MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Department of Biology

The Biology Department currently has 58 active faculty members of whom 13 are located in the Whitehead Institute, 12 are located in the Center for Cancer Research, 4 are joint appointees with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 1 is joint with Chemistry and 1 is joint with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Including Emeriti faculty, 4 of the faculty are Nobel laureates, 22 are members of the National Academy of Sciences and 10 are investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The department has a very strong international reputation in research and teaching and has been a leading contributor to the development and application of molecular biology.


Undergraduate Program

In the past year, the number of undergraduates registered as Biology majors was 409, an increase of 27% over last year, and following a previous increase of 12%. In the Fall, the Office of the Registrar reported that 130 sophomores declared biology as their major, compared to 116 students the previous year. The Bachelor of Sciences in Biology degree was awarded to 101 students this past year: 86 in the regular Course VII Program, 15 in the VII-A Program.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 1995. The Asinari Award went to Jeremy Poppers, Smruti Vidwans and Sejal Shah. The Association of MIT Alumnae Award went to Christina Onufry. Burchard Scholars in the School of Humanities and Social Science were Kamilah Alexander, Regina Burris, Shane Crotty, Jonathan Hsiao, Jennifer Lee, Rohit Sharma, and Irene Yeh. Shane Crotty also took the Irwin Sizer Award and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. William L. Stewart Jr. '23 Award went to Steve Luperchio and Jeff Gonzales. Rodney K. Chan won the Randolph G. Wei UROP Award, and Danielle D. Janitch won the Daughters of American Colonists Award. The American Legion General Scholastic Excellence Award went to Gus Leotta, and Stacey Dozono took the Athletic Award for Volleyball. The 1995 Whitehead Undergraduate Prize was awarded to Yvonne Chan. The following students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Meghan Bowser, Stephan Chan, Yvonne Chan, Alexander Chen, Marina On, Christina Onufryk, Lawrence Willison, Kityue Wong, and Russell Yu. Joe Veys was awarded the Parke A. '27 and Ann L. Hodges Prize (First Prize). Sissela Park was awarded the Robert A. Boit Writing Prize for Poetry, Lucius Lau won the Robert A. Boit Writing Prize for Short Story, and Christina Onufryk won the Ned Holt Prize. August Chang won the De Witt Wallace Prize (Honorable Mention), and Smruti Vidwans won the Salvador E. Luria Prize.

A new Project Lab was offered in the Spring semester: 7.17 Experimental Molecular Biology: Biotechnology III.

Graduate Program

During the period from July 1, 1994 to June 30, 1995, 18 Ph.D. degrees were awarded in the Department; and 4 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 1994-1995 was 206, with another 32 in the Joint Program. The entering class in 1994, including 7 in the Joint Program, was 50. The class arriving in September, 1995 will be 43, including 6 WHOI students.

Two new graduate courses were offered in the Spring semester: 7.95 Cancer Biology which covered an intensive analysis of historical and current developments in cancer biology, and 7.96 Cell-Cell Signaling, a seminar focusing on recent research in the area of intercellular communication.


The research activities of the department are in the areas of biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cell and developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, and virology. The FY95 total direct cost of research in the department (including the Center for Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute) was approximately $35.5 million, $15 million of which was at the Whitehead Institute. MIT overhead on the funding in the department and the Cancer Center was approximately $7.9 million.

There were many research achievements over the last year, too numerous to all be mentioned here. Research projects of all laboratories are described in the annual publication, Department of Biology Annual Report, available in the Biology Headquarters Office (68-132) and on the World-Wide Web through the M.I.T.'s home page at There were, however, several significant advances in the areas of human health and disease. For example, Leonard Guarente's laboratory has initiated studies to identify genes that regulate the aging process in yeast, in mice, and in humans. In yeast, they have identified several genes which control aging at the level of individual cells. Their human experiments are aimed at identifying and studying a specific gene in which mutations cause a disease syndrome manifested by premature aging. David Baltimore's laboratory works on molecular events of HIV infections as well as on clinical diagnostic methods. They have found that the Nef protein of HIV, a protein needed for optimal growth of the virus, has a region necessary for its activity that binds to SH3 domains of Src-family tyrosine-protein kinases. They have also found that intracellular messenger RNA levels in CD4 positive T cells of HIV-infected individuals are a particularly useful prognostic indicator of disease progression. Terry Orr-Weaver's lab at the Whitehead Institute studies the molecular mechanisms that ensure proper segregation of chromosomes during meiosis. Birth defects such as Down's Syndrome are often a consequence of missegregation of small human chromosomes, and mis-segregation of small and large chromosomes is correlated with more than half of all miscarriages. Dr. Orr-Weaver's lab has recently cloned two genes from Drosophila melanogaster whose products are required to maintain cohesion between sister chromatids during the first meiotic division, an attachment necessary for the chromatids to be properly oriented and segregated in the second meiotic division. One of these proteins localizes to the centromeric regions of chromosomes during meiotic divisions when the sisters are attached but not when they separate. In the November 4 issue of Cell, Jean Schaffer and Harvey Lodish describe their discovery of the first transport protein for fatty acids in mammalian cells. Changes in the use of such fatty acids are associated with heart disease. Using gene isolation methods Dr. Schaffer and Dr. Lodish found a novel protein molecule that is embedded in the cell membrane -- a discovery which will allow them to compare energy metabolism in normal and abnormal heart tissue.


