February 2021 News

It is with deep sadness that the Department of Molecular Biosciences shares that Professor Mark Richter passed away on December 26, 2020 following an extended fight with COVID-19. Mark grew up in Australia and earned bachelor’s and PhD degrees in Biochemistry from the University of New South Wales. He came to the US in 1981 and held post-doctoral positions at Florida State University and then Cornell University. Mark joined the University of Kansas faculty as an Assistant Professor in 1987 in the Department of Biochemistry (later Molecular Biosciences), and was promoted through the ranks to Professor. In his 33 years at KU, Mark was a colleague, friend, collaborator and mentor to many faculty members and students. He twice provided steadfast leadership to the department as Chair/ Acting Chair overseeing the departmental mergers that resulted in the current Molecular Biosciences department in the late 1990s, and later as Chair of Molecular Biosciences from 2010-2014. Mark received numerous awards for his teaching and student mentoring while at KU, including the Mortar Board Outstanding Educator award (1991), the Kemper Teaching Excellence award (2002), the Dean’s Scholar’s Mentor award (1999, 2000), the J. Michael Young Outstanding Graduate Advisor award (2005) and the Byron A. Alexander CLAS Graduate Mentor award (2005). Some joked his Australian accent helped him win these honors, but his deep sense of fairness and compassion were likely the primary factors. Mark mentored 26 graduate students, 10 postdoctoral associates and more than 70 undergraduate students in his research lab at KU, and taught many hundreds of students in the classroom. Three of his graduate students will complete their degrees in coming months. Mark’s research applied his knowledge of enzymes, protein purification, spectroscopy, and evolving enhanced enzymatic capabilities to a range of topics. His research initially focused on the ATP synthase central to energy generation in chloroplasts and mitochondria, which led to an interest in the Parkin protein associated with an inherited form of Parkinson’s disease, and recently focused on development of biosensors, including those for real-time detection of brain molecules relevant to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Through his kindness, easy humor and generosity, Mark developed and maintained deep and long-lasting friendships with his former students, collaborators, many other colleagues, and fellow soccer players. We miss him greatly, and offer our sincerest condolences to Mark’s family and all who mourn his loss. The family will establish the Mark Richter Fund through the KU Endowment and a memorial service will be held later this year in Lawrence - once it’s safe to gather in person.

The Departments of Molecular Biosciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and the Undergraduate Biology Program mourn the passing of Brian Van Schmus, manager of the research-supply Biostore. Brian was diagnosed with stomach cancer two years ago and passed away on January 22, 2020. Brian grew up in Lawrence as the son of a KU faculty member and graduated from KU with a degree in Political Science in 1986. He began his position in the Biostore in early 2018, and expertly managed the diverse operations of the store until his passing. Brian will be remembered and missed by the many colleagues, friends, customers and student workers he encountered through the Biostore for his hard work, efficiency, kindness and warm smile. Our sincerest condolences go out to Brian’s wife, their two sons and all his friends and family. The family will plan a memorial service later in 2021.

Rob Unckless (assistant professor) was named Edward & Thelma Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar by the Provost of the University of Kansas.




The 19th Annual K-INBRE Symposium was held virtually on January 14-15, 2021.  Molecular Biosciences was very well represented!  Congratulations to all our undergraduate researchers for continuing to excel, despite the pandemic.
Zakria Abdullah (Hancock Lab)
Angelo Andoyo (Xu Lab) – Outstanding Poster Award
Andres Cordova (Slusky Lab) – Honorable Mention
Nathan Do (Ackley Lab)
Emily Hughes (Hefty Lab) – Honorable Mention
Natasha LaGrega (Ackley Lab) – Outstanding Poster Award
Payton Markley (Dixon Lab)
Bryn O’Meara (Ackley Lab) – Honorable Mention
Emma Pagella (Unckless Lab)
Eduardo Ramirez Cuellar (Timmons Lab)
Hunter Woosley (Davido Lab)


Cheyenne Loo (undergraduate, Chandler lab) was selected to be a 2021 K-INBRE Undergraduate Scholar, working on a research project entitled “Eavesdropping by competing bacteria using quorum-sensing communication systems”.


Kade Townsend (undergraduate, Chandler lab) was accepted into the NIH-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Progam. As part of this program, Kade will do research in the Chandler lab.  Kade was also selected to present at the KU Undergraduate Research Day at the Capital, where he will present a poster on his research in the Chandler lab to Kansas State legislators.


Collette Wright (undergraduate, Neufeld lab) was selected to be a 2021 K-INBRE Undergraduate Scholar.



More News


Tony Fehr (assistant professor) gave an invited talk entitled “On the Battlefront: Host PARPs vs the Coronavirus Macrodomain” to the Biology Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Virtual. January 21, 2021, and the same seminar to the Department of Biology at Kansas State University. Virtual. February 1, 2021.

Josephine R. Chandler (associate professor) November 18, 2020. Brazilian Society for Microbiology Workshop on Pathogenesis (virtual meeting). Invited oral presentation. “Bacterial social behavior: communication, cooperation and conflict among microbes"

Dan Dixon (professor) gave an invited talk entitled “Control of exosome secretion by the RNA-binding protein HuR“ for the Kansas City VA Life Science Seminar Series, Kansas City, MO, January 21, 2021 (Virtual)

More Presentations


Monnahan PJ, Colicchio J, Fishman L, Macdonald SJ, Kelly JK (2021) Predicting evolutionary change at the DNA level in a natural Mimulus population. PLoS Genetics


 More Publications

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