McKnight Fellow – Randal Halfmann, Ph.D.

Randal Halfmann, Ph.D., is one of two current holders of the Sara and Frank McKnight Fellowship, which supports postdoctoral fellows who choose to conduct independent research within the Department of Biochemistry.

Dr. Halfmann, a native of Coleman, Texas, received his bachelor's degree in genetics from Texas A&M University and his doctorate degree in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Susan Lindquist, Ph.D.

His research centers on prions: misfolded, self-perpetuating proteins. Prions are notoroious for their involvement in fatal brain infections such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy – "mad cow disease" – in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans. But research, including a recent study at UT Southwestern that shows a role for prions in immune response, is beginning to reveal a benevolent side of prions.

Dr. Halfmann studies prions in yeast, focusing on the processes that regulate prion formation, and how prions change the way cells behave. "Despite tons and tons of work, we're only chipping away at understanding protein folding," he said. "There are underexplored areas of protein folding – including how and when proteins aggregate. There are lots of reasons to think aggregation, and prion formation, has important functions that we haven’t yet discovered.”

Dr. Halfmann has also received the NIH’s Early Independence Award, which is geared to “provide a mechanism for exceptional, early career scientists to omit traditional post-doctoral training, and move into independent research positions at U.S. institutions directly upon completion of their graduate degrees.”

The McKnight Fellowship and Early Indepence award allow Dr. Halfmann to begin working as a principal investigator, without working under a faculty member advisor as in a traditional postdoctoral position.

Research Interests

Visit the Halfmann Lab website for more information about Dr. Halfmann's research interests, activities, and scholarly publications.