MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


The Biology Department currently has 57 active faculty members of whom 14 are located in the Whitehead Institute, 11 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, 3 of the faculty are Nobel laureates, 24 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 405. We now have the second largest number of majors following electrical engineering. The Bachelor of Sciences in Biology degree was awarded to 117 students this past year: 105 in the regular Course VII Program, 12 in the VII-A Program.

A number of Biology majors received awards in 1997-98. One of The Straight "T" Athletic Awards, which is the highest award given for athletic excellence in a particular sport, went to Jane J. Sohn, for pistol. The Chemistry Undergraduate Research Award went to Christina Eng a Chemistry and Biology major. Several biology students received writing prizes: the S. Klein Prize for Scientific and Technical Writing (Top Honor) went to Carmen R. Berg, a Biology and Chemical Engineering major; Rita Leung was the recipient of the Louis Kampf Prize in Women's and Gender Studies; and second place for the Robert Boit Writing Prize in the short story category went to Saurabh Asthana. Pooja Shukla received the William L. Stewart J. Award, which recognizes students who have made outstanding contributions to extracurricular activities and events during the preceding year. The 1998 Randolph G. Wei UROP Award went to Jeremy Heidel. Elenita Ashminova was the recipient of one of the Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. Andrew Tan was the recipient of the Todd Anderson Undergraduate Teaching Prize, which recognizes undergraduate tutors who have shown sustained excellence in teaching at the Experimental Study Group. Six biology majors were named as Burchard Scholars in the School of Humanities and Social Science for 1998: Christy Canida, Paraskevi Farazi, Jean Lee, JaHyun Shin, Pooja Shukla, and Carina Fung. The 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 Cary K Lai. The recipients of the John L. Asinari Award were Susan Y. Kim and Adam G. Eldridge in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research in the field of life sciences. Tomas D. Perez and Deborah Weinstein were the recipients of the Salvador E. Luria Prize honoring outstanding scholarship and research of publication quality. Carmen Berg and Corinna Cosmas received the Ned Holt Prize for excellence in scholarship and service to the MIT community. The following biology majors were elected to Phi Beta Kappa: Corrina Cosmas, Adam Eldridge, Eric K Fynn-Thompson, Joel P. Johnson, Andrew Y,Tan, Lucy Y. Wang, Deborah M. Weinstein, Maya R. Said, Charles Wykoff, Nikolay A. Fidelman, and Celeste Nelson.

During the period from July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998, 35 Ph.D. degrees were awarded in the Department; and 8 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 1997-1998 was 188, with another 36 in the Joint Program. The entering class in 1997, including 8 in the Joint Program, was 29. The class arriving in September, 1998 will be 36 students, with an additional 8 students in the Joint Program.


The research activities of the department are in the areas of biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cell and developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, and virology. The FY98 total direct cost of research in the department (including the Center for Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute) was approximately $44.2 million, $27.2 million of which was at the Whitehead Institute. MIT overhead on the funding in the department and the Cancer Center was approximately $8.5 million.

There were many research achievements over the last year, too numerous to all be mentioned here. There were, however, several significant advances in the areas of human health and disease. The Guarente lab demonstrated that a yeast gene plays a crucial role in determining the life span of yeast cells. This suggests that scientists may be able to identify and perhaps, one day, to control, a universal aging mechanism. In another article the Guarente lab reported on the identification of a mechanism of aging in yeast cells which suggests that scientists may be able to intervene in, and possibly inhibit, the aging process in certain human cells. The Weinberg lab made a discovery of a key molecule linked to the immortalization of human tumor cells which provides an important new target for anti-cancer drug design. Researchers in the Weinberg lab isolated and cloned the gene for the catalytic subunit of human telomerase, a molecule believed to play a major role in the transition from normal to cancerous growth. In collaboration with James Berger's lab and others, Peter Kim's laboratory reported on the first high-resolution structure of any retrovirus receptor-binding domain. The report showed images of the crystal structure of a piece of the virus envelope protein, the piece required to recognize and bind to receptors on the surface of a mammalian cell. These new images of an L-shaped molecule on the surface of a mouse leukemia virus could help scientists realize the promise of human gene therapy. Research in Monty Krieger's lab is focusing on studies of the function of a key protein involved in cells' uptake of the so-called "good" cholesterol. This protein could be an attractive target for therapeutic intervention to manipulate levels of "good" cholesterol in the blood and could lead to new treatments for atherosclerosis. Research led by David Page has shown that the Y chromosome is a crucial player in the evolution of sex chromosomes and also is a safe haven for male fertility genes. This study has implications for understanding the genetic differences between men and women and the genetic underpinnings of chromosomal disorders such as Turner syndrome.


