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Department News for Alumni Biology News | Fall 2017


CONTENTS 1 | MESSAGE FROM

2 | FACULTY

SPOTLIGHT SOPHIE

THE CHAIR

CARON How sensory

Sustaining and promoting science is a shared goal

input is remembered

4 | RYAN WATTS OF DENALI quest to conquer

neurodegenerative illnesses

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ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT RANDY

RASMUSSEN

of Biofire

STAY CONNECTED WITH BIOLOGY and enter to win an iPad mini!* Visit: http://bioweb.biology.utah.edu/ipad/

*The University of Utah Department of Biology will not share your private contact information with anyone outside of this department.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE BIOLOGY GRADUATE STUDENTS A. Herbert Gold and Marian W. Gold Scholarship Dale Forrister

Global Change & Sustainability Center Fellowship Austin Green | Kelly Kerr

Dale A. Stringfellow Graduate Fellowship in Cell Biology or Microbiology Peter Huynh

John H. Weis Memorial Graduate Fellowship Rodrigo Costa

Developmental Biology Training Grant Jacob Cooper

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Robert Cieri | Dale Forrister

Genetics Predoctoral Training Grant Hunter Hill | Pablo Maldonado

University of Utah Graduate Research Fellowship Sabrina McNew

George R. Riser Research Award Autumn Amici | Jay Love

The Walter M. Fitch Award Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution Anna Vickrey

George R. Riser Travel Award Jordan Herman | Montague Neate-Clegg ON THE COVER: The fruit fly-model system for the associative brain center, Sophie Caron’s Lab

OUR DNA NEWS Is published by the University of Utah Department of Biology

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH Department of Biology 257 S 1400 E Rm 201 Salt Lake City, UT 84112

VISIT US AT www.biology.utah.edu facebook.com/UofUBiology twitter.com/uofu_biology


MESSAGE from the Chair We celebrate the start of another successful year! At the end of of the 2017 academic year our department saw the graduation of 113 undergraduate students and the conferment of 19 Ph.D.’s. The department continues to grow with faculty in multiple disciplines with a search currently underway for four additional faculty members. Our continued focus on excellence in education and research promises to be another successful year. In addition, we kicked-off our first annual Lark Lecture Series named in honor of the Biology department’s first Chair, K. Gordon Lark, at our August Science Retreat. Dr. Alejandro Burga (UCLA) was our inaugural Lark Lecturer making for an exciting, wellattended event. In the spring semester of 2018, the Crocker Science Center (CSC) will open its doors for education and research. The Center for Cell

DENISE DEARING, DEPARTMENT CHAIR

and Genome Science is an interdisciplinary center that will also house biology faculty. The new state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope, as well as many other cutting-edge technologies will all reside in the CSC. In the coming year, we hope to re-engage with our alumni and

“In the spring semester of

friends to build a stronger community for our students and

2018, the Crocker Science

faculty. We acknowledge and appreciate the many who have, and

Center will open its doors for

continue to support Biology. Sustaining and promoting science is

education and research.”

a shared goal, and we hope that you’ll join us in our endeavor to broaden our community impact and engagement.

