Microbiology Department Overview

The Department of Microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center focuses on training graduate students, medical students, physician scientists, and postdoctoral fellows in both basic and translational research. Our goals are to provide and continue to develop a rich environment of interdisciplinary activity and academic freedom for faculty and students.

History of the Department

The Early Years

MacDonald Fulton, Ph.D., was the first Chair of the Department. Microbiology was the first approved doctoral graduate program at UT Southwestern, and the first Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1955. Despite the Department's small size, exciting research was taking place: major advances in understanding the biology of the rabies virus by S. Edward Sulkin, Ph.D., (the second Department Chair), pioneering work with cholera toxin by Richard Finkelstein, Ph.D., and important studies of the genetics of staphylococci by Eugene Rosenblum, Ph.D.

In 1972, Dr. Sulkin stepped down as the Chair of Microbiology after 27 years. His successor, Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D., was provided resources to expand substantially the Department's teaching and research capabilities. The Department developed one of the premier immunology programs in the country, with front-rank scientists working in the areas of immunogenetics (the Journal of Immunogenetics originated in the Department), immunochemistry, molecular immunology, and cellular immunology.

At the same time, outstanding scientists were recruited to study the molecular bases of microbial pathogenesis, particularly in the areas of toxins, gram-negative bacteria, spirochetes, and viruses. The overall program was well balanced and interactions among the faculty in and outside the Department made for a particularly exciting phase in the Department’s history.

Where We Are Now

In 1998, Dr. Uhr stepped down as Chair after 25 years of distinguished service, and the Department was split and reorganized. Michael Norgard, Ph.D., became the new Chair of Microbiology, with the mission of expanding research in cellular microbiology, microbial pathogenesis, cell biology, virology, and host-parasite interactions. The Center for Immunology also was newly created, which eventually became an autonomous Department of Immunology under the direction of Ward Wakeland, Ph.D.

The Department of Microbiology continues to focus on mechanisms underlying host-pathogen interactions, with emphasis on understanding key effector molecules involved in microbial virulence expression. Elucidating the types of immune responses requisite for controlling infectious processes and developing molecular vaccination techniques to achieve such responses also continue to be research priorities. The strengths of the Department continue to be in the areas of bacterial and viral pathogenesis.