The Thompson Lab


The Thompson Lab welcomes people of any race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, caregiver and family commitments, political affiliation, religion, and eligible age or ability.

Current Lab Members

Michael Thompson
Principal Investigator
mthompson30 (at)
Scholar Citations

Mike’s longstanding research interest lies in understanding how proteins function by dynamically interconverting between different conformational states.

He was first introduced to structural biology and X-ray crystallography as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, where he was a research assistant in Tom Alber’s laboratory. In the Alber lab, he worked on efforts to determine the structures of signaling proteins that are required for virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

In 2014, he received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UCLA under the mentorship of Todd Yeates. As a graduate student, Mike investigated the role of conformational polymorphism in expanding the functional diversity of a key family of proteins that define a widespread class of prokaryotic organelles collectively known as “bacterial microcompartments.” His work revealed the role of conformational polymorphism in defining specialized functions of microcompartment shell proteins, including ligand binding and allosteric regulation.

Mike joined James Fraser’s lab at UCSF as a postdoc, where he helped develop new methods that combine temperature perturbations with static and time-resolved structural measurements to provide detailed insight into the conformational landscapes of biological macromolecules. These new methods, including multi-temperature and temperature-jump X-ray crystallography and solution scattering, are being applied by the Thompson lab and others to understand how protein function is modulated by genetic mutations, by interactions with other molecules, and by other physical stimuli. As a postdoctoral fellow, Mike was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the BioXFEL Science and Technology Center (NSF), a Kirschstein NRSA (F32) fellowship from NIH/NHLBI, and an Independent Postdoctoral Research Award from the UCSF Program in Breakthrough Biomedical Research (PBBR).

In 2020, Mike was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC Merced. He is co-PI of a Bioscience Campaign at the Linac Coherent Light Source, senior research personnel on the INSITE team, and a member of the NSF CREST-CCBM Center.

Sarah Ashrafi
Undergraduate Student
sashrafi (at)

Since taking her first biology 001 class at UCM Sarah has been growing interest into the microscopic world. In the Thompson lab she’s been give an opportunity to further her interest in research and biological sciences. In the future she hopes to find her passion and hopes Thompson lab will be her stepping stone to finding what she truly wants to do.

In her free time Sarah loves annoying the stray cats around her apartment with food and affection. She is also a huge fan of rock climbing and skating transition.

Octavio Gabriel Barron
Undergraduate Student
obarron (at)

Octavio is a current undergraduate student at UC Merced. He is currently working to complete his B.S. in Biology with an emphasis on Microbiology and Immunology and should hopefully complete it by Spring 2024.

He joined the Thompson Lab in Fall of 2023 and hopes it will help him decide on what direction he wants to go after his undergrad. When he has free time, he enjoys fishing, skating on his longboard, and catching up with friends.

Alexander Deary
Graduate Student
adeary (at)

Alexander is a current graduate student in the department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) at UC Merced. He received his Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in philosophy from UC San Diego where he worked in the Paesani Research Group on many-body computational models for group 1 ion hydration. He also previously conducted research on G-protein Coupled Receptors at The Bridge Institute at USC, working under Raymond Stevens. While there he studied the allosteric effects of sodium and other cations on GPCR signal transduction. His current research interests are protein structural biochemistry as well as small molecule and biologic drug design.

Luisa Garcia Michel
Graduate Student
lgarciamichel (at)

Luisa earned her B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. She studied allosteric communication in ERK2 and its mutants using computational modeling and molecular simulations in Dr. Daniel A. Barr’s lab.

During her undergrad, she discovered her passion for teaching and research. She pioneered the Learning Assistant (LA) program for Chemistry classes and was involved in a variety of language and science teaching opportunities.

In Fall 2021, Luisa joined the Thompson lab as UC Merced’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Ph.D. student.

Alex Hernandez
Summer 2023 Rotation Student G-RISE I-BioSTeP Fellow
ahernandez693 (at)

Alex is a graduate student in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC Merced.

In 2022, Alex earned his B.S. in Biochemistry from California State University, Bakersfield. As an undergraduate, he researched the bioremediation of contaminated oilfield water using the microalgae P. Tricornutum under Dr. Jeroen T.F. Gillard. During his undergraduate research, he developed an interest in studying protein structure and function for medical applications.

Currently, Alex is a rotation student in the Thompson lab using innovative methods of X-ray protein crystallography in order to elucidate the conformational dynamics of the protein Soybean Lipoxygenase (SLO) at biological temperatures.

