University of California, Irvine

Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences

About the school

Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences

The Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences is a premier center of biological education and research. Multidisciplinary research and academic opportunities exist in the areas of health-related issues such as cancer and infectious diseases, developmental biology and genetics, environmental and evolutionary studies, mechanisms of gene expression, neurodegeneration, learning and memory disorders, structural biology, stem cell therapies, and science education.

With 3,100 undergraduates and nearly 300 graduate students, the Ayala School is one of the largest academic units at UCI. The school has four departments: Developmental & Cell Biology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, and Neurobiology & Behavior.

The Ayala School offers bachelor's degrees in biological sciences, biochemistry & molecular biology, biology education, developmental & cell biology, ecology & evolutionary biology, exercise sciences, genetics, human biology, microbiology & immunology, and neurobiology, as well as master's degrees in biotechnology, biotechnology management, and biological sciences & educational media design. It also offers doctorates in ecology & evolutionary biology, cellular molecular biosciences, mathematical, computational & systems biology, neurobiology & behavior, and interdepartmental neurosciences.

Dean Frank LaFerla

Frank M. LaFerla is the Hana and Francisco J. Ayala Dean of the Ayala School of Biological Sciences. He is a Chancellor's Professor and the former chair of the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior. In his 20 years at UCI, he has served in numerous leadership roles, including as associate director and now director of UCI MIND (Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders), a research center internationally acclaimed for its work on disorders of the brain.

Professor LaFerla was the founding director of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, which united several neuroscience-related departments and faculty under one major programmatic initiative and has since facilitated the recruitment of numerous outstanding graduate students to UCI.

Professor LaFerla received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and his B.A. from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and has research interests in the molecular biology of Alzheimer's disease and neurodegenerative disorders, transgenic and genetically-modified animal models, presenilins and calcium signaling, and learning and memory.

His research honors include the Promising Work Award from the Metropolitan Life Foundation for Medical Research, the Ruth Salta Investigator Achievement Award from the American Health Assistance Foundation, the Zenith Fellows Award from the Alzheimer Association, the UCI Innovators Award, and the Senate Distinguished Mid-Career Faculty Research Award.

Professor LaFerla is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the American Neurological Association, the American Society for Cell Biology, the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and the Society for Neuroscience. He is a frequent guest speaker at local, national and international venues, and is a current member of the board of directors of the Orange County Alzheimer's Association.


The school has a highly distinguished faculty, as measured by many criteria. These include high National Research Council faculty productivity rankings and on-campus, national and international awards.

Among the faculty are:

  • Six fellows of the National Academy of Sciences
  • One National Medal of Science awardee
  • One Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience recipient
  • One Templeton Prize laureate
  • One Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor
  • Three Thompson Reuters "Highly Cited Researchers"
  • Seven fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • Two fellows of the Royal Society
  • 45 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
  • One University Professor
  • Two Donald Bren Professors
  • Three Distinguished Professors, including John Avise, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology; Anthony A. James, professor of microbiology & molecular genetics; and Bruce McNaughton, Distinguished professor of neurobiology & behavior.
  • Seven faculty members are Chancellor's Professors or Fellows, including Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology & behavior; Eva Y. Lee, professor of biological chemistry; Thomas Poulos, professor of molecular biology & biochemistry; Markus Ribbe, professor of molecular biology & biochemistry; Leslie Thompson, professor of psychiatry & human behavior and neurobiology & behavior; Kathleen Treseder, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology; and Marcelo Wood, professor of neurobiology & behavior.

Over the past four years, eight members of our faculty have received Distinguished Faculty Awards from UCI's Academic Senate, including three for research, three for university service, and two for teaching.

The school's faculty are regularly honored at UCI's Celebration of Teaching event. In the last five years, two of faculty members have won Professor of the Year awards, two have won the Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching, two have received the TA Development Mentor of the Year Award, and four graduate students have received the Most Promising Future Faculty Member Award.

Research Facilities

The Ayala School of Biological Sciences collaborates with many other units on campus to help further research in important fields.

Its facilities include:

  • Center for Environmental Biology
  • Center for Hearing Research
  • Center for Virus Research
  • Developmental Biology Center
  • Multiple Sclerosis Research Center

Faculty members from biological sciences participate and figure importantly in campus research units, centers and institutes, including:

  • Beckman Laser Institute
  • Cancer Research Institute
  • Center for Complex Biological Systems
  • Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory
  • Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics
  • Institute for Immunology
  • Institute for Memory Impairments & Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND)
  • Network for Experimental Research on Evolution
  • Reeve-Irvine Research Center
  • Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center
  • Urban Water Research Center

On behalf of the campus, the school has taken primary responsibility for coordination and oversight of a variety of natural lands available for faculty and student research. These include the Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve, the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve, the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Facility, Orange County Parks Irvine Ranch Open Space, and Crystal Cove State Park and Marine Research Facility. The Ayala School of Biological Sciences also operates the UCI Greenhouse, an on-campus growth facility, and the UCI Arboretum and Herbarium, a botanic garden and research facility located near the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve. The school maintains UCI's membership in the Organization for Tropical Studies, which permits students to participate in educational and research projects in Costa Rica and South Africa.