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FACULTY Spotlight Sophie Caron, an Assistant Professor of Biology, was recently appointed as the Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair in the Biology Department. The prestigious faculty appointment will allow Caron to launch a highly innovative research program. Since joining the faculty in 2015, Caron has undertaken an enormous and long-term research project—understanding how the human brain works—by investigating some of the smallest minds in the business. “Our study model is the common fruit fly, Drosophila, in particular the mushroom body, which is the center where memories are formed and stored in the insect brain,” says Caron. The mushroom bodies (as pictured on the cover of this issue), are clusters of neurons in the insect brain that look like a pair of mushrooms. The number of neurons forming each of the mushroom bodies—called the Kenyon cells—varies across species. In the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, there are about 2,000 Kenyon cells per hemisphere. “Our lab wants to understand how the brain, and in particular the mushroom body, generates an internal representation of the outside world and how it stores such representations and uses them to generate meaningful behavior,” says Caron. Animals have a range of sensory systems that gather information about their environment. This information is processed by the brain and sometimes stored as a memory. Animals constantly use memories of past experiences to adjust their behavior. The smell of a nutritious fruit, for instance, will become attractive, while that of a sickening chemical will be avoided. “We know a great deal about how sensory input is received and processed in the various sensory organs, but we know much less about how it is remembered and used during behavioral decisions,” says Caron. Caron currently teaches Biology 3240, Cellular Neurobiology. “In this class, I teach students about the brain and about current advances in neurobiology. Because these advances are often not covered in the textbook, we read research papers in class and discuss them.” Caron was attracted to the University of Utah because of its robust scientific community and collegiality. “Much of the research here is driven by curiosity rather than opportunity. I connect with that way of thinking,” says Caron. Caron grew up in Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu, a small village in Québec, Canada. She studied biochemistry at the Université de Montréal then moved to New York City to pursue her graduate studies at New York University. She completed her postdoctoral work at Columbia University.

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SOPHIE CARON


“As soon as I got to college, one of my goals was to get involved.”

Lane Mulvey Lane Mulvey

LANE MULVEY STEM Advocate Lane Mulvey, a recent U Biology graduate (class of 2017), wanted to the make the most out of her college career. “As soon as I got to college, one of my goals was to get involved,” Mulvey said – so she did just that. She joined a roller derby team, became a campus life mentor, joined the Biology Student Advisory Committee, working her way up to the position of editor-in-chief for an on-campus STEM publication called The Sponge.

THE SPONGE ACTS AS A CREATIVE OUTLET FOR STUDENTS

“We provide a platform for students in the STEM fields who are typically viewed as being too technical to express their artistic talents,” Mulvey said about the publication. The Sponge’ acts as a creative outlet for students to share poetry, drawing, photography and short stories.” Under the guidance of professor Nitin Phadnis, Mulvey also works as an undergraduate researcher and as a genetics teaching assistant, helping students understand concepts such as evolution and speciation. “Dr. Phadnis has been a phenomenal mentor,” Mulvey said. “He really challenges his undergraduate researchers, creating a wonderful environment for growth and the development of critical thinking skills.” Learn more about Phadnis’ lab at flygenetics.com and about The Sponge at: www.thesponge.eng.utah.edu.

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QUEST TO CONQUER Neurodegenerative Illnesses Summiting the tallest mountain in North America is a significant undertaking and a life-changing accomplishment. Denali is not only the tallest mountain on the continent but the tallest mountain in the world measured from above ground base to peak. As such, the challenge and potential of mountaineering are reflected in both the name and purpose of Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on finding treatments and cures for degenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This association with mountains is less surprising when you meet the CEO and Co-Founder of Denali Therapeutics, Dr. Ryan Watts. A College of Science alumnus in Biology, Watts gained an early appreciation for mountains growing up in Holladay, Utah, in the shadow of Mount Olympus. Now, Watts and his colleagues are passionate about discovering drug therapies to help over 22 million people across the world who are fighting crippling neurodegenerative illnesses. As life expectancies rise across the world due to improved nutrition and effective treatments for some diseases, other age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are reaching epidemic proportions. Expressed solely in financial terms, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $260 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.

Save the Date! Ryan Watts Lecture Thursday, April 12, 2018 Charting New Territory in Neurodegeneration

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RYAN WATTS

A product and proponent of public education, Watts graduated from Cottonwood High School and came to the University of Utah, reflecting his desire to attend a top-tier research institution. As an undergraduate, Watts was still figuring out where he wanted to focus his talents. He started out as a Chemistry student, but saw the fields of Cell Biology and Human Genetics as the future. However, it wasn’t until he got the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research in the Department of Biology that Ryan discovered the passion that would determine his career path. Along with his undergraduate research experience, Ryan also served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera and worked as a Pediatric Technician in Surgery at Primary Children’s Medical Center. Watts was particularly impacted by his interactions with Dr. Olivera because he recognized how Olivera’s biochemical insights could be translated into treatments for pain. Ryan excelled in the lab and the classroom, and upon graduation was accepted into Stanford University’s Biological Sciences doctoral program. Watts recalls that there were just a few fellow students from his graduate school class who had completed their undergraduate degrees at public institutions, but that his experiences at the U had prepared him well.


