Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor
Director of the FAS Center for Systems Biology

Email: amurray@mcb.harvard.edu
Phone: 617-496-1350

Mail: NW 469.20
Northwest Building
52 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA  02138

Murray Lab Website
FAS Center for Systems Biology
Members of the Murray Lab
List of Publications from PubMed


E&M-REASON 18. What are the odds?
Catalog Number: 54305  View Course Website
Term: [Spring Term .]
Instructors: Edward Hall, Andrew Murray
Course Level: Primarily for Undergraduates
Description: There is the mathematics behind statistics, and then there are the concepts - without a proper grasp of which you will all too likely fall prey to confusion, error, and even outright deception. This course will teach you a bit about the math, and a lot about the concepts. Take it and achieve enlightenment about such topics as the difference between probability and risk, the nature of statistical inference, and the connections between correlation and causation.
Meetings: M., W., F., at 11, and a weekly section to be arranged.
LIFESCI 200. Integrated Science (Graduate Seminar in Undergraduate Education)
Catalog Number: 84132  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term 2014-2015.
Instructors: Michael Desai, Erel Levine, Andrew Murray, Mary Elizabeth Wahl
Course Level: Primarily for Graduates
Description: Graduate students who take this class will help to shape the structure of a course to be offered the following year and will be encouraged to serve as its teaching fellows. That course is a year-long integrated double course that will introduce a group of motivated freshman to the concepts that they will need to do interdisciplinary scientific research. Problems in the life sciences will be used to illustrate and integrate critical concepts from mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, and biology.
Note: The seminar will design and develop a course on these themes for undergraduates.
Prerequisite(s): Students must be in their second year of graduate study or above, and permission of the instructor.
Meetings: M., W., F., 10-11:30
(View all MCB Courses)


We try to understand the “rules of the game” that explain how cells function and evolve. We study budding yeast, using experimental evolution, genetic analysis, synthetic biology, and cell biology. We try to make quantitative measurements that discriminate amongst different classes of models. Members of the lab come from both biology and physics backgrounds.

How does biological novelty evolve? Because we lack time travel, this process is difficult to study in nature, and we therefore apply selective pressure in the laboratory. We have evolved multicellularity, altered mating preferences, circadian oscillators, genetic instability, and new connections between signaling pathways and have developed methods to find the mutations that cause these new phenotypes. We are interested both in general questions about what determines evolutionary trajectories and the specific mechanisms that organisms invent to produce novel traits.

How do cells accomplish specific tasks and how did these solutions evolve? We follow the Feynman principle of “What I cannot create, I cannot understand” by engineering and analyzing the behavior of new yeast strains. As examples, we have used synthetic biology to support the notions that the efficient use of secreted public goods drove the evolution of multicellularity, that multicellularity arose before cellular differentiation, and that novel symbioses could arise without requiring previous evolutionary co-adaptation.

How do cells respond and adapt to their environment to maximize the chance that they survive and reproduce? Achieving these aims requires the coordination of thousands of reactions under a wide range of inter- and extracellular conditions. We are exploring how yeast cells respond to sudden starvation and have discovered that they can rapidly halt their cell cycles, at any stage, and then, later, slowly resume cell division. We are asking how they arrest, whether the arrest destabilizes the genome, and how cells adapt to start dividing again.

Finally, we collaborate with David Nelson (Professor in the Departments of Physics and MCB) to combine theory and experiment to investigate population dynamics and evolution in space and time.


Hom, F.Y. and Murray, A.W. (2014) Niche Engineering Demonstrates a Latent Capacity for Fungal-Algal Mutualism. Science, 345, 94-98.

Müeller, M.J., Neugeboren, B.I., Nelson, D.R., and Murray, A.W. (2014) Genetic drift opposes mutualism during spatial population expansion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.,111 , 1037-42. PMCID: PMC3903240

Huberman, L.B. and Murray, A.W. (2013) Genetically engineered transvestites reveal novel mating genes in budding yeast. Genetics, 195,1277-90. PMCID: PMC3832273

Koschwanez, J.H., Foster, K.R., and Murray, A.W. (2013) Improved use of a Public Good Selects for the Evolution of Undifferentiated Multicellularity eLife PMCID: PMC3614033

Lau, D.T. and Murray, A.W. (2012) Mad2 and Mad3 cooperate to arrest budding yeast in mitosis. Curr Biol. , 22,180-90. PMCID: PMC3277655

updated: 05/12/2015