College of Science

Clark joins UT Arlington as chair of Biology Department

A new era in leadership for the College of Science’s Department of Biology began in July with the arrival of Clay Clark, professor and new department chair.

Clark was selected to lead the department from a strong pool of candidates following a national search. He came to UT Arlington from North Carolina State University, where he was a member of the biochemistry faculty since 1999 and served as head of the department from July 2012 until he joined UT Arlington.

“I’m excited to be here at UT Arlington and I look forward to the opportunity to help lead the Department of Biology to even greater heights,” he said. “We have outstanding faculty and some state-of-the-art facilities, and I believe the teaching and research being done in our department are world-class.”

Clark replaces longtime department chair Jonathan Campbell, who stepped down in August 2014 to focus on his research work as one of the world’s preeminent herpetologists. Associate professor of biology Laura Gough served as interim chair for the past year while the search for a new chair was conducted.

“We’re very happy to welcome Dr. Clark to UT Arlington and the Department of Biology, and we’re looking forward to the fresh ideas and perspective he will bring to the department,” said James Grover, interim dean of the College of Science. “He excelled in leading the biochemistry department at North Carolina State University, and I think he will continue the steady and effective leadership the UT Arlington Department of Biology has enjoyed under Jon Campbell and Laura Gough.

“He also brings an exciting and innovative research program in cancer biology, which will complement the outstanding research already being done by our biology faculty.”

Clark said the chance to live in Texas - where he lived while earning his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University - played a part in his decision to join UT Arlington, as did the fact that the University has seen dramatic growth in enrollment and is focused on becoming a Tier I research university. He also liked the unique funding opportunities available in Texas through such sources as the Welch Foundation, as well as the chance to lead a department substantially larger than the one he headed at North Carolina State.

“The department at N.C. State has about 400 undergraduate students, while we have about 2,000 undergraduates here in our department at UT Arlington,” he said. “I’m looking forward to helping the department with things such as increasing our faculty numbers, bringing in more graduate students, and giving our undergraduate students even greater opportunities to participate in lab research.”

Clark’s research at N.C. State focused on the activation and allosteric regulation of caspases, a family of proteases that are important in cell differentiation and cell death. Caspases are critical enzymes in a variety of processes, from development of eye lens, inner ear development, to neuron maturation.

“Caspases are proteins responsible for killing a cell, which is all

Clay Clark
part of the normal process for cells,” Clark said. “When the balance between cell growth and cell death isn’t working, there are problems, as with cancer. Then there is too much cell growth and not enough cells being killed off. There can also be problems of too many cells getting killed off and not enough being made, as in auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and diabetes, or in neurodegenerative diseases.”

His lab also studies protein design as well as cancer, neurodegenerative and auto-immune diseases. He and his students utilize a variety of techniques in the lab, including X-ray crystallography, molecular modeling and dynamics, and protein engineering. Clark’s research has received continuous funding from sources such as the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association, among others.

“In addition to the cell death programs, caspase enzyme activity is used by cells during development and differentiation in reactions that do not result in cell death,” Clark said. “It is not known how cells regulate caspase activity for cell differentiation versus cell death. Levels of active caspases are responsive to cell signaling pathways, and the post-translational modifications of caspases appear to be a key mechanism for fine-tuning activity.”

Clark was born in Illinois, while his father was stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes. Much of his family is from southern Georgia, and it’s there that Clark received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Georgia in 1984. He went on to earn a master’s in Biology from the University of San Francisco in 1989 and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Texas A&M University in 1994. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University in St. Louis prior to joining N.C. State as an assistant professor in 1999.

Posted July 29, 2015