Microbiology and Immunology

Program Category: PhD Programs

Director of Graduate Studies: Lorraine Symington

Website: https://www.gsas.cuimc.columbia.edu/microbiology-and-immunology

Degree Programs: Full-Time MA, MPhil, PhD

Please note: The degree for this program is conferred by GSAS, but program specifics, such as admissions, degree requirements, and financial aid, are administered by other schools of the university. This program is located on the Health Sciences campus in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The ultimate goal of the research in the department is to understand the molecular basis of infectious disease and the body's response to the infectious agent. Although each faculty member is pursuing an independent program of research, the department has established an excellent atmosphere of cooperation and positive interaction. There are four general areas of experimental activity, with considerable overlap among these disciplines. First-year students rotate through three laboratories in separate disciplines to obtain first-hand experience in research programs: (1) microbial molecular genetics; (2) immunology; (3) virology; (4) yeast.

Microbial Molecular Genetics: One emphasis of the department is the study of fundamental processes of prokaryotic microorganisms using the precise, powerful techniques of modern molecular genetics. The research emcompasses several topics: (1) mechanisms for control of bacterial plasmid replication and of gene expression, (2) the structures and mechanisms of active transport systems in bacteria, (3) the mechanisms for termination, antitermination, and selective initiation of transcription and posttranscriptional processing of RNA in bacteriophages, (4) the control of gene expression of bacteriophage lambda, and (5) the interaction of a bacterial parasite, Legionella pneumophila, with human macrophages, and (6) bacterial signal transduction.

Immunology: Immunology is one of the most exciting fields of scientific investigation today. Members of the department are applying modern immunochemical, molecular, and cellular techniques to a wide variety of research problems, which include (1) gene expression in the immune system, (2) anti-idiotypic antibodies as probes of receptor structure and function, (3) interactions between T cells in immunoregulation and autoimmunity, (4) cytokine signaling during lymphocyte development and malignancy, (5) role of JAK-STAT pathway in cytokine signal transduction, (6) molecular regulation of T cell development and oncogenesis, and (7) mechanisms of eukaryotic transcriptional silencing.

Virology: Virology research in Microbiology is built on rich tradition. Present research directions encompass the most exciting areas of investigation in the field today, including (1) the molecular mechanisms of adenovirus and human immunodeficiency virus pathogenesis, (2) genetic analysis of the replication cycle of the Moloney murine leukemia virus, (3) mechanisms of gene expression in herpes simplex virus and human papillomavirus, (4) genetic analysis of poliovirus, and its cellular receptor, (5) mechanisms of recombination in adenovirus infected mammalian cells, (6) genetic analysis of the adenovirus major late promoter region, (7) structure, function, and expression of oncoproteins.

Yeast Molecular Genetics: Research on yeast is the newest addition to the department and builds upon strengths in this area in the Department of Genetics. These microorganisms offer the ability to study a eukaryotic system using highly advanced genetic approaches. Members of the department use yeast to study (1) how cells exit the mitotic cell cycle and enter meiosis, (2) the molecular mechanisms of control of mating type, (3) the molecular mechanisms of DNA recombination, (4) signal transduction and transcriptional control, and (5) molecular genetics of cytokinesis.

Laboratories and Facilities: The Armand Hammer Laboratories occupy a commanding view of New York City and its environs on the crest of Washington Heights (named for the general driven from these heights during one of the rare early formal battles with the British). The facilities include a comprehensive cancer center, in which the entire department participates, which provides a variety of facilities including animal care, oligonucleotide synthesis, DNA sequencing, and isolation of transgenic mice. Virtually every modern technique and apparatus in molecular and cellular biology is available. The department enjoys a rich and extensive interaction with members of the Department of Genetics and Development, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Cell Biology and Medicine.

Fellowships are awarded in recognition of academic achievement and in expectation of scholarly success. Teaching and research experience are considered an important aspect of the training of graduate students. Thus, graduate fellowships include some teaching and research apprenticeship.

Special Admissions Requirements: 

  1. Only candidates for the PhD degree will be admitted. The MA degree is prerequisite to the MPhil and PhD degrees, and it is conferred on candidates for the PhD degree who have completed one academic year of full-time advanced study (unless a student is admitted with two Residence Units of advanced standing).
  2. Letters of recommendation and, if practical, a personal interview. Results of the GRE General Test are strongly advised. Results of the subject GREs are also recommended.
  3. Recommended: One year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and calculus; one term of general physics and physical chemistry

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Degree Programs: Full Time