- Published on 02 June 2011
Biochemistry is the foundation of all cellular processes and systems. Biochemical processes account for the functions of all cellular components, from proteins to lipids and metabolites, and the formation of complex networks that make a cell or system work. Encompassing a multitude of modern techniques and approaches, the field of biochemistry has a powerful diversity that can provide a detailed, mechanistic view of cellular pathways. With a long-standing tradition in biochemistry, Princeton reflects this diversity through the multidisciplinary span of our research. State-of-the-art mass spectrometry and X-ray crystallography are among the techniques utilized by our scientists to characterize cellular environments and pathways in health and disease. Our collaborative department is at the forefront of proteomics and metabolomics, which are integrated with genomics, microbiology, cancer and developmental biology, providing an opportunity for systems biology training at the interface between cellular biology and human disease.
Biologists and physicists at Princeton have always found common ground—the laws of physics are essential aspects of biology. The interface of these two disciplines was obvious from the beginnings of molecular biology. Today, because technology advances in imaging enables the study of single cells and single molecules, biologists are finding new reasons to work with physicists. The Department of Molecular Biology has a long-standing interaction with the Princeton Physics department, which has decades-old traditions of excellence and leadership in the core areas of fundamental physics. Interactions among biologists and physicists also occur in the Lewis Sigler Institute, where theory and experiments meet with often spectacular results.
From the discovery of the tumor suppressor gene p53 to the identification of metastasis genes in breast cancer, Princeton has always had a strong tradition in cutting edge cancer research. As we advance toward personalized medicine in oncology, Princeton is uniquely positioned to provide cross-disciplinary training for the next generation of cancer biologists. Our research groups use state-of-the-art technologies to address important scientific questions relevant to cancer, including growth control and differentiation, cell signaling, genomic instability, cancer metabolism, tumor-stromal interactions, and metastasis. Training experience in cancer biology is further enhanced by the close collaborations among our laboratories with colleagues in the nearby Cancer Institute of New Jersey. We encourage you to explore the exciting and dynamic training opportunities in cancer biology offered by our diverse research groups.
Cell biology is the study of how cells work as individuals, how they organize into complex groups, and how they coordinate their activities within tissues. Understanding cells and their interactions is increasingly important for interpreting the significance of accumulating genomic, proteomic, and other -omic data. Multi-disciplinary research within the Molecular Biology department addresses many critical mechanisms in cell biology. This research is enhanced by strong connections with scientists in nearby institutes of genomics and neuroscience as well as neighboring natural science departments.
Chemical Biology is a relatively new field, ranging from enzymology to medicinal chemistry, and from structural biology to proteomics. The Department of Molecular Biology has major research programs in proteomics and structural biology coupled with exciting collaborations with the Chemistry department to bring cutting edge chemical concepts and tools to bear on previously impenetrable biological systems. For example, projects range from screening for small molecules that activate or inhibit biological pathways to analyzing and modifying proteins to change epigenetic programs. Students will see an exciting new discipline evolving and will learn and practice the principles that are driving this new field.
Computers now play an indispensable role in biology. At Princeton, it's common to see computational biologists working together with wet-lab biologists to address problems that neither could tackle alone. From the mechanics of embryo development and cell division, to information processing by networks of neurons or of proteins, to making sense of large data sets, our computational biologists are bringing new insights to old problems. Research and education in computational biology benefit hugely from the strong connections between Princeton's Molecular Biology, Physics, and Computer Science departments, along with the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. Indeed, many of our students and postdocs are pursuing joint computational/experimental research projects—excellent training for their futures as fully integrated, modern biologists.
With a long tradition at Princeton, Developmental Biology unites research groups from the Departments of Molecular Biology, Engineering, and Physics and the Neuroscience Institute that share a common interest in deciphering mechanisms of animal development. We combine genetic, biochemical, cell biological, and computational approaches with sophisticated imaging and molecular technologies to investigate fundamental processes such as egg formation, embryonic patterning, cellular differentiation, morphogenesis, and aging. Our research takes advantage of model organisms, including flies, worms, fish, and mice to identify molecules that control development and to investigate their roles in disease. Students will find varied course offerings and diverse research opportunities that together provide rigorous yet personalized training in a collaborative environment.
