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 developments that have contributed to the growth of 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 ten outstanding, new faculty members to join our department, including Drs. Xaralabos (Bob) Varelas, Valentina Perissi, Mikel Garcia-Marcos, Daniel Cifuentes, Alla Grishok, Nelson Lau, Andrew Emili, Mohsan Saeed, Shawn Lyons, and Mike Blower. These individuals have greatly expanded the scientific breadth of the department.

AREAS OF SPECIAL STRENGTH

  • RNA Biology: Cifuentes, Grishok, Lau and Lyons have established a new focus on RNA biology in the department. The most recent addition to this group is Dr. Mohsan Saeed, an RNA virologist who was jointly recruited with the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) at Boston University. These individuals, along with several others in the department, rapidly pivoted to research on SARS-Cov-2 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The monthly RNA Club, which was started by Dr. Cifuentes in 2016 with a grant from The RNA Society, has now grown to include approximately a dozen labs from the medical and dental schools.
  • Mass spectrometry: Emili, who is jointly appointed in the Departments of Biochemistry and Biology, heads 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 Center for Biomedical Mass spectrometry (CBMS), headed by Dr. Cathy Costello, is internationally recognized for its expertise in the analysis of glycans and other posttranslational protein modifications. Together, the CNSB and CBMS position the department as a leader in biomedical mass spectrometry.
  • Metabolism, Obesity, Diabetes: The department has had long-standing strengths in these areas, as exemplified by the work of Drs. Farmer, Kandror, and Perissi. Drs. Farmer and Perissi 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.
  • Model Organisms: In addition to mice, several new model organisms have been introduced into the department, including zebrafish (Dr. Cifuentes), elegans (Dr. Grishok), Drosophila (Dr. Lau), and Xenopus (Drs. Lau and Blower).

INITIATIVE IN SYSTEMS BIOLOGY—Our department, in conjunction with the Dept. of Biology, is currently recruiting at the Assistant Professor level in the broad area of systems biology (appointment to begin in fall, 2022). We seek to recruit a colleague who uses high-throughput experimental and systems-level approaches to elucidate complex and dynamic biological processes, such as cell signaling, development in model organisms, epigenetic regulation, metabolism, nervous system function, proteostasis, and transcriptional control. This search builds on recent faculty growth in systems biology and the establishment of the Center for Network Systems Biology. Interested individuals should apply via Academic Jobs Online 

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, such as the RNA Club, 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.
  • 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) Two Li-Cor Odyssey Infrared Imaging Systems; (2) Amersham Typhoon Biomolecular Imager; (3) Real-time PCR systems (Applied Biosystems ViiA; Biorad Cfx Opus); (4) Digital droplet PCR system (Biorad QX200); (5) DeNovix Celldrop fluorescent cell counter; (6) Lonza Nucleofector 4D Gen 2; (7) A Zeiss LSM 880 laser scanningconfocal microscope with Airyscan; (8) A Zeiss AxioObserver D1 wide-field fluorescent microscope; (9) An Olympus STORM super-resolution microscopy system (in the Center for Network Systems Biology).
  • Trainee support. We have inaugurated a program to provide two years of guaranteed, departmental stipend support for selected graduate students, thereby relieving the P.I. of this financial responsibility. We have also instituted a Distinguished Postdoctoral Scholar Award Competition, which provides pilot grants for postdoctoral trainees to develop innovative new research directions.
  • 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
November 2021