Research at Rensselaer

New professor studies DNA, cells

Patrick Maxwell, who has a doctorate in Molecular Biology from Syracuse University, is one of the newer members of the RPI faculty. Maxwell chose RPI for the resources available, the potential in the department for teaching, and, most importantly, the effect it would have on his family. Luckily for Maxwell, RPI is right across the river from where he was working: Albany. Maxwell worked at Wadsworth Center in Albany before deciding to come to RPI.

The primary focus of Maxwell’s research is cellular aging. His lab looks for different causes of DNA damage and mutation to see the effects on a cell’s life, checking for signs of aging. His lab is at the forefront of finding areas of research that others can follow up on.

Despite claims by some that humanity will attain immortality in 20 years, Maxwell doesn’t think it will happen. However, he does say we might be able to extend our life span by then. There are already drugs in development to extend life span, and there is research that supports eating fewer calories to live longer.

Maxwell works primarily with baker’s yeast, analyzing them for DNA damage and mutations. Although he doesn’t have a single “super crazy machine,” he does have a microscope with a needle that can move one yeast cell at a time. With this device, he can separate spores and determine the number of daughter cells that a mother cell produces.

Since his lab is young, Maxwell hasn’t compiled enough data to try to get grants yet. Fortunately, he can sustain his research with current funds for at least two years. Recently joining RPI, he has received funding from the Institute, along with a transition award from his previous job at Wadsworth, to continue his research. Maxwell works in a small group with three graduate students, one research technician, one undergraduate student, and two high school students. He has plans to expand his team once the graduate students he teaches are capable of teaching the methods and materials his lab requires to others.