Caltech's version of microbiology and immunology is unique, benefiting from the interdisciplinary Center for Environmental Microbial Interactions. Over forty faculty from four divisions (BBE, CCE, GPS, EAS) work together to train students in how to understand microbial systems at various spatial and temporal scales: from the molecular to the global, from the past to the present, and towards future engineering applications. We utilize microorganisms to explore basic biology and biochemistry problems, understand the physical principles governing biological systems, investigate mechanisms that underpin the robustness, stability, and design of complex networks, and explore the interactions among microbes in communities and between microbes and their environment. We also investigate interactions between microbes (under both pathogenic and non-pathogenic conditions) and the immune system, and we seek to understand how the immune system develops, functions, and can be manipulated to maintain human health.
Biosphere Science and Engineering
Up to now, planet Earth's environment (including climate, flora and fauna) has evolved mostly governed by `natural laws' (physics, random mutation, natural selection, competition of species, symbiosis etc.). Increasingly, Earth's environment is affected by human activity. Human activity has, thus far, been mostly driven by demographics, and by economic and political objectives. Humans are starting to realize that the quality of the environment they all share is valuable and needs to be preserved and managed. At this point humanity needs knowledge to make informed choices, and technology to have better options.
Microbial Communities and Ecology
Microbial Molecular and Cellular Biology
Because they can grow rapidly, have small genomes, and are amenable to many types of molecular analyses, microbes provide outstanding model systems in which to study fundamental cellular processes. MMBR laboratories draw on techniques including cryo-electron and fluorescence microscopy, protein crystallography, genetics, and biochemistry to study the bioenergetics, regulation of gene expression, protein trafficking, lipid-protein interactions, and ultrastructure of diverse organisms.
Virology and Immunology
The immune system is our defense against pathogenic microorganisms. It involves an innate branch that recognizes generic aspects of pathogens and an adaptive branch that recognizes specific molecules on pathogens. Caltech laboratories are using structural biology, molecular biology, and mouse genetics to study how the immune system develops, how the immune system interacts with microbes that naturally reside in our bodies and are not pathogens, and how signals are transduced in both the innate and adaptive branches of the immune system. In addition, there is a strong translational medicine effort, with a focus on pathologies of the immune system including cancer, engineering antibodies to produce more potent vaccines, and engineering immune cells to attack cancer.