RYAN WATTS OF DENALI THERAPEUTICS

Dr. Ryan Watts, third from left, with team members Steve Krognes, Carole Ho, Alexander Schuth

At Stanford, Ryan continued to distinguish himself in research and received his Ph.D. in 2004, focusing on the molecules that regulate the nervous system development. Afterwards, he accepted a position at Genentech, a company known for breaking new ground cloning human genes. During his elevenyear tenure there, Watts and his colleagues focused initially on developing therapies for cancer, then switched their attention to neurodegenerative diseases. He led Genentech’s entry into Alzheimer’s disease discovery and drug development, eventually building and leading their newly created Neuroscience Labs. Watts and a select group of neuroscientists and investors eventually formed a biotech startup named Denali Therapeutics. In contrast to the broad approach of companies like Genentech, Denali fully specialized in solving the mystery of neurodegeneration. Founded in 2015 and headquartered in South San Francisco, Denali Therapeutics has already raised more than $349 million and has grown to more than 110 employees. Watts and his colleagues have the talent, passion and focus needed to take on these devastating illnesses, all while recognizing that it will be incredibly difficult as they blaze new trails. Denali is a challenge for many climbers. The name Denali also represents the significant challenges faced in the treatment and study of neurodegenerative diseases. These conditions, and the therapies that target them, are difficult to track. In contrast to cancer, neurodegeneration is both more difficult to target than cancerous tumors and has fewer and less well-defined biomarkers. Interventions also tend to be slower-acting, and it takes longer to see whether a treatment had a positive, negative, or no effect.

Watts cites the major barriers in the development of medicines for neurodegeneration: • A lack of drug targets • Passing the blood-brain barrier to get drugs into the brain • Difficulty in identifying biomarkers to track drug activity • Identifying the right dose, for the right patient, at the right time

Watts recalls a quote from Louis Pasteur that he first heard while sitting at a microscope in the Skaggs Biology Building at the U: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” Watts applies this principle at Denali Therapeutics, where the team has been assembled with experienced drug developers combined with some of the best researchers in the field of neuroscience. Like a team of mountain climbers preparing to ascend a peak, the researchers at Denali Therapeutics are equipped with deep knowledge, interdisciplinary specializations, and a diverse set of approaches to problem-solving, ready to pursue their goal of finding a cure for neurodegenerative illnesses and advancing scientific research. Watts is driven both by a love for research and the vision that Denali Therapeutics could better humankind. And, it was as an undergraduate student at the U when Watts first discovered his drive and began acquiring the skills needed to make his 5| vision a reality.


Woodrats’ Liver Function is Compromised at High Temperatures Reduces Tolerance for Their Favorite Food You’d think desert woodrats already experience their fair share of adversity! Besides the constant threat of coyotes and many predators, and the scorching Mojave Desert heat, their primary source of food, the creosote bush or chaparral (pictured pg 7), is a plant so highly toxic that few animals will even go near it. But, the woodrats’ have a unique adaptation that allows them to break down creosote toxins, which may be in jeopardy if temperatures continue to rise, according to University of Utah researchers. Their new study in Molecular Ecology explains why: Livers of mammals (including us) may be less efficient at breaking down toxins at higher temperatures. “It seems like there’s more activity in the liver at cooler temperatures,” says Patrice Kurnath Connors, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Biology and first author of the new study, (funded by the National Science Foundation and the Global Change and Sustainability Center) at the University of Utah.

