Exploring and reconstituting the molecular basis of life

The Department of Biochemistry was founded in 1959 when Arthur Kornberg was recruited as a fundamental part of the move of the Stanford Medical School from San Francisco to the main Stanford campus.  Innovations established at that time included the mixing of students and postdoctoral fellows in common laboratories so that the different research groups would be familiar with each other's research work and cross-fertilization would be inevitable. Specialized reagents were shared and major instruments were made available to everyone.  Benches were not “owned” by a particular faculty member, but fair and equitable sharing of space was enjoyed in an unprecedented way of carrying out research in a department setting. We have embraced and maintained these approaches over time, and everyone in the department continues to prosper under this unusual innovative mode of operation, rarely found anywhere else in the world.

In the first decade of the department, there was a nearly complete focus on DNA and RNA biochemistry, and methodologies were also focused on hard-core biochemical approaches of enzyme purification and characterization. The current department is now enormously diverse with nearly everyone using interdisciplinary approaches of biochemistry, genetics, biophysics, structural biology, high-resolution light microscopy, and other innovative methodologies, often developed by Biochemistry students and postdoctoral fellows during the course of their work. Thus, genetic engineering, high-throughput RNA expression analysis, and single molecule analysis all came out of the Biochemistry Department and are fueling current advances in biosciences, biotechnology and medicine.