Founders Building Named a Milestones Site

As the first permanent structure at The University of Texas at Dallas, the Founders Building sits at the physical and historical heart of the campus.

In its 52 years, Founders has welcomed some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, whose research — and that of their students and protégés — has advanced medical science and provided fundamental insights into the natural world, including bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.

Founders Building

The Founders Building is being named a Milestones in Microbiology site by the American Society for Microbiology in recognition of the significant research conducted there.

In recognition of the discoveries and outstanding achievements of UT Dallas microbiologists who called the facility home over five decades, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) designated the Founders Building as a Milestones in Microbiology site at a Nov. 10 ceremony in the building.

The Milestones in Microbiology program recognizes institutions and the scientists who worked there that have made significant contributions toward advancing the science of microbiology.

At the event, Dr. Susan Sharp, president of ASM, presented the University with a commemorative plaque that will be permanently displayed in Founders. UT Dallas joins 14 other sites across the country that have received the ASM honor since 2002.

“Biology, and microbiology in particular, has a rich history at UT Dallas and its predecessor institution,” said Dr. Stephen Spiro, professor and head of the UT Dallas Department of Biological Sciences, who nominated Founders for the honor. “Microbiology research and teaching have played and continue to play a vital role in the mission of our department, and the biological sciences faculty have made major contributions to the understanding of molecular genetics of microorganisms.”

Texas Gov. Preston Smith (left) toured the molecular biology facilities with Dr. Royston Clowe in 1969.

Texas Gov. Preston Smith (left) toured the molecular biology facilities in Founders Building with Dr. Royston Clowes in 1969.

When it was dedicated in October 1964, the Founders Building was the central facility of the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest (GRCSW), a private research institution that in 1969 became UT Dallas. In those early days, the building hosted faculty and visiting scholars from around the globe who conducted research and graduate education in mathematics, physics, geosciences, and atmospheric and space science. Biology, focusing on genetics and microbiology, was the largest division and the only molecular biology department in the Southwest at the time. Together those programs formed the core that would become UT Dallas’ School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The biology division included leaders in the field of microbiology, the study of organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, protists and phages, which are viruses that infect bacteria.

Among those early pioneers and founding faculty members were:

  • Dr. Hans Bremer, who was associated with UT Dallas and its precursor institution for close to 50 years. His research uncovered fundamental physiological insights into bacterial growth and the synthesis of macromolecules.
  • Dr. Royston Clowes, a bacterial geneticist who headed the biology division for several years. His work in plasmid biology had implications for medicine and was at the center of recombinant DNA technology, which has had wide-ranging applications in biotechnology, laboratory research and drug development. His research also contributed to a better understanding of drug-resistance factors in disease-causing bacteria.
  • Dr. Claud S. Rupert, who did seminal research on enzymes in bacteria that are activated by visible light and are involved with repairing damage to DNA caused by ultraviolet light.

Rupert was mentor to Dr. Aziz Sancar, who, while a doctoral student at UT Dallas, successfully isolated the gene encoding the bacterial enzyme called photolyase, which is critical to DNA repair in bacteria. Sancar earned his PhD in molecular and cell biology in 1977 with research conducted in the Founders Building, research that became the foundation of subsequent work that led to his 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He is the first alumnus to earn the prize.

“The early microbial genetics research at UT Dallas evolved into the modern molecular microbiology that remains a research and teaching focus here to this day,” said Spiro, who holds the C.L. and Amelia A. Lundell Distinguished Professorship of Life Sciences. Of the 22 current research faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, eight work with bacteria, fungi and protists, he said.

The Milestones in Microbiology program, which recognizes sites where major developments occurred and/or where outstanding microbiologists made seminal discoveries, was established by the American Society for Microbiology to promote greater awareness and appreciation of microbiology and increase professional and public recognition of its significance.

“Breakthroughs made by UT Dallas scientists have greatly enhanced our knowledge and understanding of bacteria and bacteriophages,” Sharp said.  “ASM recognizes UT Dallas as a Milestones site for its pioneering work that played a key role in the development and advancement of the field of molecular biology.”

Federal Grants Boost UTD Biological Sciences Research

The climate for obtaining federal research funding is more competitive than ever, yet UT Dallas’ Department of Biological Sciences earned three major National Institutes of Health grants over the summer, totaling more than $3.5 million. The funding, which supports research related to a variety of health conditions, is “a tremendous accomplishment,” said Dr. Stephen Spiro, professor and head of the department.

Grant recipients include:

Dr. Heng Du, assistant professor of biological sciences, received a $1.9 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging.Du’s research is aimed at understanding the biological mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, with the goal of developing novel treatment strategies.Dr. Jung-whan (Jay) Kim, assistant professor of biological sciences, received a $372,000, two-year grant from the National Cancer Institute. Kim is investigating ways to improve an anti-cancer drug’s performance while preventing side effects that can be fatal in about 10 percent of patients.  Dr. Duane Winkler, assistant professor of biological sciences recieved a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.Winkler’s study is focused on understanding how copper ions are delivered to an enzyme that has been implicated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disorder. 

“The recent funding success of Drs. Du, Kim and Winkler speaks to the growing strength of the Department of Biological Sciences and of life sciences research on the UT Dallas campus,” Spiro said.

“This success is an important landmark in the development of the department and the University," he said. "A major funding boost for disease-relevant research will also enrich the educational experience of our undergraduate students, many of whom are on the premedical track.”  

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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