Basic Sciences Division

About the Division

Basic science discoveries are the foundation for ultimately understanding the causes of and developing the treatments for human disease. 

motil colon cancer cells

Immunofluorescence of the actin cytoskeletin of motil colon cancer cells expressing Myc-nick.

Photo provided by Maralice Conacci-Sorrell, PhD

The Division of Basic Sciences at Fred Hutch was founded in 1981 with the goal of providing a unique and exciting environment to foster creative and ground-breaking research.  The Division maintains an egalitarian philosophy that promotes stimulating and creative science.  The Division's emphasis on scientific excellence, collegiality and interactivity has led to many important scientific advances.  These include key discoveries related to the molecular basis of differentiation, epigenetic and genetic controls of gene transcription, mechanisms of signal transduction, regulation of the cell cycle, molecular controls over HIV and other viruses, the structural basis for RNA and DNA enzymes and regulation of developmental processes. The Division consists of ~30 laboratories that investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind disease and the operations of complex systems.  This fundamental understanding of how biology works leads to discoveries and better therapeutic interventions. Our scientists often take existing knowledge and link it in new ways- behind every breakthrough are basic discoveries. 

Our work is broadly classified into the following groups:

Cell division, Chromosome Biology and Gene Expression

Development, Aging and Metabolism

Evolution and Viruses

Neurobiology and Signaling

Protein Structure, Design and Synthetic Biology

Head of a 5-day old zebrafish

Confocal image of the head of a 5-day old zebrafish showing the cranial motor neurons in the brain

Photo provided by Moens lab

Philosophy of Division

Laboratories within the Division are highly interactive and collaborations are highly encouraged.  The Division is set up with common equipment and resource areas to promote frequent discussions, and many of the investigators actively work at the bench.  Our egalitarian philosophy is manifested by space and salary being determined solely on the basis of rank, and major decisions such as hiring and promotion are made by vote of the faculty (one person, one vote, regardless of rank, with the exception of promotions for which only those in a higher rank vote).

Our extensive process of sharing has resulted in the spread of new ideas, reagents and techniques throughout the division within a matter of days of their introduction.  A network of informal weekly laboratory meetings helps to foster this exchange, as do regular meetings of clubs composed of scientists with common research interests, such as the developmental biology club, structural biology group, virus group, Seattle area mitosis meeting, and current biology.  Moreover, this collaborative approach to science naturally produces numerous publications jointly authored by members of different laboratories in the division.

The division also sponsors the Friday Evening Seminars, a forum in which students, postdoctoral fellows, technicians and faculty present their work to the entire research community, followed by "beer chat".  A vigorous program of weekly seminars, presented by scientists from other institutions, makes sure that scientists keep in touch with the latest developments. In addition, the Basic Sciences faculty meet weekly to informally discuss their recent research.

Drosophila salivary gland nuclei mutant for the Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome protein WASH (right) show loss in nuclear shape and integrity reminiscent of that seen in aging diseases and laminopathies, compared to normal nuclei (left).

Photo provided by Parkhurst Lab

Training in the Division

The Division is committed to graduate education and the faculty participate in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program, a joint effort between the Hutchinson Center and University of Washington that began in 1994.  There are currently ~40 graduate students in the Division of Basic Sciences.  Our graduate program competes directly for students with the strongest research universities across the nation and the students are outstanding.  In 2000, we established the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award and Symposium, which is held at the Center annually and recognizes outstanding achievements in the biological sciences by graduate students throughout the world.  10 students from the Division have won this award.

Our goal is to continue to attract the best and most dedicated scientists at all levels to contribute to the outstanding scientific milieu that fosters interactions and to the nurturing environment provided by our senior members.

Basically Amazing

Video presenting basic science research at the Hutch