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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. We will soon be changing the name of our department in recognition of the expanded scope of our research endeavors, which now encompass cell biology, genetics, and genomics, in addition to biochemistry.

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, will employ 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 AND GENOMICS

Our department aims to tap into the intellectually rich and translationally important areas of genetics and genomics by the hiring of several new faculty members during the next several years. In collaboration with the Genome Science Institute (GSI) at BUSM, we will be recruiting at all levels (Assistant, Associate, Full Professors) in areas including, but not limited to, chromatin structure and function, epigenetics/epigenomics, metabolic regulation, control of gene expression, DNA damage and repair, stem cells and development, and cancer genomics.

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 public speaking; (2) a monthly “Chalk Talk” series, which provides an opportunity for faculty to share scientific ideas and obtain input from colleagues; (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.
  • Major endowment gift. The Department of Biochemistry received a generous endowment gift from the family of a BUSM alumnus. This donation is being used to support new departmental initiatives with a direct impact on our students and faculty.
  • New equipment and core facilities. Our objective is to provide department members with access to cutting-edge scientific equipment to further their research. We have been able to purchase (1) a Bio-Rad ProteOn XPR36 surface plasmon resonance (SPR) instrument for detecting protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions; (2) a Li-Cor Odyssey Infrared Imaging System for quantitation of Western blots; and (3) an additional real-time PCR system (Applied Biosystems ViiA, with 384-well plate capacity); (4) a state-of-the-art, Zeiss LSM 880 laser scanning confocal microscope with Airyscan.

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, MD, PhD
Chair of Biochemistry
September, 2017