Dr. Peter Kim was promoted to full Professor, effective July 1, 1995, and Alan Grossman was promoted to tenure.

We are pleased to report that three new faculty members, mentioned in previous reports, arrived to establish their laboratories.

Dr. Stephen Bell, who joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor last Fall, set up his laboratory in the new Biology building. Dr. Bell's research focuses on the initiation of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells. Dr. Bell received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Jianzhu Chen assumed his appointment as Assistant Professor joint with the Department and the Center for Cancer Research in September 1994. Dr. Chen is an immunologist and studies B cell development. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Dr. Matthew Wilson, who accepted a secondary appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and a primary appointment in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, set up his laboratory in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in September. Dr. Wilson is the first new appointment to the Center for Learning and Memory. Dr. Wilson has done unique work on the electrical pattern of activity in the hippocampus during spatial learning in rodents. He received his Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral work at the University of Arizona.

The department revitalizes itself with the recruitment of new faculty and is continuing active searches to fill open positions in the department, in the Center for Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute.

Honors and Awards to the Faculty

It is a pleasure to report the following honors and awards to Biology faculty during the past year:

Stephen Bell was named Robert A. Swanson Assistant Professor of Biology. He also received the Surdna Foundation Research Award.

Arnold Demain received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society for Microbiology.

Maurice Fox was awarded an Honorary Degree from Universitée Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Robert Horvitz received the Hans Sigrist Award from the University of Bern, Switzerland, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Richard Hynes was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Chris Kaiser was named Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor.

Gobind Khorana received a number of honors and awards; he was elected as an Honorary Member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan; he was named Doctor Honoris Causa at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Posnan, Poland; and he was awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Miami.

Peter Kim was elected to the Protein Society and was the First Recipient of the Ilchun Lecture Award at Seoul National University.

Harvey Lodish was elected as an Associate Member to the European Molecular Biology Organization.

Alexander Rich was elected as a Foreign Member to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Hazel Sive was named the Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor.

Peter Sorger received a Searle Scholars Award.

Susumu Tonegawa was named an Honorary Member of the Polish Academy of Medicine.

Matthew Wilson was named the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, and was named Edward J. Poitras Assistant Professor for Career Development.

Richard Young was named a Fellow by the American Society for Microbiology.


Visiting Committee

The Department of Biology Corporation Visiting Committee met on November 15-16, 1994. The agenda included a report from Professors Philip A. Sharp and Robert Sauer on major topics and issues for the future for the Department; from Professor Richard Hynes on the Center for Cancer Research; from Professor Gerald Fink on the Whitehead Institute; from Professor Frank Solomon on the graduate program; and from Professor Graham Walker on the undergraduate program. In addition, the members of the Visiting Committee had opportunities to meet with the faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. Those members in attendance were Dr. W. Gerald Austen, chairman of the Committee, Dr. David Botstein, Dr. Donald D. Brown, Dr. Lisa C. Egbuonu-Davis, Dr. Thomas H. Fraser, Dr. Ira Herskowitz, Mr. David H. Koch, Mr. S. Leslie Misrock, Mr. R. Gary Schweikhardt, Dr. Edward M. Scolnick, Mr. Robert A. Swanson, Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Dr. May Frances Wagley, Mr. Michael A. Wall and Ms. Susan E. Whitehead.

New Whitehead Research Wing

On June 7, 1994 the Whitehead Institute broke ground for its new research wing. The 76,000 square foot addition will provide expanded biologic containment facilities for infectious disease research, allow the Institute to double the size of its animal facility for transgenic science, and create space for an X-ray crystallography facility within a new Center for Structural Biology. The combined construction and renovation project will increase space for research and teaching at the Whitehead by more than 45 percent, with the addition of 20 state-of-the-art laboratories, 80 new computer work spaces for students and post-doctoral fellows, and expanded classrooms and meeting spaces. The first phase of the project will be finished by late fall this year, allowing some labs to move into the new wing more than two months ahead of schedule. The remainder of the project, including major renovations throughout the existing building, will be finished by early 1998. The dedication of the new wing will take place in the fall of 1996.

Phillip A. Sharp

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95