Cecilia I. Zurita Lopez

Cecilia I Zurita Lopez
College of Natural & Social Sciences
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Office Location: ASCL La Kretz Hall Room 251
Phone: 323-343-2314 Email: [email protected]
Research Page


I believe in the mission of our CSU system, which is to provide California's students with access and attainment so that they may achieve their dreams through education. As an alumna, it is a personal fulfillment to return to Cal State LA, where 60% of the student body is from underrepresented backgrounds and over 75% is eligible for need-based grants. Since my arrival in September 2014, I have engaged in a variety of activities that have allowed me to get to know our student population, including activities sponsored by the MORE Programs (retreat, open house, poster sessions), the SACNAS conference held in October, 2014 and supporting a memorial for the late Professor of Biochemistry, Dr. Raymond E. Garcia, held in November, 2014.

I believe that my academic training and research experience has exposed me to various kinds of research in multiple settings. Ever since my first laboratory experience under the direction of Dr. Frank Gomez, I have enjoyed research and had many opportunities to present my scientific contributions both in written form via publications and by traveling to different conferences. In addition to contributing to five different publications as an undergraduate student, I also took part in many extra-curricular activities in support of my career efforts. These included organizing a weekend trip to northern California to visit graduate schools (UCSB, UCSB, Stanford, UCSF, and UC Davis) and organizing a chemistry “magic” show for the community surrounding Cal State LA. To learn more about the specific challenges of minorities like me in science, I have also taken part in several minority-focused conferences that have addressed issues specific to me and have made me aware of the attrition rates in science among minorities. All of these experiences have solidified my desire to become a professor and fueled within me a desire to reach out to young students like me, who have grown-up in underserved communities.

As a graduate student at UCLA, under the direction of Dr. Steven Clarke and as a former recipient of the Kirschstein-NRSA predoctoral fellowship, I was able to characterize a number of newly discovered enzymes in both humans and lower organisms. This work lead to many different types of collaborations and resulted in eleven total publications. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California (USC) under the direction of Dr. Andrea Armani, I built upon my science foundation and became exposed to the fields of biophysics, including biosensor and material development. Having lost my own mother to breast cancer, this area reached the core of my own scientific pursuits as I was able to contribute to the development of a label-free sensing modality capable of detecting epigenetic markers prominent in cancer.

Finally, as an underrepresented minority of Latino descent I have benefited greatly from programs that have explicitly embraced diversity. I do not believe I would currently be a professor of biochemistry without the positive experiences I received as an undergraduate student at Cal State LA nor without the exemplary role models within the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department who include professors such as Jamil Momand, Robert Vellanoweth, Scott Grover, and Raymond Garcia. I believe that I was able to effectively learn because I saw professors and students who looked like me and/or were knowledgeable of the challenges facing underrepresented minorities. These types of programs have allowed me to overcome some of the struggles prevalent in my culture and helped me to realize that we must reach out to others like me. I am excited to work at Cal State LA whose diverse community will allow me to reach out and do what others have done for me.


I have taught CHEM 431A, which is an introduction to the Biochemistry 431 series, a year-long course. I strive to motivate students by incorporating fun demonstrations and videos in class, and by connecting the course material to the real world by including diseases, medications, current research and current events.

Biochemistry 431A is a course designed to give you insights into the chemical nature of life!

This course in biochemical concepts and knowledge is designed to serve the needs of those pursuing careers in the molecular life sciences, as well as those who plan to enter graduate or professional schools (PhD, medical school, etc.). Another important goal is to prepare students to be informed citizens, equipped to deal with complex ethical and societal issues common in biotechnology.

Course description: This course is worth 3 units. Course Prerequisite: Grade of C- or better in Organic Chemistry series (CHEM 301C); Physics majors in the Biophysics option admitted by special permission. Lectures on structure, function, and chemistry of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids in animals, plants, and microorganisms.


