Department of Biology

The Department of Biology has 66 active faculty members; 14 in the Whitehead Institute, 13 in the Center for Cancer Research, five hold joint appointments with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, two are joint with Chemistry, and one is joint with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Three faculty members also hold appointments in Biological Engineering. Including active emeritus faculty, the department includes three Nobel Laureates, 21 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and nine 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, 314 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 95 students (72 in Course VII and 23 in Course VII-A) from September 2001 through June 2002.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 2001–2002. Daniel P. Riordan, a senior in biology and math, received the prestigious Churchill scholarship, which will allow him to spend next year at Cambridge University pursuing an MPhil degree in biological sciences. Tetsuya Matsuguchi received the Hypercube scholar award for outstanding achievement in computational chemistry and the Randolf G. Wei UROP award, given to an undergraduate who has made the most outstanding contribution in undergraduate research at the interface of the life sciences and engineering. Two biology seniors received Peter J. Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research fellowships, awarded to students planning a summer research investigation or creative study.

The Boit manuscript writing prize was shared by Jesse Barnes, a senior, whose essay title was "Worth More Than Gold: Ensuring Adequate Amounts of Safe Drinking Water in Honduras" and Wendy Ham, a junior, whose paper title was "Brainy Art, Artsy Brain: Using Art to Investigate the Relationship Between the Artistic and Motor Centers of the Brain's Right Hemisphere." Second place in the essay category went to Jenny Lin, a senior in biology, and honorable mention for the prize in writing science fiction went to Kris Schnee, a senior in biology.

Five biology students received sports awards: Anne M. Latham, a senior, received the Burton R Anderson award, given to the intercollegiate manager of the year. Straight "T" awards for athletic excellence were won by junior Crystal A. Russell (women's basketball), senior Neal K. Devaraj (men's fencing), junior Audrey S. Wang (pistol), and junior Kelly A. Martens (women's volleyball).

The Biology Department presented the following students with awards at the annual senior dinner: Tetsuya Matsuguchi received the Whitehead prize, awarded to a student showing outstanding promise for a career in biological research; Cindy M. Ku received the Ned Holt prize, given to a biology major who demonstrates excellence in scholarship as well as in service to the department and the MIT community; Dobrin Draganov was the recipient of the Salvador E. Lauria prize, awarded for outstanding scholarship and research of publication quality. Elissa M. Schwartzfarb and Tara Mullaney were the recipients of the John L. Asinari award in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research in the field of life sciences. Stacy Chen received the first Gene M Brown award, given to a graduating senior who has both an outstanding academic record and has made important contributions to the Biology teaching program.

The following 13 biology students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Yi-Ning Cheng, Vanessa J. Cheung, Dobrin D. Draganov, Jennifer A. Erwin, Payal Kohli, Evonne C. Leeper, Adora A. Lin, Daniel F. Morris, Vinod Rao, Daniel P. Riordan, Jill A. Rosenfeld, Angell C. Shieh, and Luke D. Tomycz.

In AY2002, the department awarded a total of 40 PhD degrees and seven SM degrees. Of this total, 35 PhD and six SM degrees were awarded in biology. Five PhD degrees and one SM degree were awarded in the in the Joint Program in Biological Oceanography with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). The maximum number of PhD candidates registered in the Biology Department in AY2002 was 219, with another 36 in the joint program. The incoming class for fall 2002 will be 39 students, with six additional 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 but a few are described below.

Susumu Tonegawa's lab identified a gene involved in the retrieval of long-term memories. Using mice with genetically altered NMDA receptors in the CA3 area of the hippocampus, characteristics of neural activity corresponding to the partially cued reactivation of previously formed memories were identified. Understanding how memory works at the molecular level could provide the basis for development of drugs important for Alzheimer's patients and for prolonging the ability of aging people to recall memories and learned facts.

Alex Rich's lab has uncovered a connection between a defect in the editing of messenger RNA and the deadly brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme. RNA editing status might become a valuable marker for the categorization and prognosis of gliomas and possibly other human cancers.

Rudy Jaenisch's lab reported the partial restoration of immune function in immune-deficient mice, using a combination of nuclear transplantation, gene therapy and embryonic stem cell differentiation to create custom-tailored cellular therapy that obviated problems with transplantation rejection. This approach may be useful for treating human patients with immune deficiencies.

Angelika Amon's lab has discovered that the Cdc14 phosphatase, a key enzyme that regulates mitosis, is released from an inhibitor during anaphase by a reaction network that includes the polo kinase, separase, and several kineticore-associated proteins. Proper regulation of chromosome segregation during mitosis is essential to avoid chromosome loss or damage that can lead to diseases including cancer.

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Professors Amon and Rebay were promoted to associate professor without tenure. Professor Bartel was promoted to associate professor with tenure. Professors Baker and Kaiser were promoted to full professor.

Chris Burge, an expert in the bioinformatics of eukaryotic gene structure has joined the Biology Department as an assistant professor. The department is also pleased to welcome Drew Endy as a research fellow in bioinformatics, with a joint appointment in biology and biological engineering.

Susan Lindquist joined the department as a full professor and director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Amy Keating arrived during the past year to set up her laboratory in the Koch Building. She joined the department as an assistant professor.

Barbara Imperiali (chemistry) and Douglas Lauffenburger (biological engineering) both accepted offers of joint appointments with the Department of Biology.

Honors and Awards

Notable honors for faculty and fellows last year included:

Chris Burge was named a TR100 Young Innovator by Technology Review magazine.

Gerry Fink was honored with the Ellison Medical Foundation senior scholar award, the Genetics Society of America George W. Beadle award, and the Yeast, Genetics and Molecular Biology—lifetime achievement award.

Bob Horvitz received the Wiley prize in the biomedical sciences, the Genetics Society of America medal, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb award for distinguished achievement in neuroscience.

Barbara Imperiali was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Vernon Ingram was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Rudy Jaenisch was awarded the first Peter Gruber Foundation award in genetics.

Gobind Khorana received the Centennial honorary degree from Rockefeller University.

Doug Lauffenberger was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Susan Lindquist gave the National Academy of Sciences's Arthur M. Sackler Lecture.

Troy Littleton was named an Alfred P. Sloan research fellow and received a Surdna Foundation research award.

Bob Sauer received the Amgen award of the Protein Society.

Phil Sharp was honored with the fourth annual Biotechnology Heritage award from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF); the Storer Life Sciences lectures, University of California, Davis; election as honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland; honorary doctorate, Northern Kentucky University; the Norman Davidson lecture, California Institute of Technology; and the Walker prize from the Museum of Science, Boston.

Morgan Sheng was elected president of the Society of Chinese Neuroscientists of America (SCNA) and is serving on the Nominations Committee and Education Committee of the Society for Neuroscience.

Tony Sinskey was elected a fellow of the Cambridge-MIT Institute Project.

Graham Walker was named American Cancer Society research professor.

Robert T. Sauer
Department Head
Luria Professor of Biology

More information about the Biology Department can be found on the web at:


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