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, 5 are joint appointees with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 2 are joint with Chemistry, 1 is joint with Biological Engineering, and 1 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 4 Nobel laureates, 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 9 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

The Department of Biology is the third largest undergraduate major at the Institute and the largest in the School of Science. In AY2002–2003, 343 undergraduates registered in biology during the fall 2002 and/or spring 2003 semesters. Eighteen of these students left biology for another major during the year. Thirty-one students declared biology as a major during this academic year. The bachelor of science in biology degree was awarded to 101 students from September 2002 through June 2003: 86 in the Course 7 program and 15 in the 7-A program. Eighty-eight freshmen declared biology as their major for fall 2003.

A number of biology majors received awards in 2002–2003:

The Biology Department presented the following awards and prizes:

The following 17 biology majors were chosen for Phi Beta Kappa: Roshni Aggarwal, Caroline Yung-Jye Chang, Suelin Chen, Chandra J. Claycamp, Susan Dong, Aimee R. Ginley, Ali Zul Jiwani, Philip J. Lee, Sing Your Li, Megha Padi, Albert Shieh, Booshan Tseng, Alpana A. Waghmare, Audrey Shiuan Wang, Jed Louis Weinstock, Sandy Zinyu Zhang, and Jessica M. Zmolik.

From July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002, the department awarded a total of 21 PhD degrees and four SM degrees in biology. No degrees were awarded 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 2002–2003 was 216, with another 36 in the joint program. The incoming class for fall 2003 will have 36 students in the biology doctoral program, with an additional 6 students in the Joint Program in Biological Oceanography with WHOI.

Dr. H. Robert Horvitz, 2003 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, addressing audience at reception in Koch Building. Dr. Robert Sauer, Head of Biology, stands next to Dr. Horvitz.

Graham Walker has established an "Education Group," which is conceptually analogous to a research group. Composed of two full-time postdoctoral associates—Dina Gould Halme and Julia Khodor—and other postdoctorates and graduate students, the Education Group is principally focused on developing curricular materials for teaching introductory biology. Two of the several projects underway consist of a variety of web/internet-based personalized problem sets and a set of "recitation-section" lab experiments. These as well as all other curricular materials developed will be made freely available as part of MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative.

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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 discussed here, and only a few are listed. Chris Burge and his fellow researchers discovered a computational method to predict which sequences of genetic material get spliced out and which end up as the blueprint for life. Leonard Guarente's research established that caloric restriction prolongs life because it increases respiration, not because it decreases oxygen free radicals. Luk Van Parijs has been using the new technology of small interfering RNA to regulate the activity of killer T cells. This has had great therapeutic effects in preventing the development of diabetes in a mouse model of juvenile diabetes. David Page has shown that the Y chromosome uses palindromic sequences to repair itself via recombination and gene conversion. He hypothesizes that without these sequences, the Y chromosome would shrink and might be lost.

The Computational and Systems Biology Initiative (CSBi), which was launched last year, continues to make progress with the recent award of a major National Institutes of Health grant and a multimillion-dollar grant from an anonymous donor. Plans are underway for a new PhD program that will be jointly run by the Departments of Biology, Biological Engineering, and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

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Michael Yaffe was promoted to associate professor without tenure. Frank Gertler was promoted to associate professor with tenure. Steve Bell was promoted to full professor.

Dr. Gene A. Brown, Professor Emeritus.

David Sabatini arrived during the past year and set up his lab in the Whitehead Institute. He joined the department as an assistant professor.

This coming year will mark Gene Brown's 50th anniversary in the department. Gene has served the department as a faculty member, as executive officer, as chairman, and as the dean of the School of Science. Gene has also played a major role in our educational programs, both as an advisor and mentor to students and as an extraordinary teacher of biochemistry.

Honors and Awards

Dr. Angelika Amon, National Science Foundation's Alan T Waterman Award winner.

Dr. Graham Walker, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

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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