Science and mathematics quickly became Evans' main interests at South Gate High School, where his college counselor worked hard "to push us on that road and give us the exposure we needed." No less important to his high school success, he says, was "my loving family and great friends." Evans commuted between South Gate and Westwood for five years, earning a UCLA degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology.
As a UCLA graduate student, Evans joined the molecular immunology lab run by Associate Professor Renato J. Aguilera. "I liked the environment, I liked the people who worked there," he says, and the subject was intriguing. "I wanted to know how life works on a miniature scale."
Evans' first project was to examine the relationship between DNase II, an enzyme produced by humans and other mammals, and NUC-1, an enzyme found in the simple roundworm C. elegans. He has found that these enzymes are highly related and appear to function in much the same way.
Specifically, all cells have "compartments that are used to degrade or remove waste materials," Evans says. DNase II is found in these compartments where it works to degrade DNA. According to Evans, "When a cell dies, it usually gets engulfed by another cell, at which time enzymes, including DNase II, work to remove the dead cell, a large fraction of which is DNA."
In C. elegans, the loss of this enzymatic activity causes the DNA of the dead cells to accumulate within the engulfing cells. This extra DNA doesn't appear to be detrimental to C. elegans, a relatively simple creature of only 959 cells. However, in more complex organisms-such as mice and humans-Aguilera's lab team suspects that the accumulation of waste DNA may be a contributing factor to autoimmune disorders like Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE or Lupus), where DNA is a target of improper immune responses.
Evans' current project is to see what happens in fruit flies when the same enzyme is defective. The results of his C. elegans and fruit fly research will comprise his dissertation, and he has been awarded a Dissertation Year Fellowship allowing him to devote full time to research and writing.
Evans "is very good at determining what experiments are worth doing and which ones are not," says Aguilera. "He thinks long and hard about the correct approach to a problem and is not shy about asking experts their opinions. This ability is one of the most important tools that PhD students must master before graduation."
Looking ahead, Evans plans to do postdoctoral study. "It is important to decide what you want to do and who you would like to work with, and then you try to go wherever that person is," Evans says.
As for his "global goal," he says, "I think it would be nice to have my own lab, and I love teaching molecular biology."