MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


The Biology Department has 63 active faculty members: 15 are located in the Whitehead Institute, 12 are located in the Center for Cancer Research, four are joint appointees with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, one is joint with Chemistry, and one is joint with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Two faculty members also hold two-key appointments in the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health. Including active emeritus faculty, the Department includes three Nobel laureates, 21 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 10 investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The department has a stellar international reputation in research and teaching and has been a leading contributor to the development and application of molecular and cellular biology.


In the past year, 333 undergraduates registered as Biology majors, the third largest number of majors following Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. The Bachelor of Sciences in Biology degree was awarded to 131 students this past year: 112 in the regular Course VII Program and 19 in the VII-A Program.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 1999—2000. Marie P. Shieh and Jesse S. Boehm received the John L. Asinari Award in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research in the field of life sciences. Carly R. Klein was the recipient of the Salvador E. Luria Prize, honoring outstanding scholarship and research of publication quality. The Whitehead Undergraduate Prize, given to an undergraduate majoring in Biology who shows outstanding promise for a career in biological research, was awarded to Shivkumar Venkatasubrahmanyam. Lucy Q. Shen received the Ned Holt Prize for excellence in scholarship and service to the MIT community. Lucy also received the Association of MIT Alumnae (AMITA) Senior Academic Award, given to senior women who have demonstrated the highest level of academic excellence through coursework and related professional activities at MIT. Sam Jahanmir received the William L. Stewart Jr. Award, which recognizes contributions by an individual student or student organization to extracurricular activities and events during the preceding year. Jennifer A. Frank was one of the recipients of the Karl Taylor Compton Prize, which is the highest award presented by the Institute to students and student organizations in recognition of achievements in citizenship, devotion to the welfare of MIT, and outstanding contributions to the MIT community. Cynthia Reinhart received the Randolph G. Wei UROP Award, given each spring to an undergraduate who has made the most outstanding contribution in undergraduate research at the interface of the life sciences and engineering. Hilarie C. Tomasiewicz won the Robert A. Boit Writing Prize in the poetry category. Kris Schnee and Jennifer Son were awarded second and third place, respectively, in the short-story category. Two Biology seniors–Sarah R. Cohen and Marketa Valeterova– received Theater Awards for their roles in Shakespear’s Ensemble’s. The following biology majors were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Danielle Adams, William BeeBee,William Chen, Paul Crowley, Elizabeth Demicco, Nicholas Ingolia, Madhulika Jain, Anupam Jena, Carly Klein, Spencer Liang, James Kang, Amy Lee, Lia-Christina Rodriguez, Lucy Shen, and Shivkumar Venkatasubrahmanyam

From July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000, 29 Ph.D. degrees were awarded in the department, and 5 Ph.D. degrees were awarded in the Joint Program in Biological Oceanography with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). The maximum number of Ph.D. candidates registered in the Department in 1999—2000 was 212, with another 34 in the Joint Program. The entering class in 1999, including 4 in the Joint Program, was 47. The class arriving this coming Fall will be 44 students, with an additional 8 students in the Joint Program. This was the second year that laboratory rotations were introduced into the first year graduate curriculum, and they continued to be highly successful.


The research activities of the department cover most areas of modern biology, including biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cancer biology, cell and developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, virology, and structural biology. The research achievements over the last year are too numerous to be listed here. There were, however, several significant advances in the areas of human health and disease. The Guarente lab reported that a gene known to govern the rate of aging in yeast cells is also active in mice, yielding new insights into why mice and people age and into possible ways of enhancing life span. They discovered that an anti-aging gene in yeast is an enzyme which can turn off whole sections of the genome, slowing the organism’s aging process. Scientists in the Kim laboratory discovered a new candidate drug for treating HIV infection, a class of compounds that prevent HIV infection by stopping the virus at its port of entry into the cell. Scientists in the Lodish lab and colleagues at Millennium Pharmaceuticals identified a protein in the small intestine that plays a key role in the uptake of dietary fat, which may constitute a novel target for anti-obesity therapy in humans. Researchers in the Walker lab found a similar genetic culprit behind chronic infection of plants and mammals. This information could potentially lead to a vaccine for human brucellosis, a debilitating disease also known as undulant fever. Scientists in the Young lab identified a protein fragment that is exceptionally potent in eliciting an immune response against infected cells and cancer cells, which could lead to potential vaccine for immunocompromised patients. The Weinberg lab showed how normal human cells could be converted into cancer cells, a transformation that hitherto had not been achieved. They were able to create human tumor cells of a defined genetic make-up and determine with precision the repertoire of genes and signaling pathways that are required in concert to program malignant proliferation. Using genetically engineered mice, the Rosenberg Lab developed a new model of how heart attacks and strokes occur in humans. Over the next few years, this new model should allow the researchers to pinpoint the genetic basis of heart attacks and strokes, and to suggest improved forms of therapy.


Professor Tyler Jacks was promoted to Full Professor, effective July 1, 2000. Professor Stephen Bell was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure and Professor David Bartel was promoted to Associate Professor (without tenure).

We are pleased to report that Michael Yaffe and Luk Van Parijs have accepted faculty positions in the department. Both will join the Center for Cancer Research and the department as Assistant Professors in the Fall.

Three new faculty members, Jamie Cate, Troy Littleton and Martha Constantine-Paton, arrived during the past year to set up their laboratories. Professor Cate, a structural biologist, joined the Whitehead Institute and the department as an Assistant Professor; Professor Littleton, a neurobiologist, joined the Center for Learning and Memory and the department as an Assistant Professor and Professor Constantine-Paton, a neurobiologist, joined the department as a Full Professor.

Honors and Awards

Tania Baker won the 1999—2000 School of Science Undergraduate Teaching Prize. Jamie Cate received a Searle Scholar Award. Arnold Demain received a Doctor Honoris Causa from Michigan State University and was elected to the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology. Gerald Fink received an honorary Doctor of Science from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. H. Robert Horvitz received the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. Nancy Hopkins was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Rudolf Jaenisch was named to the Board of Trustees at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Peter Kim was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was the recipient of the Moosa Award from the Biochemical Society of Korea. Eric Lander received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, and received the Beckman Prize from the American Association of Lab Automation. Boris Magasanik received the 2000 Abbott-ASM Lifetime Achievement Award. Terry Orr-Weaver was elected to the Board of Directors of the Genetics Society of America.

Alexander Rich received the 2000 Bower Award for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. Graham Walker received the Arthur C. Smith Award from MIT. Robert Weinberg received the Albert Einstein World Award of Sciences from the World Cultural Council, the Ernst Bertner Memorial Award from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the City of Medicine Award.

Dr. Richard Klausner, Director of the National Cancer Institute, gave a keynote lecture on cancer research as part of the events celebrating the naming of the biology building in honor of David H. Koch. Koch has pledged $25 million to support cancer research at the Institute. The first two Koch graduate fellows were named last year.

More information about the Biology Department can be found on the World Wide Web at

Robert T. Sauer

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000