Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Pennsylvania State University
104 Chemistry Bldg
University Park, PA 16802
Tel: (814) 863-3812
Biography: Phil was raised in North Collins, NY where he graduated from North Collins High School in 1983. His undergraduate degree was from John Carroll University where he majored in Chemistry and minored in Physics, graduating in 1987. He obtained his Ph.D. with Professor Douglas Turner at the University of Rochester in 1993 where he developed fluorescence-detected stopped-flow techniques for RNA secondary and tertiary structure formation, in collaboration with Doug and Professor Kenneth Johnson (UT Austin). His postdoctoral studies were with Professor Thomas Cech at the University of Colorado, where he was a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral fellow. There he worked on the then newly discovered dsRNA-binding domain and elucidated determinants of its substrate specificity. In 1997 he joined the faculty of the Department of Chemistry at Penn State University as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. In 2003 he was promoted with tenure to Associate Professor of Chemistry and in 2007 he was promoted to Full Professor of Chemistry. In 2015 he obtained a partial appointment as Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. He is a co-founder of the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Penn State and is active in several interdepartmental graduate programs at Penn State including Plant Biology, Molecular Cellular and Integrative Biosciences (MCIBS), and Bioinformatics and Genomics. His research has been recognized by a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, Elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, and is a Distinguished Professor. He is the author of over 170 publications. In addition, his teaching has been recognized through the NSF CAREER Award, Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, and Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, as well as being designated a Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellow, a CESE Tombros Education Fellow, and awarded the C. I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Priestley Teaching Prize. He became Department Head in August of 2018.
Beginning with his graduate work, through his post-doc, and into his independent career, Phil has focused on obtaining molecular insights into the myriad roles of RNA in biology through mechanistic approaches. The Bevilacqua lab has diverse interests in RNA that include ribozyme mechanism, pathways for RNA folding in vivo, RNA structure in living organisms, and roles for RNA on early Earth. His lab has introduced new approaches to study RNA, often in a collaborative fashion, including pKa measurements by diverse means; use of conformationally restricted nucleotides to probe RNA structure and function; probing of RNA folding across an entire transcriptome in vivo; and compartmentalizing and studying RNA function. The lab uses computational chemistry approaches in all aspects of its research including Statistical Thermodynamics, Bioinformatics and Cheminformatics, and Molecular Dynamics and QM/MM. New insights from these studies include demonstrations of active roles for nucleobases in RNA catalysis (‘nucleobase catalysis’), identification of functions for in vivo RNA structure in RNA processing events, and elucidation of RNA determinants for innate immune responses (PAMPs) at the primary, secondary, and tertiary RNA structural levels. Phil and his wife Joanne live in State College, PA, where Jo teaches high school chemistry. They have three girls – – Sarah, Erin, and Chloe. Phil enjoys spending time outdoors fly fishing the limestone streams and biking the rolling hills of central PA.