Head: Susan P. Gilbert
Graduate Admissions Coordinator: Jody Malm
Department Home Page: http://www.rpi.edu/dept/bio
Biology has been undergoing revolutionary changes in recent decades. Many problems once handled only descriptively are now analyzed at the molecular level using powerful combinations of biochemical, biophysical, genetic, molecular, structural, and computational tools. Rensselaer faculty have developed undergraduate and graduate programs to train students for the biological challenges of the future including new basic research paradigms, applied biomedical research, as well as challenges in healthcare, environmental sustainability, and resource management. The theory and practice of biological sciences today arises from a mechanistic understanding of life. Thus, biology is built on a foundation of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The undergraduate biology curriculum, therefore, trains students in the fundamentals of the life sciences, as well as the chemistry and physics underlying life processes. Upper division students choose areas of interest for more specialized study. Our curriculum can be used to prepare students for professional training in research or medicine, applied biology, or industry. Programs of study in biology may also be combined with specific options in biochemistry, biomedical engineering, bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology (genetic engineering), chemical engineering, computer science, environmental sciences, management, mathematics, microbiology, and technical communications.
Research and Innovation Initiatives
Biochemistry and Biophysics
The study of fundamental problems in modern biochemistry and molecular biochemistry employ a variety of advanced techniques. Our faculty members work on many exciting problems that span the disciplines of cell biology, physiology, and structural biology. For example, research in these areas include investigations such as how muscle is organized to power locomotion and how variation between muscle fiber types is generated; structure/function relations of myosin and kinesin using molecular biology and genetic techniques; study of functional dynamics of proteins and protein design; the application of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study important problems in neuroscience and aging, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common senile dementia, plus theoretical and experimental approaches to the study of protein-protein interactions and rational protein design using fluorescence microscopy and x-ray crystallography.
Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology
Research in bioinformatics and molecular biology includes both computational work and applications using molecular genetic approaches. Algorithms are being developed for sequence alignment, structural bioinformatics, phylogenetic analysis and hypothesis driven molecular simulations. Massively parallel computer clusters are being used to carry out large scale molecular dynamics simulations, to mine large genomic data sets and to design novel proteins. Gene manipulations are used to engineer proteins for further biophysical characterization, leading to a better understanding of the forces that hold proteins together.
Microbiology and Ecology
In this program, faculty and their students are conducting ecological, molecular, and genetic studies. Both basic and applied research projects are available, sometimes within the same laboratory. Ecological studies include freshwater ecology and biotransformation of organic compounds. Molecular studies include work on nitrogen fixing symbiotic bacteria and bacteria living in the environment using recombinant DNA technology, and overlap in some cases with genetic studies of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Vibrio cholerae the agent of the disease cholera, is indigenous in aquatic environments which serve as the reservoir for infection of humans. Studies are aimed at understanding the physiology and biochemistry that gives Vibrio cholerae the ability to propagate through the external environment. In addition, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Lake George is well-equipped for studies in microbial ecology. A semester of study at Lake George is offered as part of the curriculum.
Cell and Developmental Biology
Research in this area comprises in vivo studies in model organisms and studies on vertebrate cultured cells. Three undergraduate laboratory courses that teach basic research techniques in these areas are available, and students are encouraged to work in faculty research labs upon completion of one of these courses. These faculty labs utilize molecular and/or genetic approaches in their studies of many biological problems. Examples of research areas include the biochemical control of cytoskeletal organization, microtubule dynamics, cell polarity, and cell differentiation in epithelial and neuronal cells; signal transduction during normal development and during tumor cell migration; stem cell growth and regulation in the context of tissue engineering; the genetic control of tissue remodeling in normal developmental contexts; and the molecular mechanisms controlling aging.
See also Biochemistry/Biophysics, and Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology, under the Interdisciplinary Programs and Research section.
The Biology Department offers highly motivated students the opportunity to combine undergraduate and graduate study to reduce the number of years spent in academic study. The Accelerated Physician Scientist Program (B.S.-M.D., 7 years) leads to a B.S. from Rensselaer and the M.D. degree from Albany Medical School. The Department also offers accelerated B.S.-Ph.D. and B.S.-M.S. Programs. The Co-Terminal B.S.-M.S. Program requires application by the end of the Junior Year, and students must have completed 90 credits and have a GPA of 3.2 to apply. To receive the M.S., students must complete an additional 30 credit hours of course work beyond that required for the B.S. and must meet all the requirements for the M.S. in Biology.
Undergraduate students may pursue either a baccalaureate program or an accelerated degree program. Both of these degree programs will receive further explanation within this catalog.
The biology research laboratories at Rensselaer are equipped for graduate study and projects in Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Biotechnology, Cancer Biology, Cell Biology & Cell Signaling, Microbial Ecology, Yeast Genetics, Geomicrobiology & Environmental Biology, Stem Cell Biology and Structural Biology. In addition, cooperative programs with other organizations provide a wider range of research possibilities. Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Lake George offers a program on lake ecosystem analysis involving field, laboratory, and computer analysis of biological, chemical, and physical data. An active program in biochemistry and biophysics is jointly sponsored with the Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Chemical Engineering Departments. Students must complete a core curriculum and pass a qualifying exam. During the first year students must complete three laboratory rotations with different faculty as part of their research training. Qualified students are required to take a candidacy examination at the end of year two in their special area of interest and proceed to the Ph.D. under the guidance of the candidacy committee. The detailed curriculum is tailored to the student’s background and special interests.
