Jun 18, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 [Archived Catalog]


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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, genetic, molecular, and structural 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. All of our students are grounded in these fundamentals, after which students have the option to 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 work on many exciting problems that span the discplines of cell biology, development, and physiology. For example, research in this area includes 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; 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, focusing on the important roles of membrane proteins in signaling and transport; understanding how the lens accommodates the human eye, focusing on computer modeling, and biochemical and biophysical characterization of the lens protein alpha crystallin. 

Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology
Research in bioinformatics and molecular biology includes both computational work and applications using molecular genetic approaches. In the computational sphere, design and application of database research and sequence alignment algorithms, molecular modeling, and simulation are used in studies ranging from structural characterization of biomedically relevant proteins to studies of basic protein folding mechanisms.

Protein folding mechanisms are studied using modeling and data mining from genomic and structural databases. Molecular genetic approaches are used to test the prediction of modeling studies, to design and produce probes, and to obtain sequence information for novel genes. Three laboratories are involved in engineering novel proteins or activities of existing proteins, using molecular gene manipulations.

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 (mice, fruit flies, and nematode worms) 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; the molecular, genetic, and cellular mechanisms involved in brain development; and the regulation of cell division and the developmental functions of septins.

Interdisciplinary Programs

See also Biochemistry/Biophysics, and Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology, under the Interdisciplinary Programs and Research section.

Accelerated Programs

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 accellerated 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 3.0 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 Programs

Undergraduate students may pursue either a baccalaureate program or an accelerated degree program. Both of these degree programs are explained on the next page.

Graduate Programs

The biology research laboratories at Rensselaer are equipped for graduate study and projects in Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Biotechnology, Cell Biology & Cell Signaling, Microbial Ecology, Geomicrobiology & Environmental Biology, Molecular Genetics & Developmental Biology, and Neurobiology & Behavior. 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 2 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.

Master’s Programs

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 4-9 credit M.S. thesis or project. An individual program of study must be designed in consultation with a faculty adviser and approved by the Graduate School.

Doctoral Programs

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 usually be taken during 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.

Minor Programs

The Biology Department offers a minor in Biology.  Biology and BCBP majors may elect to complete minors in other disciplines. 

Course Descriptions

Courses directly related to all Biology curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department code BIOL or BCBP.

Faculty * 


Boylen, C.W.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); microbial ecology, physiological effects of starvation on microorganisms.

Diwan, J.J.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); cell physiology, bioenergetics.

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.

Roy, H.—Ph.D. (The Johns Hopkins University); plant molecular biology and biochemistry.

Research Professors

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.

Associate Professors

Bystroff, C.—Ph.D. (University of California, San Diego); genomics, protein structural prediction.

Hanna, M.H.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); directed evolution of proteins, scientific teaching.

Plopper, G.—Ph.D. (Harvard University); signal transduction in tumor cell biology and tissue engineering.

Assistant Professors

Barquera, B.—Ph.D. (National Autonomous University of Mexico); bioenergetics of Vibrio cholerae.

Ferland, R.J. —Ph.D. (University of Rochester); Joubert Syndrome, learning and memory, genetics, neuroscience.

Finger, F.—Ph.D. (Yale University); analysis of septin function in C. elegans development.

Ligon, L.A. —Ph.D. (University of Virginia); neurobiology, cytoskeleton and motor proteins, microtubule/cortex interaction.

Page-McCaw, A.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); genetic and molecular analysis of matrix metalloproteinases during development in Drosophila melanogaster.

Page-McCaw, P.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); genetic analysis of learning and memory in the zebrafish, Danio rerio.

Platt, M.D.—Ph.D. (University of Virginia); proteomics, mass spectrometry to identify proteins within biological systems

Sharfstein, S.T.—Ph.D. (University of California-Berkeley); Mamalian cell biotechnology and bioprocessing focused on recombinant biopharmaceutical production.

Swank, Douglas—Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania); muscle physiology and motor protein biophysics.

Wang, Chunyu—Ph.D. (Cornell University): NMR spectroscopy,  neuroscience and aging, Alzheimer’s disease.

Professors Emeritus

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.

Associate Professor Emeritus

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.

Paluh, J.L.—Ph.D. (Stanford University); cell cycle and cytoskeleton, stem cell biology.

Adjunct Faculty

 Bawa, R.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and pharmaceutical patent law.

Khodajakov, A.—Ph.D. (Moscow State University); cell cycle, mitosis, centrosome assembly and function

* 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 2009 Board of Trustees meeting.

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