The Bess Lab

Discovering & Engineering Microbiome Chemistry 


Elizabeth Nancy Bess was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. She received her B.S. degree from the University of Utah in Biological Chemistry in 2009. During this time, she performed research on pain perception in the Emergency Department at the University of Utah School of Medicine, worked as an autopsy assistant at the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, and taught violin lessons to budding musicians.

In 2015, Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. Under the mentorship of Professor Matthew Sigman at the University of Utah, she developed mathematics-based tools to quantitatively describe and predict the outcomes of catalytic reactions (such as enantio- and site-selectivity) that she was performing in the lab. These tools have been adopted in academia and industry to reduce the trial-and-error associated with chemical-methods development and to garner a quantitative understanding of molecular properties that govern their behavior.

Near the end of her graduate career (2014), Elizabeth was a doctoral trainee in the Novartis BioReactions Group in Basel, Switzerland. Here, she first tried her hand at microbiology and learned the Swiss art of the coffee break.

As an HHMI postdoctoral fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation, Elizabeth worked in the microbiology lab of Professor Peter Turnbaugh at the University of California, San Francisco in the Hooper Foundation (2015-2018). Here, she elucidated the genetic basis for the cooperative bioactivation of plant lignans by a consortium of bacteria that reside in the human gastrointestinal tract. Using germ-free mice, she demonstrated how strain-level variation in the bacteria colonizing the gut can toggle production of bacterial metabolites that enter the systemic circulation. During her postdoctoral stint, Elizabeth enjoyed leading yoga classes for UCSF scientists.

Elizabeth joins the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine in Summer 2018. Her lab is fusing chemistry and microbiology to interrogate the chemical mechanisms by which the human gut microbiome impacts human health and disease.

Selected Honors and Awards

Scialog Fellow: Microbiome, Neurobiology, and Disease, Research Corp., 2020

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow, Life Sciences Research Foundation, 2016–2018

Career Development Grant for Postdoctoral Women, American Society for Microbiology, 2016

American Society for Microbiology's profile of Elizabeth.

Cheves Walling Award for Excellence in Graduate Research, University of Utah Dept. of Chemistry, 2015

Graduate Research Fellowship, University of Utah, 2014–2015

Anna Louise Hoffman Award for Graduate Research, Iota Sigma Pi National Honor Society, 2014

Dow Chemical Graduate Student Scholastic Achievement Award, University of Utah Dept. of Chemistry, 2011

Scholarship for Scholastic Excellence, University of Utah Dept. of Chemistry, 2008

Joseph Turner Crockett, M.D., Memorial Scholarship, University of Utah College of Science, 2008

Marjorie N. Parry Scholarship, University of Utah Women's Club, 2008

Armantrout Memorial Scholarship, University of Utah Dept. of Chemistry, 2007

Mack Thomas Rozelle Scholarship, University of Utah Dept. of Chemistry, 2006

Honors at Entrance Scholarship, University of Utah, 2004–2008

© 2020 by The Bess Lab.