MIT Reports to the President 1995-96


The Biology Department currently has 55 active faculty members of whom 11 are located in the Whitehead Institute, 12 are located in the Center for Cancer Research, 3 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 active Emeriti faculty, 4 of the faculty are Nobel laureates, 23 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.



In the past year, the number of undergraduates registered as Biology majors was 432. We now have the second largest number of majors following electrical engineering. The Bachelor of Sciences in Biology degree was awarded to 151 students this past year: 133 in the regular Course VII Program, 18 in the VII-A Program.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 1996. The 1996 Whitehead Undergraduate Prize, given to an undergraduate majoring in Biology, who shows outstanding promise for a career in biological research as demonstrated by academic scholarship and contributions to research and to the MIT community, was awarded to Jason J. Cherry. The recipients of the 1995-96 John L. Asinari Award were Arash Komeili and Kenneth S. Song in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research in the field of life sciences. Jonathan Hsiao was the recipient of the Salvador E. Luria Prize honoring outstanding scholarship and research of publication quality. The two recipients of the Ned Holt Prize were Maromi K. Sakurai and Shane Crotty to recognize biology majors who demonstrate excellence in scholarship and service to the MIT community. Tomas Perez was the recipient of the National Science Foundation Incentives for Excellence Scholarship Prize. Jennifer Boyle was jointly named the winner of the Malcom Kispert Award as the outstanding senior scholar/athlete of the year. Jennifer L. Tsuei was the recipient of an Edward S. Darna Award, honoring substantial contributions to the life of the theater at MIT. The Laya W. Wiesner Award recognizing the undergraduate woman who has most enhanced community life went to Jennifer Yang. Shelly-Ann Davidson was a recipient of a Ronald E. McNair Scholarship. Elizabeth A. Stoehr received the Joseph D. Everingham Award in recognition of a single creative accomplishment in theater arts. The S. Klein Prize in Science and Technical Writing went to August Change and Marwan Kazimi received the Louis Kampf Prize in Women's and Gender Studies. The following students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Rodney K. Chan, Grace M. Cheng, Michael Cho, Shane Crotty, Steven Gunzler, Patricia Kao, Eric Lo, Kazuhiro Ninomiya, Ashish Patel, Maromi Sakurai, Mary Saleeb, Arnold Seto, Stanley Shyn, and Michelle Sonu.

This past Fall a new course consisting of small seminars for advanced undergraduates was offered. Organized by Professor David Baltimore, the topics for these courses included human genetics, plant development, cell cycle control, among others.


During the period from July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1996, 45 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 1995-1996 was 212, with another 34 in the Joint Program. The entering class in 1995, including 5 in the Joint Program, was 42. The class arriving in September, 1996 will be 24 students.

Three new graduate courses were offered this past Spring: 7.97, Topics in Evolution, 7.98J, Neural Plasticity in Learning and Development, and 7.99, Disease Intervention through Biotechnology.


The research activities of the department are in the areas of biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cell and developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, and virology. The FY96 total direct cost of research in the department (including the Center for Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute) was approximately $35.6 million, $16.5 million of which was at the Whitehead Institute. MIT overhead on the funding in the department and the Cancer Center was approximately $8 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 at There were, however, several significant advances in the areas of human health and disease. Professor Monty Krieger and collaborators reported an exciting discovery of a cell receptor for HDL, the "good cholesterol". This finding may ultimately help explain how HDL works to lower the risk of atherosclerosis. Professor David Housman reported in Nature Genetics on his laboratory's molecular characterization of a chromosomal translocation causing a form of leukemia. His laboratory, together with their collaborators, identified the genes that are disrupted by the translocation by first identifying the sites where the chromosomes broke. This work will allow development of rapid tests for monitoring the progression, therapy, remission and relapse of acute myeloid leukemia and should provide valuable insights into the development of leukemia. Professor Hermann Steller's laboratory has made significant strides in their research on Programmed Cell Death (PCD), also known as cell suicide. Because of its myriad implications, PCD, the genetics of which were established by Professor H. Robert Horvitz, has recently become a hot topic, attracting the attention of researchers from all biological fields. In December scientists at the Whitehead Institute completed a comprehensive map of the human genome and in March they reached a major genome goal when they reported the first comprehensive genetic map of the mouse genome. There is a high probability that any disease-related genes identified in mice will play a role in the same biological process in human disease. In addition, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research, directed by Professor Eric Lander, received a 3 year $26 million grant from NIH to begin sequencing specific portions of the human genome. Professor Gobind Khorana recently reported that misfolded proteins in certain cells of the eye may be responsible for one form of blindness. The defective proteins are the consequence of genetic mutations associated with the disease retinitis pigmentosa. Their findings may help doctors understand certain clinical observations associated with retinitis pigmentosa.