Hardy Woodrats Biology professor Denise Dearing has been studying desert woodrats for more than 20 years. “They’re about the size of large hamsters, but through preservation of nests, or middens, woodrats have documented thousands of years of climate and vegetation history in the Southwest,” “They also follow a peculiar diet among rodents. They’re one of the few families of rodents that specialize in eating plants. Others eat seeds or have an omnivorous diet. Woodrats’ specialization goes even further. The Stephen’s woodrat of northern Arizona almost exclusively eats juniper. It ingests a dose of turpentine that would kill a human, every day. It’s a phenomenal species to study.” says Dearing. Previous studies examined the ways woodrats regulated

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their intake of poisonous plants, and observed, that when temperatures go up, desert woodrats eat less of foods containing creosote. Dearing and Connors suspected that a difference in the functioning of the liver, which processes and breaks down toxins, may account for the woodrats’ decreased tolerance at higher temperatures. Stressed Livers In their new study, Dearing and Connors research which genes turn on and off in the woodrat livers at elevated temperatures. Connors stated that “high temperatures actually weren’t that high for an animal that lives in the Mojave Desert, 79 °F compared to 71 °F for the animals kept at cool temperatures.” “These are desert animals,” Connors says. “Those are temperatures that are no big deal for them. But we’re still seeing differences in gene expression in the livers at these temperatures.” When comparing liver gene expression in


If desert woodrats can no longer tolerate their preferred diet, they could be forced to shift their geographic range to cooler temperatures.

pharmacologists at the University of Miami tested the toxicity of 58 compounds in rats held at temperatures ranging from 46 °F to 96 °F. Two-thirds of these compounds were most toxic at high temperatures, and least toxic at intermediate temperatures. For humans, that means a Tylenol taken in July could remain in effect longer in your system than one taken in January, since a liver in cooler temperatures is more efficient at clearing drugs and toxins from the body. The reason for the effect may have to do with the body’s strategies for heat management. The liver is a large organ and produces heat as part of its regular biological processes. “You don’t want your liver working overtime in the summer, or it’ll get too hot,” Connors says. “There’s this trade off we think – between this role that the liver plays in thermoregulation, as well as detoxification.” Effects of Losing Woodrats on Environment Since 1989, the monthly maximum temperatures in woodrats home habitat has increased. According to weather station data, the average minimum temperatures in the month of July are currently around 5 °F warmer overall.

WOODRATS OF ARIZONA EAT ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY JUNIPER – THE TURPENTINE THEY INGEST WOULD KILL A HUMAN

woodrats under warm and cool conditions the activity of the main detoxification pathways were essentially unchanged, but the warm woodrats had about half of the liver gene activity of the cool woodrats. The most significant differences appeared in the genes pertaining to metabolism. One gene regulated the metabolism of vitamin A, which may be a precursor to detoxification enzymes. Another gene is associated with a process called gluconeogenesis, which generates glucose by breaking down proteins and lipids.

If desert woodrats can no longer tolerate their preferred diet, they could be forced to shift their geographic range to cooler temperatures. If this occurs, it may cause ripple effects for smaller mammals that inhabit abandoned woodrat middens, as well as the owls and coyotes that rely on woodrats as a food source. Now, Dearing and Connors’ are collaborators with research taking place in Australia–large marsupials which eat eucalyptus leaves, and they are asking themselves the same questions. “It’s a different toxic challenge,” Connors says. “This could be a big thing for mammalian herbivores.”

“It’s something your liver does when it’s stressed for energy,” Connors says. “It’s not an ideal way to make energy in the liver.” It’s Not Just Woodrats Woodrats’ slowdown in liver function isn’t totally surprising, since “temperature-dependent toxicity” also affects other mammals, including humans. In 1959,

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The Badger and the Cow By Paul Gabrielsen | Science Writer University of Utah, Marketing & Communications

While studying scavenger behavior in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, University of Utah biologists observed an American badger do something that no other scientists had documented before: bury an entire calf carcass by itself. While badgers and their relatives are known to cache food stores, this is the first known instance of a badger burying an animal larger than itself. The finding suggests that badgers may have no limit to the size of animal they can cache, and that they may play an important role in sequestering large carcasses, which could benefit cattle ranchers in the West. The study is published in Western North American Naturalist.