Evolution is a central unifying concept in biology. The past 10 years has witnessed tremendous advances in the study of evolution, fueled by discoveries in molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and computational biology. With this array of tools, our faculty and partners in a variety of departments are probing the process of evolution at its most fundamental level, from the origins of life to the genetic basis of phenotypic differences within and between species. The multidisciplinary and quantitative nature of this research has forged particularly strong linkages between research groups in Molecular Biology with those in Computer Science, Physics, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Underlying almost all modern approaches to biology, Genetics is both a fundamental method of inquiry and a discipline in its own right. At Princeton, classical genetics, molecular genetics, and genomics are used to dissect biological mechanisms at all levels of organization, from the simplest viruses and bacteria through simple eukaryotes to the most complex problems in vertebrate development. Specific areas of inquiry include bacterial secretion and morphogenesis, yeast cell fusion and telomere maintenance, DNA mismatch repair, Drosophila development, left-right patterning and kidney development in zebrafish, cancer in mice, aging in C. elegans, to name just a few. The commonality of approaches to varied problems provides many opportunities for cross-discipline interaction.
The exponential explosion of complete genomic sequences coupled with the rapidly falling cost of sequencing has opened up new opportunities and challenges for molecular biologists and geneticists. For example, it has become routine experimental practice to study expression of all the genes of an organism at once, facilitating a level of biological inference at the "system level", well beyond what is possible from studying individual genes, gene assemblies, or pathways. Analogously, it has become routine to use genomic technologies to survey all the genes for mutations affecting particular traits. Princeton, through its departments and the Lewis-Sigler Institute, has established facilities that make the advancing genomic technologies available to its research community, so that genome-scale experiments can continue to be designed and executed at the advancing state of the art.
Princeton University's Global Health Initiative generates the multidisciplinary scholarship fundamental to health improvement worldwide. The program bridges basic and social sciences with policy pursuits to provide comprehensive educational and research endeavors to help design integrated programs for health domestically and internationally. The Department of Molecular Biology and its natural sciences partners at Princeton have active research and educational programs on molecular, biochemical, and quantitative microorganisms.
Microbes will be at the heart of the solutions to the world's most pressing problems: food, energy, health, and the environment. Princeton research is therefore heavily focused on microbiology, including studies of viruses, bacteria, and yeast. Princeton microbiology research is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary and combines both theoretical and experimental approaches. Our microbiologists are pioneering the understanding of how individual cells are built, function, and signal, how microbes interact with their hosts, and how microbes interact with one another. This research is leading to a comprehensive understanding of fundamental biological processes, development of novel therapeutics to combat infectious diseases, and the engineering of new resources that are of use to humanity. Princeton microbiology provides a unique and broadly interdisciplinary training environment for undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.
The Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute have a goal to understand how the nervous system works together as one unit by studying the very complex interactions and underlying cellular connections. This ambitious goal primarily involves the understanding of neural coding and dynamics. Neural coding refers to the way that information is represented by the activity patterns of brain cells. Neural dynamics involves how neural circuits manipulate, modify, and store information in the process of controlling behavior and cognition. Department scientists use a variety of powerful technologies ranging from genetics and cell biology of model organisms such as worms and flies to multi-photon imaging of neurons in action. Other technologies involve viral-assisted gene delivery of genetically encoded activity sensors and modulators as well as multi-electrode recording and imaging of neurons engaged in directing complex behaviors.
Members of Princeton's vibrant structural biology community—students, postdocs, and faculty—make use of a wide array of cutting-edge methods to gain insight into biological structure and mechanism. Some examples of the approaches being used, and in some cases developed, at Princeton include x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy, super-resolution optical microscopy, single-molecule methods, and computational modeling. These tools are being applied to biological problems ranging from protein folding and design, to signal transduction, to intracellular trafficking. Structural biology is an intrinsically interdisciplinary activity; Princeton provides a supportive and exceptionally collegial environment for students to receive training in these areas while, at the same time, contributing to fundamental discoveries about form and function in the biological world.