was on Mimnaugh’s graduate committee and especially mammalogist and anatomist Stephen Durrant who hired Mimnaugh as a Teaching Assistant. Even so, he says, “I was not driven by [the idea of] nebulous [research] problems to work on.” Neither did he groove on all the isolation of the lab while working endlessly, it seemed, on thin-layer chromatography, mammalian cell cultures, transmembrane ion transport, and THC as an anticonvulsant. Medical school was the answer.

His experiences as an ER physician, most recently at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, was perfect for a restless soul who needed variety. It was also a deeply humbling experience, faced as he was regularly with society's most vulnerable populations and some of the, potentially, most humiliating circumstances a person might find themselves in at four o’clock in the morning. “I was no one's doctor, but everyone's doctor,” he says. This included physician to patients with complications of acute alcohol intoxication or to someone suffering from sequestration of rectal foreign bodies. “I got a reputation,” he said, for handling emergencies that required discretion and empathy as much as medical expertise. He also developed a reputation for a bedside manner that had a way of grounding each patient having a traumatic experience back into the collective story that is both familiar and deeply human.

Steve Mimnaugh, 1970s, While in medical school. Other founding members of the band include two other UofU alumni: Curt Crowther, BS'72, MBA'81 and Sam Falsone, BS'74.

While coy about comparing ER work with what soldiers go through in war, he admits to suffering from a kind of PTSD that he’s had to deal with after 35 years. “I never go to sleep without having bad dreams,” he says. Writing about his experiences, now that he’s retired, has helped, and based on a cursory reading of excerpts from his nonfiction manuscript subtitled “Behind the ER Curtain,” the arc and tone of his recounting is both hilarious and touching, deeply informed by science, especially the way evolution plays out in culture and our everyday perceptions of ourselves and of each other. It’s a narrative that promises to do for the reader what Dr. Mimnaugh has regularly done for a broad spectrum of “everyman” patient: it’s okay; we’re all in this together.

It is no surprise that Mimnaugh has a counterweight—more than one, actually—to the intensity of his professional career wearing a stethoscope. As an avid river-runner in the 1970s, he was approached by recreational therapist Martha Ham who explained that there was to date no codified way of getting people with disabilities like cerebral palsy, or spinal cord-injured clients who can't walk, swim, thermoregulate, or apply their own sunscreen safely down a river so that they could enjoy one of the greatest assets of living in Utah: the out-of-doors. Together they founded ‘SPLORE, which, he says, would not have been possible but for the work and love of thousands of volunteers who seemed to benefit as much from what was often a peak experience for them as 'SPLORE's clients. Both Mimnaugh’s life as a musician in an irreverent but beloved Disgusting Brothers Band and his charitable work are symbiotic. The Band whose sound has the passion of an acoustic campfire concert on a whitewater river trip—electrified and amplified--regularly plays its 60/70s favorites for fundraisers, benefiting organizations like Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the AIDS Foundation as well as, back in the day, ‘SPLORE.

The group proceeded to acquire coveted commercial permits on Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest land, as well as for sections of the Colorado and Green Rivers, permits that continue to be the backbone to the services still provided. “It was such an amazing thing,” he recalls referring to his clients with disabilities, “the excitement, awe and wonder… the laughs. They’re out there in the big wide world, not just group homes.” After forty years, eventually bringing 5,000 constituents per year into the wilderness, ‘SPLORE merged with the National Ability Center located in Park City but not before Governor Scott Matheson awarded Mimnaugh and his disgusting brothers who had joined the cause the Governor’s Golden Key Award.

Retirement for Mimnaugh seems to be wearing well for him. He recently married his long-time partner, Jay Johnson, an oncology certified nurse at Huntsman Cancer Institute. And his reading list these days ranges from Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments to the poetry of Mary Karr; and from Rituals for Finding Meaning by Sasha Sagan, daughter of the late science celeb Carl Sagan, to the cultural critique of Dave Rubin’s controversial Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason. Then there’s Jared Diamond’s trans-disciplinary non-fiction Guns, Germs & Steel followed by his Collapse and Upheaval. “The universe is 13.8 billion years old,” this Disgusting Brother on the bass and rhythm guitar (as well as vocals) muses, referencing Diamond: “We're here, and in a blink of the eye we're gone."

But this much is certain, he concludes. “We’re good at celebrating stuff.” Perhaps that’s the embedded engine in Steve Mimnaugh for living multiple lives. You need more than one life to celebrate all of it.

by David Pace & Mathew Crawley

George Elliott

"Always be open to unforeseen possibilities and opportunities; never be afraid to fail, and learn from your failures," says George Elliott (PhD'81). "Don’t get bogged down in a very narrow line of pursuit—the broader your knowledge is the more creative and successful a problem-solver you will be." That's great advice to U Biology students today. And it seems to have been the advice Elliott himself followed back in the day when he was at the U, following his sojourn at University of California, San Diego where he earned his bachelor's.

“My graduate career began in 1973,” says Elliott who with his wife Lissa resides in Virginia. “I was one of only two students accepted into the molecular/cellular/genetics part of the Biology Department that had been newly constructed by K. Gordon Lark. Gordon had hired a dozen or more new professors, mostly young and engaged in a potpourri of cutting edge, exciting research.”

Elliott retired from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2016 following an auspicious career as, first, a patent examiner, manager and Group Director of the Tech Center responsible for biotechnology and pharmaceutical patent examination, and finally as Deputy Chief Policy Officer for Operations in the Office of Policy and International Affairs.

Stationed in Virginia, Elliott coordinated operations of approximately 45 attorneys and 55 admin and program staff responsible for advising U.S. Government on Intellectual Property matters and representing the U.S. government in IP-related international organizations and negotiations around the world. The Office of the Administrator for Policy and International Affairs at USPTO assists the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in advising the President, through the Secretary of Commerce, and Federal agencies on domestic and international IP issues as well as on United States treaty obligations.

Elliott’s experience at the University of Utah was formative across the board. While at the U, he chose to work with Marty Rechsteiner, now Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry, who was continually coming up with new ways to look at intracellular small and large molecule metabolism. “The lessons I learned working with Marty and in my interactions with [SBS faculty] Toto Olivera, Mario Capecchi, Dana Carroll, Bill Gray and others, stayed with me for the rest of my career, whether in research or at the Patent and Trademark Office.”

With respect to COVID-19, Elliott is reassuring to students who are faced with what seems an unprecedented time during their academic careers. "It will pass, eventually, but everybody should take it seriously," he remarks. "The idea that younger people are somehow in less danger is being proven less and less true all the time. And nobody should think it is only about protecting themselves—it’s all about creating situations where the virus is spread. But students should know that—they just need to act on their knowledge."

George Elliott is more than grateful for his own experience at the U. He is also one of several alumni who have established a mechanism of estate giving to benefit the School of Biological Sciences. When asked why he has made a gift of this kind, he says, “The education I received while getting my PhD from U Biology was instrumental in providing us with a very enjoyable life together, and we feel it is very important to ensure that the programs that we benefited from can continue to the benefit of those who follow.”

by David Pace

About Planned Giving:

Some planned gifts may yield certain federal tax advantages and can even give you an income throughout your lifetime. The College of Science’s Crimson Legacy Society is designed to recognize those who have made a deep commitment to the future of the School of Biological Sciences through cash or planned gifts at the $50,000 level or above.

Members will be recognized on the Crimson Legacy donor wall and in the College's annual Discover publication. They will also receive special tokens of appreciation in recognition of their support.