Professors William Quinn and Hermann Steller were promoted to full Professor, effective July 1, 1996. Professors Chris Kaiser and Hazel Sive were promoted to Associate Professor.

We are pleased to report that four new faculty members have accepted positions in the Department.

Drs. David Bartel and Andrew Chess will join the Whitehead Institute and Department of Biology as Assistant Professors this Summer. Dr. Bartel plans to focus on understanding the catalytic abilities of RNA and ribonucleoprotein. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and then became a Whitehead Fellow.

Dr. Chess plans to study the mechanisms controlling olfactory receptor gene expression. He received his M.D. from Columbia University where he is now conducting postdoctoral work.

Dr. Sylvia Sanders will also join the Department as an Assistant Professor during the next academic year. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently doing postdoctoral studies at UCSF. At MIT Dr. Sanders will continue her studies on the molecular basis of cell polarity and cell asymmetry.

Dr. Guosong Liu has 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. Dr. Liu received his Ph.D. from UCLA and is doing postdoctoral work at Stanford University. Dr. Liu will study the mechanism of synaptic transmission, synaptic interaction and activity dependent regulation of gene expression.

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.

Two faculty members left the Department this year. Dr. Ruth Lehmann assumed a faculty position at the Skirball Institute, New York University Medical Center. Dr. Richard Mulligan accepted a position at Children's Hospital, Boston. We wish them both well in their new positions.


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

Stephen Bell received a Rita Allen Award and a Searle Scholars Award.

Sallie Chisholm was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

Arnold Demain received the Waksman Outstanding Teacher Award and honorary membership in the Society for Actinomycetes, Japan.

Nancy Hopkins was named a Class of 1960 Fellow in recognition of outstanding teaching and course development.

H. Robert Horvitz received the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health.

David Housman was named the Ciba-Geigy Professor of Biology.

Richard Hynes was elected to the Institute of Medicine and to the National Academy of Sciences.

Rudolf Jaenisch received the Molecular Bioanalytic Prize from the Boehringer Mannheim Group.

Gobind Khorana was elected honorary foreign member of the Korean Academy for Science and Technology and also to the Japanese Biochemical Society. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Bergen Senate, Norway.

Eric Lander was named a Class of 1960 Fellow in recognition of outstanding teaching and course development.

Jacqueline Lees was named the first Helen and Irwin Sizer Career Development Assistant Professor.

Mary Lou Pardue was named the first holder of the Boris Magasanik Professorship.

Alexander Rich received the National Medal of Science.

Robert Rosenberg received the Distinguished Alumni Award from George Washington School of Medicine.

Robert Sauer was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was elected President of the Protein Society.

Paul Schimmel received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Ohio Wesleyan University.

Phillip Sharp received Honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Bowdoin College, from the University of Tel Aviv and from Albright College. He was the recipient of the Lord Foundation Award for Leadership in Advancing the Application of Science and Technology.

Anthony Sinskey was named a Fellow of the Molecular Medicine Society and a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Peter Sorger was named the Howard and Linda Stern Career Development Assistant Professor.

JoAnne Stubbe was named the Ciba-Geigy Professor of Chemistry. She also received the Theodore William Richards Medal for 1996.

Robert Weinberg received the William Johnson Walker Prize from the Museum of Science and the G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research.

Richard Young was named a Charter Fellow of the Molecular Medicine Society.


The Department of Biology is proud of the establishment of two new Chairs. A professorship in honor of Boris Magasanik was established. Professor Magasanik, who is a pioneer in cellular biology, helped shape the development of the department. Professor Emeritus Irwin W. Sizer and his wife, Helen Sizer, established a career development professorship in the Department of Biology. Professor Sizer, a former department head, played a major role in the evolution of the department from a classical program to the modern molecular biology program that it is today. These resources will enrich scholarship in the Department of Biology and we are appreciative.

Phillip A. Sharp

MIT Reports to the President 1995-96