Biochemistry & Biophysics

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Research in biochemistry and biophysics is focused on numerous processes central to understanding life. Several groups use biochemical and structural approaches to address the basic principles governing protein folding, function and biological recognition. Using in vitro approaches, the central steps in biological information transfer are being analyzed, from maintenance of the genome to protein synthesis, sorting and processing.

Photo: Ken Dayton


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Bioengineering is a discipline that develops new technology and materials or applies engineering principles toward understanding biological phenomenon. At the molecular level, bioengineers create new functions for proteins or RNA by designing strategies for selecting molecules with specific properties from a diverse population. Cellular engineers modify the properties of cells to manufacture new materials or sense the environment in new ways. The integration of cells into tissues and organs by matrix and signaling molecules is the focus of study by tissue engineers.

Cancer Biology

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The biology of cancer is studied at MIT at many levels and in many organisms, ranging from the discovery of genes implicated in the development of cancer in humans to the elucidation of basic cell biological processes that are affected during tumorigenesis, which can be studied using human cells as well as model organisms.

Cell Biology

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Cell biology is the study of processes carried out by individual cells such as cell division, organelle inheritance and biogenesis, signal transduction and motility. These processes are often affected by stimuli from the environment including nutrients, growth signals, and cell-cell contact. Single-celled organisms such as yeast, multicellular organisms such as Drosophila and mouse, established tissue culture lines, and, increasingly, primary cell cultures derived from recombinant animals such as mice are commonly used to study cell biological problems.

Photo Credit: Dan Wagner, Reddien Lab

Computational & Systems Biology

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The goal of computational and systems biology is to apply large-scale numerical methods to the study of molecular, cellular and structural biology. The release of the human genome sequence has focused attention on the increasing importance of computational and systems biology for the analysis of gene function. However, only a small fraction of the information generated in modern biology labs has been subjected to systematic computational analysis. Thus, the future of systems biology lies not only in improved methods to study sequence information but also in the development of entirely new approaches to the numerical analysis of proteins, cells and organisms. 

Photo Credit: Jared Owen, Reddien Lab

Developmental Biology

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The goal of developmental biologists is to understand how a single cell develops into a multicellular organism. This complex process requires that cells divide, differentiate, and assume their proper positions relative to one another. MIT's Biology Department is focused on understanding how genes direct these distinct processes and how the behavior of cells at the molecular level contributes to development. 
Photo Credit: Lisa Steiner


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Research in genetics in this department employs a variety of organisms, ranging in complexity from bacteriophage to humans. Several groups are studying the process of transmission of genes by analyzing DNA replication, DNA repair, chromosome segregation and cell division.

Photo Credit: Mike Laub

Human Genetics

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The challenges at the exciting frontier of human genetics are many. The sequencing of the human and mouse genomes facilitates research on several fronts. Our department is involved in the identification of genes involved in the etiology of numerous human diseases and cancers, and fundamental issues of developmental biology, such as aging and sex-determination.


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The immune system consists of diverse cell types which collaborate to eliminate infections by a large number of pathogens. This elaborate collaboration involves macrophage, B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. Macrophages provide a first line of defense by engulfing, digesting, and presenting peptides derived from pathogens to the lymphocytes. B and T cells which are capable of recognizing specific antigens become stimulated to divide and respond to the pathogen. The B cells respond by producing antibodies and the T cells respond by controlling the immune response and killing infected cells.


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Microbiology research within the Department of Biology covers a wide range of topics. Some of this research exploits the sophisticated genetic, molecular biological, and biochemical systems available for microorganisms, to gain high-resolution insights into fundamental processes necessary for life and to manipulate microorganisms to achieve particular desired ends.

Photo Credit: Wendy Gilbert

Molecular Medicine & Human Disease

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The application of the power of molecular genetics to the problems of human disease plays an important role in many of the research programs in the Department of Biology. The range of disease areas which are actively studied includes cancer, atherosclerosis and heart disease, neuromuscular diseases, as well as diseases affecting many other specific organ systems.

Photo Credit: Cathy Drennan


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Biology's efforts in neurobiology are geared towards understanding how the remarkable diversity in neuronal cell types and their connections are established and how changes in neurons and their connections underlie learning and thinking. A number of groups are identifying and characterizing genes involved in specifying neuronal cell fate in vertebrates and invertebrates. Others are analyzing molecules involved in guiding axons to their correct targets.

Photo Credit: Gisela Chin, Reddien Lab

Plant Molecular Biology

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Historically, research involving plants made fundamental contributions to genetics and biochemistry. The sequencing of the first plant genome in 2000 ushered in a new era of research in plant biology. The discipline of plant molecular biology uses genetic, genomic, biochemical, cell biological, and computational approaches to understand plant growth, physiology, and development at a molecular level.
Plant molecular biology
Photo credit: Mary Gehring

Stem Cells & Epigenetics

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Stem cells can self-renew and differentiate. Embryonic stem cells, from mammalian blastomeres, can generate all cells of the body and adult stem cells reside in mature tissues where they produce particular adult cells. MIT Biology identifies molecular mechanisms underlying stem cell renewal and differentiation programs, investigates stem cell roles in regeneration, and investigates the potential of stem cells for disease modeling and regenerative medicine. Epigenetics involves changes in phenotype heritable through cell division but not associated with DNA sequence change. Epigenetic mechanisms underlie gene expression and cell state changes during gametogenesis, development, and aging. MIT Biology studies molecular mechanisms of epigenetics, including chromatin regulation, DNA methylation, gene expression networks, and non-coding RNAs.
Stem cell differentiation
Image credit: Sera Thornton

Structural Biology

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Structural biology seeks to provide a complete and coherent picture of biological phenomena at the molecular and atomic level. The goals of structural biology include developing a comprehensive understanding of the molecular shapes and forms embraced by biological macromolecules and extending this knowledge to understand how different molecular architectures are used to perform the chemical reactions that are central to life.

Photo Credit: Jiejin Chen, Sauer Lab