Carnegie Mellon University
New Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology

New Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology

While genomic sequencing ruled biological research in the 1990s — with great success — the genetic code that emerged told only part of the story.

“After the human genome was sequenced, people said, Whoa, we’ve got all these proteins, and they all perform functions in the cell. We have to understand what they do,” said Gordon Rule, professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon.

That’s where the Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology graduate program comes in. The program, a joint effort with the University of Pittsburgh, is designed to teach graduate students with various scientific backgrounds how to use the techniques of physics to unravel complex biological processes one molecule at a time. It also emphasizes how the structure of molecules and large molecular complexes determines their function. An array of techniques is needed to investigate everything from the molecular details of protein-protein interaction to the 3D structure of large, complex cellular assemblies.

Launched in January 2007, the new joint Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology program allows students to sign up for courses and work in laboratories at both universities. Angela Gronenborn, professor and chair of the Department of Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, co-directs the program with Rule.

While there are biophysics graduate programs at other universities for students to choose from, “this one is unique because it spans two predominant universities,” Rule says. This makes it easier to recruit students and faculty, which will help to fill a real need in the scientific community. “I think it’s really important that educational programs like the Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology program exist,” Rule says, “because there’s an increased demand for students trained in biophysical techniques, to take what’s been learned from genomics and proteomics and to understand how this information really applies to the functions of a cell.”

By: Tim Paulcka