Janet Braam, Ph. D.
Professor of Biochemistry & Cell Biology and
Chair, Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology
The Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology is marking 40 years of innovation and excellence in research with exciting new results to celebrate in various fields of study. The broad research spectrum encompassed by the department is evident in some of the most current noteworthy accomplishments:
- The elucidation of the nucleoprotein (NP) protein tail structure provides a potential new pharmaceutical target to attack strains of influenza A, including Hong Kong flu, Spanish flu and the avian flu.
- The protein serum amyloid P (SAP) has been shown to prevent fibrosis in the hearts of lab animals. In the heart attack victim, the build-up of fibrotic scar tissue is potentially fatal, and this finding could lead to preventive treatment for a broad class of diseases that account for an estimated 45 percent of U.S. deaths each year.
- Using near-infrared fluorescent imaging, Rice University scientists have captured the first optical images of DNA-sized carbon nanotubes inside a living organism in our Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) laboratories.
- The development of biofuel production systems in bacteria and plants has applicability for industrial-scale production of high value chemicals such as succinate, butanol, and ethanol.
Biochemistry & Cell Biology has extensive facilities and equipment for diverse biophysical, structural, genetic and developmental research, including 800 MHz NMR spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, laser photolysis, EPR and rapid-mixing apparatuses, confocal and video microscopy, specialized facilities for animal and plant care, bioreactors for the growth and harvesting of microorganisms on various scales, and many different spectrophotometers. The department continues to enhance our research efforts, as is evidenced by these recent awards:
- The Rice zebrafish facility was awarded funds from Rice's Faculty Initiatives to hire a research scientist to oversee collaborative projects with partners in the Texas Medical Center.
- Hamill Innovations Awards were presented for novel, high-risk projects to develop a biosensor for in vivo detection of cholesterol, to use zebrafish to assess the biological properties of nanomaterials, and to characterize ion binding by novel sensor proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana.
Finally, the Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology prides itself on its commitment to excellent teaching:
Our HHMI Professor, Bonnie Bartel, has developed a new freshman seminar introducing our undergraduates to research, to acquaint them with the opportunities and experiences available to them at the beginning of their academic career. This allows the student to take better advantage of their options and acquire a wider range of experience as an undergraduate.
The Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, John S. Olson, was awarded the Biophysical Society's prestigious 2007 Emily M. Gray Award for education and outreach.
Professor Mike Gustin received the most prestigious teaching prize at Rice University in 2007. Dr. Gustin was awarded the 2007 George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching, which is selected by alumni who graduated two and five years ago.
The rapid advancement of the biosciences in recent years makes the field an exciting career choice for students, and the potential for applying biological and medical research to the improvement of the general public health and quality of life makes it an inspiring choice as well. In the Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, we are assertively looking for new educational opportunities to offer, new frontiers of research to explore, and new ways to respond to the mysteries and challenges that face bioscience researchers. We welcome new students to join us.