“WE KNOW A LOT ABOUT BADGERS MORPHOLOGICALLY AND GENETICALLY, BUT BEHAVIORALLY THERE’S A LOT OF BLANK SPACES THAT NEED TO BE FILLED,” says senior Ethan Frehner, first author on the paper documenting the badger behavior. “This is a substantial behavior that wasn’t at all known about in the past.” The work was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to doctoral candidate Evan Buechley. Senior, Tara Christensen assembled a timelapse video of the burial. Camera trap records show that the badger completely buried the roughly 50-pound carcass over the course of five days, and then spent around two weeks in his underground burrow before leaving and intermittently returning to the burrow for

“Previously, biologists saw badgers caching rodents and rabbits, but never an animal larger than itself.”

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the next few weeks until early March. According to the researchers, badgers cache food to isolate it from other scavengers and also to keep it in an environment where it will last longer. “It’s like putting it in the fridge,” Buechley says.


Another badger, at another site in the same study, also attempted to bury a calf carcass–suggesting that the behavior is likely widespread for badgers. Martens (of the mustelid family) aren’t as specialized for digging as badgers are. But, one account documents a fisher (carnivorous mammal) caching a black bear carcass under branches and bracken. Whether or not other badger relatives (mustelids) including weasels and wolverines is still unknown.

The Badgers’ Ecological Role Service to Ranchers The badger could provide an ecological service to ranchers. Many ranchers see badgers as pests, because they dig burrows through

...The badger completely buried the roughly 50-pound carcass over the course of five days.

rangeland and can eat chickens. But, if badgers can bury a calf, they may bury other carrion before any diseases incubating in the carcass can infect other cows. “It’s not beneficial to have rotting carcasses out among your other cattle because of disease vectors,” Frehner says.

UNDERGRADUATE-LED STUDY OBSERVES PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN CACHING BEHAVIOR

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Ehleringer joins over 20 other current University of Utah researchers elected to one of the three National Academies, which includes the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine. The National Academies recognize scholars and researchers for significant achievements in their fields and advise the federal government and organizations about science, engineering, and health policy. Currently the number of National Academy of Sciences members stands at 2,291, with 465 foreign associates.

James R. Ehleringer

JAMES R.EHLERINGER Inducted Into National Academy of Sciences By Paul Gabrielsen | Science Writer, U Marketing & Communications

The distinguished professor of biology James R. Ehleringer, who has pioneered applications of stable isotopes, was inducted into the National Academy of Science on April 29, 2017. Ehleringer is among 84 U.S. scientist-scholars and 21 foreign associates from 14 countries elected at the Academy’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.*

Ehleringer leads the development in the field of stable isotope ecology, which scientists use ratios of non-radioactive isotopes of common elements to answer questions about climate, physiology and the relationships between resources in an ecosystem. The technique has found other applications in other fields, such as anthropology, and has been employed in forensic investigations. Ehleringer says he learned of his election when five of his colleagues, including U geochemist and National Academy of Sciences member Thure Cerling, called Ehleringer at 7:30 a.m. from Washington, D.C. to share the news. Other colleagues from the U who are National Academy members also soon called with their congratulations. Ehleringer says he is “overwhelmed, elated and excited” by the recognition from his colleagues within the National Academy, he says, “It’s an honor to be considered among their ranks.” * The induction ceremony can be viewed on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq1zVIoLlwM

DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI Award The Department of Biology is pleased to present the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award to George R. Riser for his generous support and dedication to Biology graduate student research. Mr. Riser graduated from the U. in 1947 with a Science degree and went on to become a Physical Chemist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mr. Riser also worked as an entomologist and attended Julliard as a baritone opera student. George is a long-term contributor to the department and his dedication to support field-based experiences for undergraduates and graduate students has been extraordinary. The endowment that carries Mr. Riser’s name, The Riser Endowed Scholarship Fund, has enhanced the education for thousands of students since 1998 and will continue to assist many more in the future for outstanding thesis research. Our department has benefited greatly from George’s generosity, and we are pleased to acknowledge Mr. Riser’s impact by conferring our first annual Distinguished Alumni Award to honor his many contributions.