Crosstalk between Methylation and Phosphorylation: Significance in Cellular Signaling

The interplay between post-translational modifications on proteins can be capitalized as potential therapeutic targets and epigenetic markers for disease detection. My laboratory will focus specifically on the crosstalk between methylation and phosphorylation. Identifying proteins and the sites at which protein arginine methylation affects phosphorylation and vice versa, will contribute to a greater understanding of cellular signaling. Graduate and undergraduate students will learn traditional biochemical techniques, use new technologies, and develop assays to complete research objectives. Student researchers will learn to hypothesize, experiment and present work that will lead to an understanding of the impact of protein arginine methylation, particularly in signal transduction.
I am committed to sharing my knowledge, skills and love of science with enthusiastic young scientists and take pride in fostering a community of science within my laboratory, which reflects diversity in ethnicity, age and gender.




Feng, Y., Maity, R., Whitelegge, J.P., Hadjikyriacou, A., Li, Z., Zurita-Lopez, C., Al-Hadid, Q., Clark, A.T., Bedford, M.T., Masson, J.Y., and Clarke, S.G. Mammalian protein arginine methyltransferase 7 (PRMT7) specifically targets RXR sites in lysine- and arginine-rich regions. J Biol Chem. 2013, 288(52), 37010-37025.


Yang, M.L., Gee, A.J., Gee, R.J., Zurita-Lopez, C.I., Khare, S., Clarke, S.G., and Mamula, M.J. Lupus autoimmunity altered by cellular methylation metabolism. Autoimmunity. 2013, 46(1), 21-31.


Young, B.D., Weiss, D.I., Zurita-Lopez, C.I., Webb, K.J., Clarke, S.G., and McBride, A.E. Identification of Methylated Proteins in the Yeast Small Ribosomal Subunit: A Role for SPOUT Methyltransferases in Protein Arginine Methylation. Biochemistry. 2012 51(25):5091-5104.


Zurita-Lopez, C.I., Sandberg, T., Kelly, R., and Clarke, S.G. Human protein arginine methyltransferase 7 (PRMT7) is a type III enzyme forming ω-NG-monomethylated arginine residues. J Biol Chem. 2012 287(11):7859-7870.


Rust, H.L., Zurita-Lopez, C.I., Clarke, S., and Thompson, P.R. Mechanistic studies on transcriptional coactivator protein arginine methyltransferase 1. Biochemistry. 2011 50(16):3332-3345.


Butler, J.S., Zurita-Lopez, C.I., Clarke, S.G., Bedford, M.T. and Dent, S.Y. Protein-arginine methyltransferase 1 (PRMT1) methylates Ash2L, a shared component of mammalian histone H3K4 methyltransferase complexes. J Biol Chem. 2011 286(14):12234-12244.






2014-PresentAssistant Professor of Biochemistry, Cal State LA.


Postdoctoral Research, Dr. Andrea Armani, USC, Using Whispering Gallery Mode Microresonators to Detect Epigenetic Protein Changes


Postdoctoral Research, Dr. Shu-ou Shan, Caltech, Decoding the Signal Sequence that Governs SRP Co-translational Protein Localization


Doctoral and Postdoctoral Research, Dr. Steven Clarke, Biochemistry, UCLA, Thesis work: Characterization of Eukaryotic Protein Arginine Methyltransferases: An Emerging Family of Regulatory Enzymes


Undergraduate Research, Dr. Jamil A. Momand, Biochemistry, CSULA, Honors Thesis work: The Role of Sulfiredoxin on Peroxiredoxins upon H2O2 Activation


Undergraduate Research, Dr. Frank A. Gomez, Analytical Chemistry, CSULA, Research work: Using Affinity Capillary Electrophoresis to Estimate Binding Constants Between ADP-Glucose Pyrophosphorylase and ATP

Summer 2002

Minority Undergraduate Research Fellow, Dr. Julia A. Kornfield, Polymer Materials Science, Caltech, SURF-MURF Project: The Release of Vancomycin from Synthesized Fluoroalkyl Modified Poly(ethylene glycol)


PhD Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  • University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA

B.S. Biochemistry 2004

  • California State University, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA





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