Rice bioscientist Chappell awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

James Chappell, assistant professor of biosciences at Rice, has been selected as a 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology.

He is one of 126 outstanding U.S. and Canadian researchers drawn from 53 colleges and universities to receive the 2018 fellowships. Awarded yearly since 1955, the

fellowships honor and support early career scholars whose achievements mark them as among the very best scientific minds working today. The two-year fellowships recognize researchers’ distinguished performance and unique potential to make substantial contributions to their fields.

“I’m very honored to win this award,” Chappell said. “Using the support of the Sloan will allow my research group the freedom to explore exciting and innovative research avenues.”

Chappell’s research focuses on understanding and engineering the bacteria domain of life.

“I’m interested in gene expression — the process by which cells control how they express their genetic information,” he said. “As gene expression determines how cells look, function and make decisions, it really underpins how cells work and our ability to manipulate them. Specifically, my research looks at how ribonucleic acid (RNA) controls gene expression in nature and how we can use it as a molecule to engineer cells.”

Chappell has focused previously on the creation of synthetic RNA regulatory systems that provide simple tools for turning on and off gene expression within cells. Through characterizing how these regulators functioned, he was able to uncover design principles that allowed him to computationally predict and design RNA function directly from sequence. He plans to continue this research and resolve design principles for the many different types of RNA gene regulators seen in nature. He is also interested in harnessing these regulators as tools to learn new biology from the bacteria domain of life.

Chappell earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and Ph.D. in molecular biosciences from Imperial College London in 2008 and 2013, respectively. Chappell joined Rice in 2017 from Northwestern University.

“I’m excited to be at Rice,” Chappell said. “There’s a lot of great science going on here and a wonderful community of researchers asking similar questions.”

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant-making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of General Motors Corp., the foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics.

About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.