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GEORGE R. RISER


Kelly Hughes

KELLY HUGHES Distinguished Creative and Scholarly Research Award Dr. Kelly Hughes has been awarded a 2017 Distinguished Creative and Scholarly Research Award. These awards were established to recognize the University of Utah tenure track faculty members in all disciplines who have made significant scholarly contributions in their fields. No more than three awards are made for the following academic year and each consists of a grant to pursue research or creative pursuits. Selection is made

based on the significance and quality of research or creative achievements. The award recognizes lifelong accomplishments by considering the extent to which they represent a major breakthrough or advance in the field, are intellectually distinctive or creative, and contribute to the improvement and enrichment in the human condition. Dr. Hughes’ recognition by national and international experts indicates the importance of his work. Congratulations!

ESTHER FUJIMOTO Undergraduate Research Scholarship The Department is grateful to the Fujimoto family: Denice Fujimoto, Cynthia Seiersen, Bryan Fujimoto and Andrew Fujimoto, for their determined commitment to honor the interests and pas-sion of their sister Esther’s work after her untimely passing in 2011. Esther was a Senior Lab Specialist in Neurobiology and Anatomy and a member of the University of Utah team that identified a significant gene in breast cancer. The Department of Biology is pleased to announce the new Esther Fujimoto Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund. This scholarship fund is a continuation of the Fujimoto family’s unwavering dedication to Esther’s memory but also, to the future success of committed undergraduate scholars in the coming years. Juniors and seniors with excellent academic records will be considered, with preference given to first generation scholars. This new scholarship will be available in early 2018. Our thanks to the Fujimoto family for working with the biology department to further our shared goals and values in student education and research.

ESTHER FUJIMOTO

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RANDY RASMUSSEN U BIOLOGY

ALUMNI Spotlight Many of today’s most successful companies were created by groups of friends: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started HP in a garage in Palo Alto, California; Microsoft was co-founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, childhood friends from Lakewood, Washington; and Google was established by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, part of the same Ph.D. cohort at Stanford. The University of Utah has its own version of this story: BioFire Diagnostics began with a group of three college friends who came together on the U campus to collaborate and build a transformative company. The precursor to BioFire Diagnostics, Idaho Technology, Inc., was founded in 1991 by three U alumni: Carl Wittwer (Residency `88, Pathology), Kirk Ririe (B.S. `05, Chemistry), and Randy Rasmussen (Ph.D. `98, Biology). Their unique backgrounds and experience perfectly complemented one another–Kirk was a chemist and engineer, Randy had a molecular and cellular biology background, and Carl brought expertise in medicine. BioFire started small, with the trio working on prototypes of PCR machines which included hair dryers taped to flu orescent tubes. But the trio set their sights higher to lead the Molecular Diagnostic industry, and BioFire’s product development has evolved to include sophisticated diagnostic tools including FilmArray®, a proprietary molecular diagnostics system that uses PCR and melt-curve analysis and simultaneously tests for multiple infectious agents in a single panel in the short time of about an hour. From its humble beginnings in the corner of Kirk Ririe’s parents’ business, to their current location in University of Utah Research Park, BioFire has always had a simple, yet tremendously impactful, mission: “To help make the world a healthier place.” Due to its great success, BioFire was purchased by BioMeriéux

