Irene A. Chen

Associate Professor

Office Location

7th floor, Boelter Hall


Chemistry and Biochemistry


Irene A. Chen received a B.A. in chemistry and an M.D.-Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard, advised by Jack Szostak. She was then a postdoctoral Bauer Fellow in systems biology at Harvard. In 2013, she became an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she was promoted to associate professor. She moved to UCLA in 2020 to join the faculty of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and was jointly appointed in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.   


Our mission is the quantitative study and engineering of artificial living systems. We work to achieve a predictive understanding of evolution, with a focus on functional RNAs and their interactions with membranes and proteins. We also study the microbes associated with humans, with a focus on bacteriophages and their potential applications.


Full list available on group website:

Selected publications:

Athavale SS, Spicer B, Chen IA. Experimental fitness landscapes to understand the molecular evolution of RNA-based life. Curr. Opin. Chem. Biol. 2014, 22:35-39.

Jimenez JI, Xulvi-Brunet R, Campbell G, Turk-MacLeod R, Chen IA. Comprehensive experimental fitness landscape and evolutionary network for small RNA. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2013 110(37):14984-9.

Leu K, Kervio E, Obermayer B, Turk-MacLeod R, Yuan C, Luevano J-M, Chen E, Gerland U, Richert C, Chen IA. Cascade of reduced speed and accuracy after errors in enzyme-free copying of nucleic acid sequences. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013. 135(1):354-366.

Vaidya N, Manapat ML, Chen IA, Xulvi-Brunet R, Hayden EJ, Lehman N. Spontaneous network formation among cooperative RNA replicators. Nature 2012, 491:72-77.