Department of Biology

The Department of Biology has 65 active faculty members; 15 are located in the Whitehead Institute, 13 are located in the Center for Cancer Research, five 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 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 13 investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The department has a preeminent national and international reputation in research and teaching, and has been a leading contributor to the development and application of cellular and molecular biology.

Educational Activities

In the past year, 311 undergraduates registered as Biology majors. Biology remains the largest undergraduate major in the School of Science. The Bachelor of Science in Biology degree was awarded to 107 students this past year: 90 in the regular Course VII Program and 17 in the VII-A Program.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 2000-2001. Rebecca M. Grochow received the William L. Stewart J. Award for outstanding contributions to co-curricular activities. Rebecca also received the Frederick Gardiner Fassett, Jr. Award presented to the members of the Inter-Fraternity council who have unselfishly demonstrated the qualities of spirit, dedication, and service in furthering the ideals of MIT fraternity and sisterhood. Erica Lee received the Priscilla King Gray Award for Public Service, in recognition of an undergraduate exceptionally committed to public service at MIT and its surrounding communities. Morgan Royce-Tolland received the Laya W. Wiesner Award, given to an undergraduate woman who has most enhanced MIT community life. The Biology Department presented the following students with awards at the annual Senior Dinner: Christopher D. Allen received the Whitehead Prize, awarded to a student showing outstanding promise for a career in biological research; Saria Hassan received the Ned Holt Prize, given to a Biology major who demonstrates excellence in scholarship and service to the Department and the MIT Community; Karolina Fraczkowska was the recipient of the Salvador E. Luria Prize, awarded for outstanding scholarship and research of publication quality; Hemaluck (Lynn) Suwatanapongched and Trushar Patel were the recipients of the John L. Asinari Award in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research in the field of life sciences. Yevgeniya Nusinovich received a Chemistry Service Award for significant service to the Chemistry department. Four Ilona Karmel Writing Prizes were awarded to Biology students: Hilarie C. Tomasiewicz received first prize in the Boit Manuscript Poetry category. Stephanie W. Chow received the Ellen King Prize for Freshman Writing. Helana Kadyszewski received the second-place prize in the Robert A. Boit Writing competition. Kanika Agrawal received first prize for her poetry and also received Honorable Mention in the short story competition. Shanice V. Williams received the Joseph D. Everingham Award for a single creative outstanding performance or notable creative accomplishment in theater arts by a graduating senior. The following 19 students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Christopher D. Allen, Connie Y. Chang, Eric C. Chang, Jennie J. Cho, Riaz S. Dhanani, Karolina Fraczkowska, Zofia K. Gajdos, Saria Hassan, Samantha Hess, Kathie P. Huang, Sam Jahanmir, Murat E. Kara, Tamara N. Oei, Priya M. Rajendran, Morgan Royce-Tolland, Nina K. Shah, Derek G. Southwell, Ryan K. Swenerton, and Binbin Wang.

From July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001, the Department awarded 37 Ph.D. degrees and one S.M. degree. Five Ph.D. and two S.M. 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 Biology Department in 2000-2001 was 224, with another 38 in the Joint Program. The incoming class for Fall 2001 will be 34 students, with an additional 4 students in the Joint Program.


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 Whitehead-MIT Center for Genome Research, under Eric Lander, made the largest contribution to the Human Genome Project that assembled the human genome this past year. The Horvitz lab discovered a receptor that responds to serotonin, throwing light onto how drugs, such as Prozac, affect the brain. Additionally, the Horvitz lab also found a protein that is part of a cell's natural suicide machinery, which might offer targets for drugs that can prevent cell death related to heart attacks, strokes, or Alzheimer's disease. Scientists from the Jaenisch lab participated in cloning research showing that an egg cell can reprogram an adult cell back to its embryonic state. The Constantine-Paton lab uncovered a new control system for a key receptor of nerve cell signals. This discovery in the area of brain development may lead to advances in the clinical treatment of a variety of neurological dysfunctions. Peter Sorger's lab has identified the human homolog of a yeast checkpoint kinase and shown it is part of the kinetichore of improperly aligned human chromosomes. Moreover, they have shown that this kinase phosphorylates APC, a kinetichore associated protein that is mutated in almost half of all tumors of the colon. This result provides an explanation for the chromosome instability phenotype associated with these tumors. Loss of the Rb tumor suppressor function results in tumor formation and cell death, but Jackie Lees and her colleagues have shown that disruption of the E2F3 gene in mice that lack Rb prevents these processes. In more basic research, Tania Baker's lab has discovered a novel protein that modifies the specificity of intracellular proteases, and Alan Grossman's lab has shown that variations in intracellular protein levels arise from translational rather than transcriptional inefficiency. Finally, David Bartel's lab has evolved an RNA enzyme that functions to replicate RNA-providing key support for the feasibility of the RNA-world hypothesis.


Professors Chess and Gertler were promoted to Associate Professor without Tenure. Professors Chen, Lees, Sorger and Wilson were promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure.

We are pleased to report that Amy Keating has accepted a faculty position in the department. She will be joining the Biology Department as an Assistant Professor. We are also pleased to welcome Morgan Sheng, who will have a primary appointment in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a secondary appointment in the Department of Biology.

Two new faculty members, Luk Van Parijs and Michael Yaffe, arrived during the past year to set up their laboratories within the Center for Cancer Research. They joined the department as Assistant Professors.

Tyler Jacks took over the position of Director of the Center for Cancer Research. Jacqueline Lees was named the Associate Director of the Center for Cancer Research.

Arnold Demain has retired after 32 years in the department. Sheldon Penman has also retired, after 36 years in the department.

Honors and Awards

Tania Baker received the American Society for Microbiology Eli Lilly award and the MIT School of Science Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Steve Bell was awarded the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-Schering Plough Scientific Achievement Award. Chris Burge was awarded the Overton Prize for Computational Biology. Paul Garrity was named Whitehead Career Development Professor. Frank Gertler received the Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholars Award. H. Robert Horvitz received the Feodor Lynen Medal (University of Miami). Gobind Khorana received the Centennial Honorary Degree from Rockefeller University at their Centennial Celebration and Commencement, June 2001. Monty Krieger was appointed as a Thomas D. and Virginia W Cabot Professor. Eric Lander received an Honorary Doctorate from the Medical College of Wisconsin. Troy Littleton was named a Searle Scholar. Harvey Lodish was named Chair, Section 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology, National Academy of Sciences. Terry Orr-Weaver was appointed to the National Institutes of Health, General Medical Sciences Advisory Council. Phil Sharp received an Honorary Doctorate, Northern Kentucky University, and received the Walker Prize from the Boston Museum of Science, Robert Weinberg was inducted into the American Philosophical Society and became a member of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.

Raymond and Beverley Sackler established the Sackler International Lecture in the Life Sciences through a donation to the department. The inaugural lecture will be held this year.

The department was the recipient of proceeds of the sale of stock from, Praecis Pharmaceuticals, a company which was in part founded by Malcolm Gefter, Professor of Biology since 1972, and now Emeritus Professor. These funds will be used to establish fellowships to support six to seven first-year graduate students. The new fellows will be known as Praecis Presidential Fellows.

The Schimmel Scholar, established by Paul and Cleo Schimmel, provides four years of funding to an outstanding woman graduate student. Harotka (Xu) Godzina was named the first Schimmel Scholar last year. Xu graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in Biochemistry. Stephanie Xie is the second Schimmel Scholar. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Biology in 1999.

Robert T. Sauer

More information about the Biology Department can be found online at

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