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Breakthroughs in Science

Revealing how life works at the molecular level

January 17th, 2008


The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics faculty (BB is fun!)
Below, Dr. Andy Karplus, new department chair.

Here are a few thoughts from Andy on the department, whose mission is Revealing How Life Works at the Molecular Level:

karplusMy name is Andy Karplus and my research specialty is protein crystallography—figuring out the three-dimensional structure of proteins and from those structures deciphering how they carry out their specific functions. My current projects include work on the enzyme causing Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and pursuing our “floodgate” hypothesis describing how one enzyme family helps regulate cell growth and development through controlling intracellular hydrogen peroxide levels. I received my PhD at the University of Washington in 1984, completed a four-year postdoc in Freiburg, Germany, and then was on the faculty at Cornell University for ten years before choosing to move my program to Oregon State in 1998.

The Department attracted me from Cornell in 1998, and from where I sit as the new chair, I can tell you this is an amazing time and place. As research into the molecular aspects of life becomes increasingly important to breakthroughs in human health, agriculture, environmental sciences, and even engineering and nanotechnology, so does the mission of our department. Our two-fold goals of educating students and carrying out forefront research in Biochemistry and Biophysics have never been more important to the success of Oregon, the nation, and the world.

Our students give friends and alumni much to be proud of:

  • Students in the Biochemistry and Biophysics (BB) major at OSU pursue one of the most challenging scientific programs in the College of Science. Spanning both the physical sciences (chemistry and physics) and the biological sciences (biology, genetics, and microbiology), the program provides our students with broad and yet rigorous training for careers in biomedicine.
  • As the number of students at OSU has grown from about 14,000 students to 18,000 in the past ten years, the number of BB majors has grown even faster, nearly doubling from about 70 majors to approximately 130 today.
  • BB majors are campus leaders and represent the best and brightest students in the state of Oregon. They enter OSU with average SAT scores that are 160 points above the University average, and compete with the very best in the nation.
  • From the years 2004-2006, five of the six Goldwater scholars in the entire Oregon University System were BB majors from OSU.
  • BB majors have also performed superbly in achieving their career goals. Each year, at least 50% graduate with the distinction of cum laude or higher, and of the last 37 BB majors to apply to medical school, 35 have been accepted, with the other two still in the application process.
  • In addition to the training of our BB majors, we educate over 1000 students per year in general biochemistry.

In other highlights, BB faculty maintain active research programs that brought in $2.5 million in external funding last year. Areas of focus include revealing the mechanisms that allow cells to move during wound healing, the relationships between oxidative stress and cancer, the structure and function of a motor protein that is required for cell division and development, the regulation of the production of the building blocks of DNA, and the biochemistry of chromatophores and camouflage. Our newest assistant professor, Michael Freitag, is revealing how chromosomes are recognized for proper cell division, and our research program has been greatly strengthened through the addition of Linus Pauling Institute faculty Balz Frei, Tory Hagen, and Joe Beckman with research programs focussing on micronutrients and health, aging, and neurodegenerative disease. Having faculty doing cutting-edge research and a vibrant PhD program strengthens our undergraduate program both because faculty are not just teaching from the textbooks but from the current advances, and because our undergraduates then can personally participate in research as part of their training.

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