Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Dr. Joseph Piccirilli

B.Sc., University of Scranton, 1982.
Rheinisch Westfalische Technische Hochschule Aachen, Fulbright Scholar, 1983.
Ph.D., Harvard University, 1989 with Steve Benner.
Harvard Traveling Scholar, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 1986-1989.
University of Colorado at Boulder, Howard Hughes Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 1989-1993 with Tom Cech
The University of Chicago, Assistant Professor, 1993-2000.
Assistant Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 1994-2000.
The University of Chicago, Professor, 2000
Associate Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2000-2004.
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2004-2009
Joint Appointment in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Dr. Deepak Koirala

B.S. Tribhuvan University, Nepal, 2002
M.S. Tribhuvan University, Nepal, 2005
Ph. D. Kent State University, USA, 2014

I am inspired to pursue a deep understanding of RNA biology in an effort to make a major impact in human health and diseases. My research aims to understand the RNA structures associated with pathogenesis and explore their potentials as therapeutic targets. Towards this overall goal, my graduate and postdoctoral research has been to better understand the role of unusual nucleic acid structures in biological systems and to uncover their therapeutic and diagnostic potentials.

As a postdoctoral scholar in the Piccirilli lab, I have focused on understanding the structure and function of non-coding RNAs. Among my most exciting accomplishments, I have developed RNA binding antibody fragments (Fabs) as the tools for chaperone assisted RNA crystallization, affinity purification and visualization. The experience employing advanced methodologies including phage display selection, in-vitro evolution and RNA crystallography have allowed me to address currently outstanding issues regarding biomolecular structures. However, through the implementation of these techniques in RNA biology, I became more aware of the intrinsic limitations in existing research tools and inspired me to pursue my academic career towards the development of next generation methodologies to creatively solve complex scientific problems.

During my graduate research at Kent State University, I studied biologically relevant nucleic acid nanostructures and their interactions with small molecule drugs using optical tweezers and other biochemical methods. In those studies, I dissected mechanochemical properties of biologically relevant complexes that are formed by the interaction between small molecules and proteins with G-quadruplex and i-motif structures. I also developed a broadly applicable, ultrasensitive and high-throughput sensing platform using DNA motifs and DNA origami nanoassemblies.

Dr. NanSheng Li

Ph.D. 1993, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Research Specialist
Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

I am interested in the chemical synthesis and enzymatic synthesis of biologically interesting molecules including but not limited to the modification of nucleosides, nucleotides, and nucleic acids for the studies of RNA structure and function.

Dr. Yaming Shao

B.Sc, Huaihai Institute of Technology, China. 2002
M.Sc, South China University of Technology, China. 2005
PhD, Zhejiang University, China. 2009
Postdoc, Florida State University. 2009-2014

RNA is an all-rounder in biological function. I am especially interested in its function involving the tertiary structure. I started out my work with solving individual RNA structures using X-ray crystallography. I enjoy the work as I enjoy my life.

Graduate Students

Christina Roman

B.S. Biochemistry, Stony Brook University
PREP Scholar University of Chicago
Gilliam Fellow University of Chicago

Christina Roman is a biochemistry student, which means she’s a bad biologist and a worse chemist. She engineers antibody fragments to act as RNA crystallographic chaperones. Currently, she is applying a surface entropy reduction strategy on an existing Fab which binds a graftable RNA-epitope to improve the complex’s crystalizablity, diffraction, and crystal order. She also works with and leads various organizations on campus such as GRIT to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM. She is passionate about structural biology, crystallography, and equality. You can follow her on twitter @CR_FabEngineer.

Huw Rees

MChem, University of York 2015

Rheinisch Westfalische Technische Hochschule Aachen, Erasmus, 2014-2015
Graduate Student, Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago 2015-

Huw is British, not Australian, and did his undergraduate studies at the University of York. His focus is currently on improving Fab libraries that are designed to bind RNA, primarily via performing phage display and a lot of contact with the university’s awesome sequencing facilities, who apparently put up with a chemist trying to be a biologist. His other interests include improv comedy, Yorkshire tea, crashing Java programs, and getting his name spelled correctly.

Atreyi Bhattacharya

Michael Disare

Michael grew up near Buffalo, NY and did his undergrad at Cornell University, so the winters here at UChicago don’t faze him at all. He joined the lab in 2018 and works on a project to adapt a strategy for rapid continuous evolution to engineer RNA-binding proteins because, although phage display did win a Nobel Prize, it can still be slow and annoying. In his free time he can usually be found in the (Pokémon GO) gyms around Hyde Park, or playing some other Nintendo game. He also found himself anointed CFO (Chief Fun Officer) of the lab, which ostensibly gives him as much authority as Joe Piccirilli himself.

Fulbright Scholars

Anna Lewicka

MSc Wrocław University 2013

In 2014, Anna started her PhD project at The Wrocław University, with the aim of studying the function of glycogenolytic enzymes in the formation of skeletal muscles. Currently occupying the (Fulbright) desk in the lab owned by the Polish consulate, Anna gets to sit on one of the only 16 square foot places in Illinois with a drinking age below 21 (though she is professional and doesn’t abuse that). Anna’s work is focused on creating Fab-RNA complexes to produce crystals, which are then shot with crazy strong lasers at Argonne national lab, which is constantly surrounded by thunderstorms and manic laughter. In addition, Anna has been very kind and generous by feeding the lab, though if this is some dastardly plot to give us all diabetes is yet to be revealed.

Kamila Nykiel

Post-Baccalaureate Students

Najae Escoffery