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History

The Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has a distinguished history in the advancement of biomedical research as well as training the next generation of scientists and physicians.

The roots of the current Department date back to the early 1950s. At this time, Biochemistry and Microbiology existed as separate units within the School of Medicine, and were led by several outstanding scientists. Klaus Hoffmann, Chair of the Department of Biochemistry in the 1950s, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of peptide hormones. From 1962-66, Nils Jerne led the Department of Microbiology and performed some of his studies on the development of monoclonal antibodies for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984.

In 1967, Julius Youngner became Chairman of Microbiology and later, founding Chair of the merged Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology. Youngner, along with Jonas Salk, developed the first polio vaccine that was licensed in 1955.

In 1989, Joseph Glorioso was recruited as Chair of the Department, which underwent a name change to Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry to reflect new directions in research mission. During this time, MGB relocated to the newly opened Biomedical Science Tower and underwent a phase of rapid growth in terms of faculty recruitments. Under Dr. Glorioso, MGB became one of the nation‘s leading microbiology departments, and spawned the development of three new Departments within the School of Medicine during his 20 years of leadership (Immunology, Computational Biology, and Developmental Biology).

In 2008, the Department was given its current designation as Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG), to better reflect the majority of faculty research interests and the future directions of the Department in terms of faculty growth.

In January of 2009, Thomas Smithgall was appointed as the new Chair of MMG. Having spent 10 years as a Professor within Department and serving for two years as Vice-Chairman, Dr. Smithgall was well positioned to take the reins.

Under Smithgall‘s leadership, the Department relocated to a new research building with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in early 2010 (Bridgeside Point II). This move enabled recruitment of new faculty members to complement the department‘s existing strengths in microbial pathogenesis, molecular genetics, and biochemistry.

Two faculty searches resulted in the recruitment of Hongjun Liu, an outstanding mouse geneticist from the National Institutes of Health, as well as Jennifer Bomberger, an exceptional microbiologist from Dartmouth. In conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, MMG also recruited Kara Bernstein from Colombia University. Kara will join Ben Van Houten's UPCI program in Molecular Oncology and continue to explore mechanisms of DNA repair using yeast as a model system. MMG welcomes these new recruits and is looking forward to scientific interactions with them as they develop their independent research programs.