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Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology Department

We strive to provide an excellent, comprehensive education and to perform high impact, fundamental research at the cutting edge of the molecular and cellular biological sciences.  Our aim is to enhance existing strengths by increasing resources and recognition for our work, which integrates approaches spanning the continuum from molecular to organismal biology.  We draw upon the diversity of the department to provide a collaborative environment with a breadth of expertise that fosters personalized mentoring and training at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels.  Our vision encompasses advancing the scientific literacy and understanding of the biological and biochemical sciences within the university and the community at large.  Faculty in the department direct projects in diverse areas, which coalesce around the following three topics:

Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology

Research of BCMB faculty with an interest in Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology focuses in three major areas: chromosome structure and function, neurobiology, and bacterial physiology and genetics. The focus within the area of chromosome structure and function uses model organisms, including Drosophila melanogaster, to study major research topics including chromatin insulators, gene transcription regulation, molecular genetics of insecticide resistance, mechanism of xenobiotic-induced gene expression, mechanisms of transposition, cell cycle regulation, meiosis, mitosis, cancer and aging. Research topics in the area of neurobiology include neurogenetics of biological rhythms, Drosophila neurodevelopment, cellular bases of mammalian circadian rhythms, genetics of neurodevelopmental diseases, and the neural bases of sound recognition in vertebrates. Research topics in the area of bacterial physiology and genetics include bacterial chemotaxis and motility. Researchers in these areas make an extensive use of model organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, Drosophila and mouse, and utilize a large array of experimental approaches that include genetic analysis, genomics, transgenic animals, recombinant DNA, fluorescence and confocal microscopy and tissue culture, as well as the biochemical and computational approaches necessary to understand biological functions at the molecular level.

  • Gladys Alexandre: Microbial cell biology; Bacterial chemotaxis signal transduction and motility
  • Ranjan Ganguly: Molecular genetics of insecticide resistance, mechanism of xenobiotic-induced gene expression
  • Rose Goodchild: Cell biology, physiological and developmental functions of the nuclear envelope organelle; Cell biology of genetic neurodevelopmental disease
  • Jim Hall: Neural basis of hearing
  • Ana Kitazono: Cell cycle regulation; mitosis; checkpoints; cyclin-dependent kinases
  • Mariano Labrador: Chromosome structure and function; chromatin boundaries: function and evolution; retroviral integrases and retroviral insertion site determination
  • Bruce D. McKee: Genetics; chromosome structure and function; meiosis
  • Jae H. Park: Neurogenetics of biological rhythms and behavior; neurodevelopment in Drosophila
  • Rebecca Prosser: Cellular basis of mammalian circadian rhythms
  • Sundar Venkatachalam: Development and analysis of mouse models for cancer and aging

Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology

Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology faculty in BCMB have diverse interests. Current areas of research include structure, function, assembly, and folding of proteins; thermodynamics and dynamics of enzyme–ligand complexes; cell thermodynamics, cell water, membrane permeability and structure, cryobiology; antibiotic-target interactions; protein-protein interactions; coagulation and fibrinolysis calcium signaling in plant cells; stability and dynamics of biomolecular structures and supramolecular assembly; protein import into chloroplasts; molecular chaperones; molecular modeling; structure-based drug design; structure and functional dynamics of proteins involved in biological electron transfer and immune response; X-ray crystallography of biological molecules; and the application of advanced computational methods to the study of macromolecules. Researchers in the Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology are use of biochemical, biophysical, or computational approaches to understand molecular principles of biological processes.

  • Jerome Baudry: Structural and functional dynamics of protein/ligand interactions.  Molecular modeling, molecular biophysics, drug discovery
  • Barry Bruce: Import of proteins into chloroplasts; molecular chaperones
  • Elias Fernandez: Three-dimensional structures of proteins and the relevance of these structures in biology
  • Hong Guo: Computational molecular and structural biology
  • Elizabeth Howell: Structure, function, assembly, and folding of the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase; comparison of chromosomal and R-plasmid forms
  • Nitin Jain: Structure and functional dynamics of proteins involved in biological electron transfer and immune response using NMR; protein-protein interactions; structure-based drug design
  • Peter Mazur: Fundamental cryobiology; cell water; cell thermodynamics; cell membrane structure and permeability
  • Cynthia Peterson: Protein folding and stability; macromolecular interactions; coagulation and fibrinolysis
  • Dan Roberts: Structure and function of membrane transport proteins and channels and calcium sensors
  • Engin Serpersu: Antibiotic-target interactions; molecular basis of substrate promiscuity and principles of ligand recognition by enzymes
  • Tongye Shen: Stability and dynamics of biomolecular structures and supramolecular assembly
  • Jeremy Smith: Simulated molecular dynamics, neutron scattering

Plant and Microbial Biology

The research groups associated with the thematic area of Plant and Microbial Biology investigate processes from the molecular to the organismal level that pertain to plants and their associated microorganisms. Naturally, the concepts and techniques being employed intersect with those of the Molecular Biophysics & Structural Biology group as well as the (Genetics and Cell and Molecular Biology) group. Research in Plant & Microbial Biology seeks to understand how genetically encoded information gives rise to the properties of the organism, including properties that underlie the role of plants as converters of solar energy into bioenergy. Our scientists have embraced the advanced tools that have recently become available in the global genomics community and are advancing their further development. One focus area is ‘signal transduction’, i.e. mechanisms whereby living organisms process information from the environment into adaptive cellular and organismal responses. There is a strong emphasis on experimentation with living cells and organisms; several Plant & Microbial Biology labs are near the forefront in the pursuit of technological advances in this area.

  • Gladys Alexandre: Bacterial chemotaxis and motility; Signaling through two component systems; Azospirillum brasilense
  • Brad Binder: Ethylene signaling; Hormonal regulation of growth and development in real time; Arabidopsis; cyanobacteria
  • Barry D. Bruce: Protein import into chloroplasts; Nanotechnology of photosynthesis
  • Beth C. Mullin: Signaling in plant-microbe interactions; Actinomycetes as nitrogen fixing symbionts
  • Andreas Nebenführ: Molecular motors and organelle movements; real-time imaging of transport processes in plant cells; Arabidopsis
  • Dan Roberts: Biological function of plant transporters in symbiosis and stress responses; molecular mechanisms of calcium signal transduction
  • Elena Shpak: Cell-surface receptor kinases as signaling molecules directing plant development
  • Albrecht G. von Arnim: Molecular genetics and genomics in the translational regulation of gene expression; development and imaging of biosensors in living cells

Prospective graduate students are encouraged to visit the pages of individual faculty for inspiration and details. The strong external funding record of our faculty, the national and international collaborations that connect our research to projects elsewhere in the world and the high-end instrumentation available are a good basis for a successful research training experience.


Dan Roberts, Professor and Head
Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology Department
M407 Walters Life Sciences Building
Knoxville, TN 37996

Phone: (865) 974-5148

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.