Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


by Cathryn Delude

May 7th, 2013


Michael K. Rosen, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Professor and Chair of the Department of Biophysics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, will deliver the 2013 John T. Edsall Lecture on May 9th on “Physical Mechanisms of Cell Organization on Micron Length Scales”
Michael Rosen received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and subsequently spent a year in Alan Battersby’s lab at the University of Cambridge as a Winston Churchill Foundation Scholar. He then came to Harvard University for graduate school in the Chemistry department. In Stuart Schreiber’s laboratory Rosen worked in understanding the molecular basis of receptor-ligand interactions by studying the structure and function of immunophilin FKBP12, which binds the immunosuppressant FK506 protein. After his PhD, Michael joined the laboratories of Tony Pawson and Lewis Kay at the University of Toronto to study the regulation of the signaling adaptor protein, Crk, and developed methods to selectively label protein methyl groups, thus advancing the field of NMR spectroscopy.

Rosen then joined the faculty at Cornell in 1996 where he began his work on understanding molecular regulation by Rho GTPases. He moved to UT Southwestern in 2002 and became a full professor and an HHMI investigator in 2005.  Rosen’s lab has taken a multidisciplinary approach to detail the mechanisms by which Rho GTPase signaling controls the dynamic organization of cytoskeleton. Currently his research focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which the properties of individual molecules (organized in Angstrom-length scale) give rise to cellular architectures, which are organized in micron length scales. To achieve this, his lab studies the fate and dynamic response of individual actin filaments to upstream signals, and how they lead to organization of higher-order assemblies to produce the micron-size structures.

Rosen is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award, the Kimmel Scholar Award, the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Rosen also holds the Mar Nell and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry at UT southwestern.

A chemist by training, Dr. Rosen studies the flow of signals from outside the cell regulate the actin cytoskeleton. He is interested in how cells are organized on length scales of angstroms to microns, and on timescales of picoseconds to hours, focusing on the physical mechanisms of cell organization across scales, primarily through studies of the signaling pathways that control the actin cytoskeleton. His lab wants to understand the structure and dynamics of individual proteins and their signaling complexes, as well as discovering how and why these discrete entities produce cellular organization and activities at longer length and time scales. According to Dr. Rosen’s HHMI profile, “colleagues say his broad technical expertise and ability to complement these structural studies with an array of biophysical and biochemical techniques have brought him to the forefront of the field.”



The Edsall Lecture is given annually in honor of John Edsall, a member of the faculty of Harvard University from 1928 to 1973, when he became emeritus but remained engaged in research for more than 20 years. He died in 2002 a few months short of 100 years of age. Dr. Edsall's scientific career started in Edwin J. Cohn’s Department of Physical Chemistry at Harvard Medical School, where he studied the properties of the muscle proteins and of the amino acids. These studies among many others led to the 1943 book by Cohn and Edsall, Proteins, Amino Acids and Peptides as Ions and Dipolar Ions, which became a classic in the field of protein chemistry. During World War II he had a key role in isolating blood proteins for the war effort and developed fibrin foam, a porous form of a fibrin clot for use in neurosurgical procedures. In 1954, Dr. Edsall joined the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and moved to the Biological Laboratories, where he started research on carbonic anhydrase. He was greatly concerned with education. He was a tutor in the biochemical sciences concentration for 40 years and Head Tutor from more than 25 years. He taught a course on biophysical chemistry at the college from 1940 until he retired; the course led to the writing of a textbook with his closest scientific colleague, Jeffries Wyman.  He had a leading role in 1954 in the formation of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry, a graduate program leading to the PhD degree in biochemistry; the committee became the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1967. Dr. Edsall was also a champion in the fight for the freedom and integrity of science.  – Guido Guidotti