Thirty credit hours of course work are necessary to complete the M.S. program with at least half of the courses at the 6000 level, with the remainder at the 4000 level. Courses from other departments may be applied to the Plan of Study, but at least half of the courses must be listed in Biology (BIOL) or Biochemistry-Biophysics (BCBP). In order to graduate, the student must complete a four- to nine-credit M.S. thesis or project. An individual program of study must be designed in consultation with a faculty adviser and approved by the Office of Graduate Education.
Candidates for the Ph.D. must satisfy the requirements of the Graduate Program Oversight Committee (GPOC), pass the qualifying exam, and pass a candidacy exam. The latter consists of a written and an oral portion, and should be taken by the end of the second year of full-time study. A degree candidate also must submit a dissertation based on an original research project. The program requires a high level of performance in selected courses and research, and the students report their findings each year of full-time study. Additionally, all doctoral candidates are required to participate in teaching for one academic year under the supervision of a faculty member. The student thus gains experience should he or she select an academic career. Seventy-two credit hours are required for the Ph.D.
The Biology Department offers a minor in Biology. Biology and BCBP majors may elect to complete minors in other disciplines.
Courses directly related to all Biology curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department code BIOL or BCBP.
Boylen, C.W.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); microbial ecology, physiological effects of starvation on microorganisms.
Dordick, J.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); biochemical engineering, enzyme technology, bioseparations.
Garcia, A.E.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); mathematical and computational analysis in cellular and molecular biology.
Gilbert, S.P.—Ph.D. (Dartmouth College); structure and mechanisms of microtubule-based molecular motors involved in cell motility and microtubule dynamics.
Koretz,. J.F—Ph.D. (University of Chicago); structural biophysics of protein aggregation, computer modeling.
Lindhardt, R.—Ph.D. (John Hopkins University); medicinal chemistry and biocatalysis, carbohydrate chemistry.
Makhatadze, G.—Ph.D. (Moscow Physico-Technical Institute) experimental and computational design of thermostable proteins, thermodynamics of protein-ligand interactions.
Nierzwicki-Bauer, S.A.—Ph.D. (University of New Hampshire); plant molecular biology, subsurface microbiology.
Palazzo, R.E.—Ph.D. (Wayne State University); cellular organization, cell replication, cell motility, development and cancer.
Plopper, G.—Ph.D. (Harvard University); signal transduction in tumor cell biology and tissue engineering.
Roy, H.—Ph.D. (The Johns Hopkins University); plant molecular biology and biochemistry.
Bedard, D.—Ph.D. (University of Chicago); environmental microbiology and ecology, microbial molecular biodegradation of halogenated aromatics.
Lister, B.—Ph.D. (Princeton University); ecology, statistical methods, undergraduate education.
Barquera, B.—Ph.D. (National Autonomous University of Mexico); bioenergetics of Vibrio cholerae.
Bystroff, C.—Ph.D. (University of California, San Diego); bioinformatics, computational biology and protein design.
Hanna, M.H.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); directed evolution of proteins, scientific teaching.
Swank, D.—Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania); muscle physiology and motor protein biophysics.
Wang, C.—Ph.D. (Cornell University): NMR spectroscopy, neuroscience and aging, Alzheimer’s disease.
Collins, C.—Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); synthetic biology, biochemical engineering, Mmicrobial communities, human microbiome, protein engineering directed evolution, biofilms.
Ligon, L.A.—Ph.D. (University of Virginia); neurobiology, cytoskeleton and motor proteins, microtubule/cortex interaction.
Maxwell, P.M.—Ph.D. (Syracuse University); aging, mechanisms and consequences of genome instability, retrotransposons.
Platt, M.D.—Ph.D. (University of Virginia); proteomics, mass spectrometry to identify proteins within biological systems.
Diwan, J.J.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); cell physiology, bioenergetics.
Ehrlich, H.L.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); microbial ecology, biotransformation and biodegradation of natural polymers and pesticides, biotechnology.
McDaniel, C.N.—Ph.D. (Wesleyan University); plant development and cell culture.
Parsons, R.H.—Ph.D. (Oregon State University); cellular physiology, epithelial transport.
Pfau, C.J.—Ph.D. (Indiana University); molecular biology of animal viruses, antiviral drugs.
Clersceri, L.S.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); microbial ecology, biotransformation and biodgradation of natural polymers and pesticides, biotechnology.
Research Assistant Professors
Bjornsson, C.—Ph.D. (University of Manitoba); brain responses to implantation and stimulation of neural prosthetic devices.
McCallum, S.A.—Ph.D. (University of Virginia); NMR, structure determination.
Morgan, J.—Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); energy transduction.
Bawa, R.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and pharmaceutical patent law.
Belfort, M.—Ph.D. (University of California-Irvine); molecular genetics; biotechnology; infectious disease.
Khodajakov, A.—Ph.D. (Moscow State University); cell cycle, mitosis, centrosome assembly and function.
Rieder, C.—Ph.D. (University of Oregon, Eugene); mitosis, cell cycle regulation.
* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2012 Board of Trustees meeting.