Professors Paul Matsudaira and Terry Orr-Weaver were promoted to full Professor, effective July 1, 1998. Professor Chris Kaiser was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure and Professor Stephen Bell was promoted to Associate Professor (without tenure).

Three new faculty members, previously reported, arrived during the past year to assume their positions and set up their laboratories: Dr. Frank Gertler and Dr. Paul Garrity joined the Department as Assistant Professors, and Dr. Ilaria Rebay joined the Whitehead Institute and Department of Biology as an Assistant Professor.

We are pleased to report that Drs. Angelika Amon and Jamie Cate have accepted positions in the Department.

Dr. Amon will join the Center for Cancer Research and the Department as an Assistant Professor. She plans to continue her investigations on the control of cell cycle in yeast and cell proliferation. Dr. Amon received her Ph.D. from the University of Vienna and is currently a Whitehead Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Dr. Cate will join the Whitehead Institute and the Department as an Assistant Professor. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is doing postdoctoral studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He plans to continue studying the structure of ribosomes by using X-ray crystallographic techniques to obtain a high resolution structure and then use biochemical and genetic techniques to discover how ribosomes work.

Three faculty left during the past year: Dr. David Baltimore assumed the presidency of the California Institute of Technology; Dr. Hidde Ploegh accepted a position at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Paul Schimmel accepted a position at the Scripps Research Institute.

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

Tania Baker was the recipient of the 1998 Schering-Ploegh Scientific Achievement Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Stephen Bell received the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Jianzhu Chen was named the Latham Family Career Development Professor.

Andrew Chess was named the Robert Swanson Career Development Professor.

Arnold Demain received the 1998 Alice C. Evan Award from the American Society of Microbiology.

Paul Garrity is the recipient of a McKnight Scholar Award in Neurosciences.

Nancy Hopkins was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

H. Robert Horvitz received the 1998 General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Sloan Prize. Prof. Horvitz was also the recipient of the 1998 Passano Award and was awarded Brandeis University's 1998 Lewis Rosenstiel Award for distinguished work in basic medical research.

David Housman was elected to the Institute of Medicine.

Tyler Jacks was the recipient of the 1998 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-Amgen Award.

Peter Kim received the 1998 Ho-Am Prize for Basic Science from the Samsung Corporation. Prof. Kim was also elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology.

Jonathan King was named the President of the Biophysical Society.

Eric Lander received the Woodrow Wilson Award for undergraduate alumni exemplifying Princeton in the Nation's Service. Prof. Lander also received the 1998 Chiron Corporation Biotechnology Award, the Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Associates Award.

Carl Pabo was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ilaria Rebay is the recipient of a Rita Allen Scholars Award.

Alexander Rich was the 1998 recipient of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-Merck Award.

Frank Solomon was a recipient of the Frank E. Perkins Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Advising.

Robert Sauer assumed the Presidency of the Protein Society. Prof. Sauer was also the recipient of the 1998 School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

Robert Weinberg was the recipient of the 1998 Pasarow Research Award in Cancer.

Last fall the first graduate student fellowships and postdoctoral fellowships under the Merck/MIT Research Collaboration Agreement were announced. Eight graduate fellowships were awarded for two years to students outside the biological sciences who are working on biology-related projects. Ten postdoctoral fellowships were awarded for support for a year for projects in the biological sciences that are already underway. The Merck/MIT Research Collaboration Agreement is also funding nine research projects. Twice yearly, Merck scientists come to MIT for a symposium with the fellowship and research grant recipients. The Merck spring symposium focused on neuropharmacology and featured talks by two Merck scientists who discussed an exciting development in neuropharmacology that may point to a new means of treating depression and anxiety. The MIT/Amgen Research Agreement, begun in 1994, continues to flourish and provides for funding up to $3 million a year for joint research initiatives. The inaugural issue of the MIT BUG Journal was published in May, 1998. This MIT Biology Undergraduate journal publishes scholarly reports based on research done in either Project Lab or in a UROP and celebrates the future generation of scientists. In April the Whitehead Institute co-sponsored a major interdisciplinary conference exploring the impact of new genetic technologies on law, medicine, public health and other sectors of society. The conference, "The Human Genome Project: Science, Law and Social Change in the 21st Century" brought together hundreds of physicians, lawyers, journalists, ethicists, scientists and students from around the country.

More information about this department can be found on the World Wide Web at

Phillip A. Sharp

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98