Biology has its basis in the chemistry of molecules that generate and control life processes. Several of our faculty members seek to define biological processes in molecular terms. Individual research topics include the role of an enzyme with a catalytic RNA subunit, the roles of structured non-coding RNAs in gene control and catalysis, the biochemistry of RNA folding and exploration and control of signal transduction pathways using chemical probes. Several interdisciplinary collaborations exist between the Departments of Chemistry, the Chemical Biology Program, and Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics.
A large number of MCDB faculty are interested in cellular and developmental biology. Research interests of the faculty in this area range from studies on nucleotide sequences in RNA and DNA through investigations of subcellular organelles, such as microtubules and chromosomes, through analyses of movement in single cells, to multicellular organization and embryogeny in higher plants and animals.
Research in this fundamental area of biology spans a spectrum of biological organization from the molecular level to the organismal level. The underlying focus of interest is the genetic material: its structure, function, and regulation. A large variety of organisms is being studied using many experimental techniques and approaches. The Department has laboratories active in molecular and biochemical genetics, developmental genetics, molecular and classical cytogenetics, somatic cell genetics, and behavioral genetics.
Several MCDB faculty examine a wide range of problems in neuroscience, ranging from the molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern the development of the nervous system, to the cell biology of neurons and the functioning of neural systems.
Historically, the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department has been especially strong in the areas of plant developmental biology, physiology, and systematics. In recent years, these strengths have expanded into the areas of plant molecular biology, genetics, and chemical biology. The Special Program in Plant Sciences reflects ongoing research and training interests of the faculty in the molecular genetics of flowering, the developmental biology of leaves, the physiology of hormone action, the evolution of plants, and a variety of other areas. Colleagues in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, at the Cary Arboretum, and at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station contribute as well to the seminars, graduate classes, workshops, and field trips offered through the Program.
Many recent research breakthroughs in the life sciences are in the areas of biotechnology and genomics. Faculty in the MCDB department is particularly strong in these areas and many are associated with research programs in Biotechnology companies. Research topics encompass the development of nanosensors and controlled nucleic acid enzymes, the generation of transgenic animals and plants, small molecule approaches to the analysis of gene function and therapeutics, functional genomics, and the large scale analysis of genomes and bioinformatics. In addition to advanced topics that are critical for excellence in the life sciences, courses in Biotechnology, Genomics, and Bioinformatics are available to students who wish to explore these emerging areas.
The combination of mathematical modeling and novel experimental methods that probe the real–time dynamics of biological processes in vivo is emerging as a powerful approach to connect molecular mechanism to behavior in biology. It is now possible to build computational models that relate molecular events inside single cells to the behavior of these cells as they interact with the environment and with each other. Biologists can use dynamical modeling as a new tool to explore the dynamical consequences of a hypothesis before doing an experiment. Models help focusing biological questions and targeting experiments, which in turn impose constraints on the models. Close interaction between experimental studies and modeling is critical to success in this area and leads to the understanding of biological phenomena at the systems level.