Immunology is a field that spans biological scales from the structural biology of protein recognition interfaces to the organismal modulation of host defenses against pathogens. The immune system is not only necessary for life; along with the central nervous system it is also one of the two systems in the organism that are most marked by the specific experiences of an individual's lifetime. The immune system in a complex multicellular organism constantly re-tunes itself to anticipate future challenges while recovering from those of the past, drawing on all the body's resources of developmental gene regulation, cell cycle control, metabolic control, and signal transduction biochemistry. The field of Immunology is often assumed to be a discrete specialty in biomedical research, but that is not the way it is pursued at Caltech. Immunology covers the specific macromolecules that define the boundary between an organism's "self", its commensals, and its environment; the developmental programming, through gene regulation and chromatin modification, of cells that must carry out danger detection and make precisely calibrated responses; and the impact of the success or failure of these cellular and molecular players on the whole organism's health. It is therefore fundamentally interdisciplinary. At Caltech, therefore, Immunology is not treated as an isolated field but as a particularly elegant complex biological system in which the roles of crucial components can be dissected and revealed by the system's performance under dynamic challenge. Caltech immunologists focus on chosen areas where immunology is most illuminated by being viewed in a broader biological context. Each immunology research program is positioned to gain from strong synergy with research in developmental biology, structural biology, molecular engineering, neurobiology and/or microbiology in the Biology and Biological Engineering Division. This gives Caltech immunologists unusually strong access to new perspectives, technologies and approaches outside of the conventional boundaries of immunology.
Graduate training in Immunology at Caltech is based on a foundation of knowledge about the major features of immune system components and responses. Students are then expected to specialize in an area, often interdisciplinary, where they will make original and groundbreaking contributions in research. Students are invited to gain basic context in the field by taking or serving as teaching assistants in Bi 114, Immunology (Mazmanian & Björkman) and Bi115, Attack and Repulsion: viruses and their hosts (Baltimore), with opportunities for additional training in specific aspects of immune system function through advanced courses such as Bi214, Hematopoiesis: a developmental system (Rothenberg). Ph.D. candidates in Immunology will pass a written candidacy exam which covers multiple areas of current mainstream immunology as background, and an oral candidacy exam which proposes an original research project for thesis research.
- Bi 114. Immunology
- Bi/BE/BMB 115. Viruses and Applications to Biological Systems
- Bi 214. Stem Cells and Hematopoiesis
Application for the Biology PhD Option and any of the tracks is through the Caltech Graduate Studies Office.