Leila Mahrokh
Fall 2023 Rotation Student
lmahrokh (at)

Leila obtained her B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Zoology from Razi University. She also earned a master’s degree of biophysics from University of Tehran. When she was in last year of her PhD in biophysics she moved to USC as a visiting research scholar. The majority of her research has been conducted on the bacterial extracellular electron transfer (EET) by linking intracellular reactions to external electrode surfaces in a bioelectrochemical fuel cell and a microscopic reactor. Meanwhile, she has been passionate about knowing the structure and function of proteins as the building blocks of life.

Leila is currently a rotation student in the Thompson lab where she is employing cutting-edge techniques for X-ray protein crystallography to understand the structural dynamics of the enzyme Soybean Lipoxygenase (SLO) at physiologic temperatures.

Alec Martinez
Lab Manager
amartinez296 (at)

Alec earned a B.S. in Chemical Sciences at UC Merced in 2020.

While working to complete his undergraduate degree, he developed an interest in secondary education in STEM fields. After graduating, he started his educational career by teaching mathematics from 2020 - 2022. He is currently in the process of obtaining M.A. Teaching, Science Education.

In Fall 2022, he joined the Sukenik & Thompson labs as Lab Manager.

Josh Rodriguez
Graduate Student
jrodriguez465 (at)

Josh earned a B.S. in Biochemistry at CSU Fresno in 2019. There, he found an interest in structural biology and crystallography while performing research under Dr. Cory L. Brooks. Josh’s research in the Brooks Lab focused on expressing and purifying novel antibody fragments that target cancerous forms of certain members of the mucin family of proteins.

In the Fall of 2020, Josh entered UC Merced’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Ph.D. program and began research in the Thompson Lab. He is currently working to biochemically characterize and determine the crystal structure of human IRF-3 in complex with HIV Vpu, an effort that hopes to reveal potential for host-directed antiviral therapies.

Behnoush Seifinoferest
Graduate Student
bseifinoferest (at)

Behnoush developed interest in proteins at first in 2019 after obtaining a Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry from the University of Tehran, Iran. She adores the world of Organic Chemistry, but preferred to continue education on an interplay of chemistry and biology. She got admitted in the PhD program of the University of California, Merced on Fall 2021 and started working with the Thompson lab right away. She is currently a graduate researcher in the Thompson lab. Her research focus right now is using protein crystallization methods and X-ray Crystallography for assessing the effect of conformational dynamics of the enzymes on their function. These data can be used for designing de novo enzymes specified for organic reactions of interest.

Andree Souder
Research Assistant
asouder2 (at)

Andree’s journey began very young when she was gifted a microscope after completing the fifth grade and spent that summer examining various leaves, insect parts, and fabrics under the microscope. Since then she has come far in her scientific career and studies Cellular and Molecular Biology but has found a growing excitement for Biochemistry. The Thompson Lab will be her first experience in a research laboratory (that is not her backyard).

When she is not studying for class or reading research papers, Andree spends her time hiking, painting, and playing with her dog.

Alexander Wolff
Research Specialist
awolff2 (at)
Scholar Citations

Alex has broad scientific interests, but most of his work has focused on the use of X-ray methods to monitor protein dynamics. He earned a Ph.D. in the Fraser Lab at UCSF while working on this challenge. Specific focal points included the use of temperature jumps to perturb protein structures, monitoring perturbations during time-resolved X-ray experiments, and exploration of diffuse scattering as a source of information on protein structural dynamics.

In the Thompson Lab, Alex aims to expand on initial temperature-jump experiments with a focus on developing computational methods to support such work.

Past Lab Members

Asini Taka - Undergraduate Student (BioXFEL REU), Summer 2023, Now Undergraduate at Clark University
Gyselle Castillo - Undergraduate Student (UCM-Mexico Summer Program), Summer 2023, Now Undergraduate at Instituto Politecnico Nacional (Mexico)
Vincent Hernandez - Undergraduate Student (BioXFEL REU, C-SIP), May 2021 - May 2023, Now Postbac at Stanford in Sarafan ChEM-H/IMA Program
Dondis Moreland - Undergraduate Student (BioXFEL REU), September 2021 - December 2022, Now Postbac at UCSF School of Dentistry
Serena Hunt - Visiting Scholar from University of Ottawa, Spring 2023
Ralph McAnelly - Assistant Research Specialist, Feb. 2021 - Jun. 2022
Destini Nguyen - Undergraduate Student (BioXFEL REU), May 2021 - May 2022, Now Med Student at American University of the Caribbean
Nathaniel Brown - Junior Research Specialist, Feb.-Aug. 2021, Now UC Merced QSB Graduate Student (Xu Lab)