David A. Harris, M.D., Ph.D.
Chair of Biochemistry

Welcome to the Department of Biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine.

This is an exciting place to be! We are a diverse group of faculty members working on fundamental molecular, cellular, and genetic processes, and how these are altered in human disease. Our department is ranked among the top Biochemistry departments nationally in terms of NIH funding, and we have a long history of making path-breaking contributions to key areas of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Perhaps our most important resource are the people in our department, including faculty, postdoctoral fellows, students, and staff. We work in an intellectually vibrant and intensely collegial environment characterized by extensive interactions within the department and with other basic science and clinical departments at the medical school.  We are committed to the education of our graduate, medical and dental students, and to the principles of diversity and inclusiveness.

I would like to summarize some of the exciting, new developments in our department.

FACULTY RECRUITMENT—One key to maintaining a rich and varied intellectual landscape has been our success in faculty recruitment. Since I began as Chair, we have recruited eight outstanding, new faculty members to join our department, including Drs. Xaralabos (Bob) Varelas, Valentina Perissi, Mikel Garcia-Marcos, Brigitte Ritter, Daniel Cifuentes, Alla Grishok, Nelson Lau, and Andrew Emili. Drs. Cifuentes, Grishok and Lau have established a new focus on RNA biology in the department, and they have introduced four new model organisms: zebrafish, C. elegans, Drosophila, and Xenopus. Dr. Emili, who is jointly appointed in the Departments of Biochemistry and Biology, is heading a new Center for Network Systems Biology (CNSB). This university center, housed in Biochemistry departmental space, employs sophisticated mass spectrometry techniques to study protein interaction networks. The expertise of this center, combined with existing departmental strengths in analysis of glycans and posttranslational modifications, positions the department as a leader in biomedical mass spectrometry.

INITIATIVE IN GENETICS, GENOMICS, AND CELL BIOLOGY—Our department is currently undertaking a major expansion in the areas of genetics and genomics, including the application of genetic/genomic techniques to key problems in cell biology. Over the next several years, we plan to hire multiple new faculty members working on these subjects. In collaboration with the Genome Science Institute (GSI) at the medical school, we are now recruiting at all levels (Assistant, Associate, Full Professors) in areas including, but not limited to, chromatin structure and function, epigenetics, RNA biology, single-cell genomics, metabolic regulation, control of gene expression, DNA damage and repair, stem cells/development, and cancer genomics. We welcome applications from individuals utilizing genetically tractable model organisms, novel computational/bioinformatic approaches, and functional genomic methods (e.g., CRISPR/Cas screening) to address significant cell biological problems. To learn more and to submit an application: faculty positions.

LABORATORY SPACE—In 2010, we completed renovation of three floors (approx. 30,000 sq. ft.) of departmental space in the Silvio Conte Medical Research Building (“K Bldg.”). The renovations (approx. $2 million/floor) involved creation of modern, open lab spaces and meeting areas, as well as replacement of major infrastructural elements. The north wing of K4 was renovated for Drs. Grishok and Cifuentes in 2015-2016, including construction of a fully-equipped zebrafish vivarium for Dr. Cifuentes. In 2017, the north wing of K3 was renovated to create space for Dr. Emili’s Center for Network Systems Biology. Altogether, a total of 35,000 sq. ft. of space have been renovated since 2010.

OTHER INITIATIVES

A number of other activities have been launched during the past several years, among which are the following:

  • Creation of several new, department-wide events, including (1) a biweekly In-House Research Seminar, which provides students, postdoctoral fellows and other trainees with experience in oral presentation; (2) a monthly “Chalk Talk” series, which provides an opportunity for faculty to share scientific ideas and obtain input from colleagues in an informal setting over lunch; (3) Annual departmental retreats; (4) a biweekly Happy Hour, with rotating faculty hosts. The department also continues to a host weekly seminar series featuring speakers from within and outside the university.
  • Special Interest Groups meet regularly, focusing on specific research areas of interest to sub-groups of faculty. A number of laboratories in the department, often those that share common space, participate in joint group meetings. The monthly RNA Club, which was started by Dr. Cifuentes in 2016 with a grant from The RNA Society, has grown to include approximately a dozen labs from the medical and dental schools.
  • New equipment and core facilities. Our objective is to provide department members with access to cutting-edge scientific instruments to further their research. These include: (1) A Bio-Rad ProteOn XPR36 surface plasmon resonance (SPR) instrument for detecting protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions; (2) Three infrared imaging systems for quantitation of Western blots (e.g., Li-Cor Odyssey Infrared Imaging System); and (3) Multiple real-time PCR systems (e.g., Applied Biosystems ViiA); (4) A digital droplet PCR system; (5) A Zeiss LSM 880 laser scanning confocal microscope with Airyscan; (6) A Zeiss AxioObserver D1 wide-field fluorescent microscope; (7) An Olympus STORM super-resolution microscopy system (in the Center for Network Systems Biology). In addition, Drs. Farmer and Perissi now host the Adipose Tissue Biology Core of the Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center (BNORC), which brings together researchers at several institutions in the city who work on nutrition, obesity and metabolism.
  • Faculty mentoring. The department believes strongly in the value of mentoring as a key component of faculty development. Each Assistant and Associate Professor meets regularly with a small group of faculty colleagues to plan and review grant submissions, and to discuss other issues such as laboratory management and career advancement. Research-Track faculty also meet regularly with a specialized mentoring committee.
  • Major endowment gift. The department received a generous endowment gift from the family of a medical school alumnus. This donation is being used to support new departmental initiatives with a direct impact on our students and faculty.

THE FUTURE

This is an incredibly exciting time in biomedical research, with the advent of major insights into the workings of living organisms, fueled by the application of powerful, new technologies, and the possibility of developing molecular cures for devastating human diseases.  Please join us on our journey of scientific discovery in the Department of Biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine!

David A. Harris, M.D., Ph.D.
Chair of Biochemistry
September 2018