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FilmArray ®

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT

in 2013. Under the leadership of Dr. Randy Rasmussen, who currently serves as CEO, the company has grown from 250 employees, in 2012, to over 1,400 employees in 2017. Their new, built to spec, 30,000 sq. ft. building in Research Park, “allows visitors to see the research, development and manufacturing underway while simultaneously integrating the beauty of the foothills. It’s stunning”, said Denise Dearing, Chair of the Biology Department while on a recent tour of the building. Later this year, BioFire will have sold its 10,000th instrument— an astounding figure when considering there are only 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. Born in Lansing, Michigan as the son of a Horticulture Professor at Michigan State University, Dr. Rasmussen has always had a passion for science. With family ties in Utah, Randy began his education in Biology at Utah State University and later spent time working for the U Medical Heart Transplant team. From there, Randy’s passion for science ultimately led him to pursue a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Utah. At the U, Randy worked in Dr. Sandy Parkinson’s lab which transformed him during his first year of core classes. Randy relates how in one year he went from, “Knowing nothing to knowing a lot.” It was a dramatic life transformation, which exposed him to many new areas in Biology.

Biofire has grown from 250

employees in 2012 to over 1,400 employees in 2017.

At BioFire, going from scientist to CEO was a unique transition. Dr. Rasmussen expressed, “It was initially difficult to start off from a focus of research & development, to being primarily focused on the day-to-day of


IN THE FILMARRAY® ASSEMBLY AREA OF BIOFIRE IN RESEARCH PARK

Randy Rasmussen, BioFire and Denise Dearing, U Biology Chair

Later this year, BioFire will have sold its 10,000th instrument— an astounding figure when considering there are only 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. building a business. The other unique transition was, “Giving up control over the small, but important details that I oversaw, to fully trusting those you work with to get the job done.” Randy shared that most of the leadership team has been with BioFire for over 15 years. This longevity shows the tremendous trust and loyalty of the BioFire team. Randy is tremendously appreciative of his time at the University of Utah, where he met not only his future business partners, but also his wife Heather Ross (BS `88, Communication). Kirk Ririe introduced Randy to Heather–now married, they reside near the U and have a son Aidan, who currently studies Economics at Wesleyan University.

Today, Randy has a passion for Utah and the mountains where he enjoys skiing, biking and hiking. Continuing his connection to the U, Randy notes that many of BioFire’s talented employees are University of Utah graduates. Reflecting on his life and career, Randy has some advice for current students at the U. He urges students to explore their passions, and that a degree in the STEM field will open doors to many opportunities. Randy believes that students should take classes in business to complement their technical background and should participate in internships to gain additional experience and perspective.

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Biology Department 257 South 1400 East Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-0840

THE CRIMSON LAUREATE SOCIETY The Crimson Laureate Society is a recently established group of people dedicated to the advancement of science and biology at the University of Utah.

CRIMSON Laureate Society

Science and biology drive technological and social progress, improve lives, and enable us to face the global challenges affecting today’s world. Much of this work begins right here at the Department of Biology, conducting research on topics ranging from cell biology to ecosystems studies. Biologists play a key role in our community providing a solid foundation for health care professionals, and form the core networks at public agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, the EPA, the CDC, as well as wildlife, conservation and natural resource management. A gift of $100 or more will automatically make you a member of the Crimson Laureate Society, and will advance our education and research mission. That’s why I am asking you to join your fellow alumni and science supporters by starting your Crimson Laureate Society membership. Sincerely, Denise Dearing | Biology, Department Chair

PRESIDENT’S CIRCLE $10,000 or more All tokens of appreciation University recognition

PRESIDENT’S CLUB $2,500 to $9,999 All tokens of appreciation University recognition

DEAN’S CIRCLE $1,500 to $2,499 or more Desk organizer

COLLEGIATE CLUB $250 to $499 Lapel pin

CENTURY CLUB $100 to $249 Window cling and magnet

DEAN’S CLUB $500 to $1,499 License plate frame

For more information on how you can give to and join the Crimson Laureate Society, please visit biology.utah.edu

Our DNA  

“OUR DNA” U Biology Newsletter-Fall 2017