Timothy Mitchison

Timothy Mitchison
Photograph by Jim Harrison
"When I came to America, I found that if you could do something or had something to say, people would listen," says Timothy Mitchison, who as a student in his native England encountered occasional obstacles to doing science. The Sabbagh professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School has been quietly breaking down barriers ever since. As codirector of the Institute of Chemistry and Cell Biology, he has fostered collaborations among academic chemists and biologists and discovered interesting small molecules—drug precursors potentially able to cure disease. A founding faculty member of HMS's new, interdisciplinary department of systems biology (see "Biomedical Momentum"), his abiding interest is in cells—how they move, divide, and control their shape using a system of muscle-like, dynamic protein filaments. He uses a variety of tools to probe cell secrets. Monastrol, a small molecule he discovered that arrests cell division, facilitates his study of the mechanisms of mitosis in frog eggs and human cancer cells. The bacteria listeria (a common cause of food poisoning in processed meats like hot dogs) sheds light on the biochemistry of cell movement, because it "hijacks the mechanism that lets cells move, using it to spread rapidly from cell to cell in the body." When not administering his Harvard lab, Mitchison and his wife, Christine Field, a fellow biologist, are the "activist parents" of two children adopted from China and Cambodia. A word of advice from the father and listeria expert: When cooking franks, "popping them in the microwave is not enough. Rolling boil, four minutes."      

You might also like

Teaching Nutrition in Medical Education

Will Harvard Medical School return nutrition instruction to pre-eminence?

Animal (Code) Cracker

After listening to leviathans, an undergraduate comes to conservation.  

Breaking Bread

Alexander Heffner ’12 plumbs the state of democracy.

Most popular

Prepare for AI Hackers

Human systems of all kinds may soon be vulnerable to subversion by artificial intelligence.

Teaching Nutrition in Medical Education

Will Harvard Medical School return nutrition instruction to pre-eminence?

The Missing Middle

How overheated political attention warps campus life

More to explore

Architect Kimberly Dowdell is Changing Her Profession

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

How Schizophrenia Resembles the Aging Brain

The search for schizophrenia’s biological basis reveals an unexpected link to cellular changes seen in aging brains.

Harvard Researchers on Speaking to Whales

Project CETI’s pioneering effort to unlock the language of sperm whales