Yale School of Management

Professor Jonathon Howard Shares the Mysteries of Cell Biology

Convening Yale

Exactly how do cells—the microscopic building blocks of all life—organize themselves to create the diverse array of organisms that inhabit planet Earth?

That’s a question that Professor Jonathon Howard has been studying for years. Howard, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and a professor of physics, spoke at Yale SOM on November 28 as part of the Convening Yale lecture series. Convening Yale invites scholars from across the Yale campus to share their work with Yale SOM students.

“This is the big question in biology at the moment,” Howard said. “How do you go from genes to us, as human beings?”

Howard gave a brief historical overview of the study of the cell, describing the commonalities that all cells share across life forms, from simplest organisms to the most complex.

The Howard laboratory at Yale studies how small molecules like proteins, lipids, and nucleotides self-assemble into cells and tissues that are thousands or even millions of times larger than molecular dimensions. Howard is best known for his work on motor proteins and the cytoskeleton, and for developing techniques for observing and manipulating individual molecules.

“It’s a formidable challenge to understand how cells grow and what are the molecular rules,” he said. He explained that the substances he studies, known as “molecular machines,” are the enzymes that power a cell’s function.

This “pure science” research—exploration not aimed at a concrete goal, but rather at simply learning how things work—could eventually lead to applications in fields like regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, Howard said.

“Yale has a very distinguished history of working on molecular machines,” he added. “There are a lot of fantastic contributions from Yale to this field.”

About the Event

Jonathon “Joe” HowardJonathon “Joe” Howard is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and a professor of physics at Yale University. He is best known for his research on motor proteins and the cytoskeleton, and the development of techniques for observing and manipulating individual biological molecules. Brought up in Australia, where he studied at the Australian National University, he has had a distinguished career in the United States.

The Howard laboratory at Yale is fascinated by how small molecules like proteins, lipids, and nucleotides self-assemble into cells and tissues that are thousands or even millions of times larger than molecular dimensions. How do molecules know whether the structures that they have made are the right size, shape, and composition? By using highly sensitive techniques to visualize and manipulate individual biological molecules, Howard elucidates the interaction rules that allow molecules to work together to form cells, which are both highly organized and highly dynamic.

This event is open to the Yale community. Registration is required. Lunch will be served.

Convening Yale presents talks by faculty and leaders from throughout Yale University, who share their research and expertise and help students broaden their understanding of an increasingly complex world. The Convening Yale series is made possible through the generous support of the Robert J. Silver ’50 Fund for Innovation in Management Education.

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