ASU assistant professor awarded early-career fellowship for work in molecular sciences

February 28, 2017

Alex Green, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has been named a recipient of a prestigious 2017 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. These fellowships are awarded to early-career scholars who the Sloan Foundation describes as “the most promising scientific researchers working today.” Awarded in eight scientific and technical fields, Green is one of 12 winners in Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology.

Green works generally in the areas of synthetic biology and nanomaterials, and the award spotlights his research on computational design of functional RNAs for use both inside and outside of cells. As a post-doctoral researcher Green invented the "toehold switch" riboregulator, a computer-designed hairpin RNA structure that can control the expression of virtually any target gene in response to an RNA trigger. Alexander A. Green awarded 2017 Alfred  FP. Sloan Foundation Researchellowship Alexander A. Green awarded 2017 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Researchellowship Download Full Image

This technology can be used as a sensor, or detector, for specific RNA sequences. Together with collaborators from Harvard and the University of Toronto, Green and his group at ASU recently developed an efficient and inexpensive sensor for the Zika virus. Small quantities of Zika RNA found in the blood of infected individuals can act as the RNA trigger to open a toehold switch that initiates translation of a reporter protein, and ultimately, a color change in a simple paper test kit.

Green and his group are now exploring a wide range of other applications for riboregulators as low-cost nucleic acid detectors for other dangerous viral and parasitic infectious diseases. He is also using riboregulators to perform biomolecular computing in cells.

“Dr. Green’s work is typified by outstanding scholarship and a relentless commitment to making critical advances that will benefit science and society at large,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences.

“The Sloan Research Fellows are the rising stars of the academic community,” said Paul L. Joskow, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Through their achievements and ambition, these young scholars are transforming their fields and opening up entirely new research horizons. We are proud to support them at this crucial stage of their careers.”

Sloan Research Fellows can use the award funds almost without restriction, to pursue whatever lines of research they are most interested in, or to open new research areas. 

“I’m honored to be recognized as a Sloan Research Fellow," said Green. "This award will give my group the freedom to pursue some new high-risk ideas we’re excited about in protein detection and portable diagnostics that have a lot of potential for addressing global health needs.”

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit institution that awards grants for original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics. Additional information is available at

Ian Gould

President Professor, Associate Director of Communications, School of Molecular Sciences


ASU incubator boosts Native American entrepreneurs

Inno-NATIONS supports business owners and enterprises from indigenous communities across Arizona

February 28, 2017

Looking to create opportunity, the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) in collaboration with ASU’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation has developed an inter-tribal initiative called Inno-NATIONS, which champions indigenous entrepreneurship and economic development across Arizona.

“The goal is to support up-and-coming Native American entrepreneurs and ignite enterprises to fuel sustainable tribal economies by rejuvenating and modernizing traditional trade networks,” said Traci Morris, AIPI director and Inno-NATIONS founder. scarf print Detail of a scarf print from the Beyond Buckskin Boutique. Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

Morris said by spearheading innovative partnerships and leveraging resources from ASU, tribes and community organizations, she hopes that Inno-NATIONS will create a “collision community,” causing a ripple effect of economic change in tribal communities.

The first collision takes place with the inaugural learning lab series, “Beyond Buckskin: Beyond Online” on March 1 followed by “Protection in All Directions: A Fashion & Resistance Awareness Event” on March 4. The latter will include discussions, multi-media discussions and a fashion show highlighting local Native American designers including Jared Yazzie of OxDX.

Both events are free and take place at The Department in downtown Phoenix.

Inno-NATIONS will also launch a three-day pilot cohort with approximately 20 Native American businesses starting in June.

“Beyond Buckskin” features Jessica Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Dartmouth graduate and entrepreneur, who grew a small online store into a successful boutique on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

The store promotes and sells Native American-made couture, streetwear, jewelry, and accessories from more than 40 Native American and First Nations artist, employing tribe members from the Turtle Mountain community.

ASU Now spoke to Metcalfe to discuss her work.

Head shot of
Jessica Metcalfe

Question: We’ve seen Native American fashion emerge and evolve. How did you get into the business?

Answer: I was writing my master’s thesis in 2005 and my advisor at the time had told me about some research she had done, which looked at Native American fashion in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. She had wondered if I was interested in picking up where her research left off. I looked into it and found that there were these breadcrumbs, little bits here in there, that something had been going on in the past 60-70 years, but hadn’t been looked at as a collective movement.

Through my doctoral dissertation, what I discovered was that Native American fashion has gone through waves of acknowledgements by the broader public, but what we’re experiencing now is perhaps the biggest wave yet.

You have designers like Patricia Michaels out at New York’s Style Fashion Week and the Native Fashion Now traveling exhibit touring the country, so there’s really a lot of exciting things happening lately. It’s coming from a collective movement. Designers basically grouping together to share costs but also to put together more events to cause a bigger ruckus.

Q: How did you build your online store into a brick-and-mortar business?

A: I first launched a blog in 2009 as an outlet for my dissertation research, and wanted to share it with more people and to also get more stories and experiences. My readers kept asking where could they see and buy these clothes? At that time, there wasn’t an easy way to access functions like a Native American Pow Wow or market in order to do that.

I had established a rapport with designers through my research and writing. They saw what I was doing through the blog and then a question popped into my head. “How would you feel about creating a business together?” There were 11 initial designers who said they needed the space, and I worked with them to sell their goods online. We just now opened our design lab on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. We are creating a system where we can meet demand and maximize a need in Indian Country.

We employ Native Americans from ages 15 to 22. There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for people that age on the reservation. They either work at the grocery store or the gas station. One of them is interested in film and photography and so they run our photo shoots. Another person is interested in business entrepreneurship, and they get to see how an idea goes from concept to execution.

Q: The subtext is that this isn’t just about fashion but, history, representation and cultural appropriation?

A: Our clothing is just more than just objects. It’s about how the material was gathered, what the colors represent, what stories are being told and how does that tie into our value system. One of the things I often discuss is the Native American headdress. Our leaders wear them as a symbol of their leadership and the dedication to their communities. These stories are a way to share our culture with non-Natives and protect our legacy for future generations.

Q: Why is it important for Native American businesses to branch out into other cultures?

A: Native American people desperately need to diversify their economic opportunities on and off the reservations. Up until recently, people haven’t thought of fashion or art as a viable career path.

A recent study conducted by First Peoples Fund that found a third of all Native American people are practicing or are potential artists. That is a huge resource we already have in Indian Country and we need to tap it and develop it, and push for Natives in various fields to look at themselves as entrepreneurs and launching businesses.

Now, Native American people have an opportunity to make a positive impact in their local communities by reaching people through their art and sharing our culture with the rest of the world.

Reporter , ASU Now