Inside Rensselaer
* Patrick Maxwell

Patrick Maxwell

New Biology Faculty Member Patrick Maxwell To Study the Aging Process

Biologist Patrick Maxwell has joined Rensselaer as an assistant professor of biology and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). Maxwell’s genetics research has implications for our understanding of aging.

“Dr. Maxwell brings important research expertise in the genetics of yeast, and his studies on pathways for aging are highly innovative.”

“We are truly excited that Dr. Maxwell has joined the department and CBIS,” said Susan Gilbert, professor and head of biology at Rensselaer. “Dr. Maxwell brings important research expertise in the genetics of yeast, and his studies on pathways for aging are highly innovative. His work holds the promise to better understand the aging process in humans.”

“Dr. Maxwell’s research on molecular genetics and aging is a welcome addition to the work within CBIS,” said CBIS Director Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “He brings an excellent perspective in genetics and DNA analysis to the research within the center that will help develop a new understanding of how cells age and change over time, paving the way for new genetic analytical tools and a better understanding of cell development.”

Maxwell joins Rensselaer from the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center, where he previously served as a postdoctoral researcher in its laboratory of molecular genetics. During his eight years at Wadsworth, he also acquired teaching experience working as an adjunct faculty member for the State University of New York University at Albany and as a laboratory instructor at Union College.

His research provides an entirely new reason to appreciate your daily bread. Maxwell uses simple baker’s yeast as a model organism to study how small elements of the genome can cause widespread genetic changes in an organism. One potential consequence of these changes is the physical aging of the organism over time.

“Even though yeast is just a simple single-cell organism, single cells still age,” Maxwell said. “And the way they age and the control of it in terms of the genes involved are similar to other organisms, including humans.”

Maxwell is studying how small elements of the genome called mobile genetic elements impact the aging of yeast cells. He is looking to determine what genetic changes they cause in the organism over time, whether they cause stress to the cell, and what role they play in the process to maintain an organism’s DNA as it is transmitted to subsequent generations.

“When you age, we know there is an accumulation of DNA damage and genetic changes,” Maxwell said. “What I am looking to understand is what at the molecular level is causing these genetic changes.”

In yeast, study of genetic changes is made much easier due to the fairly small size of the genome as compared to the massive and highly complex human genome, according to Maxwell. Due to its relative simplicity, Maxwell can more easily and quickly study changes in DNA during aging. He hopes to eventually expand his techniques and research to include more complex organisms, including the human system.

He said that he looks forward to his first full-time position as a teacher and will encourage the involvement of graduate and undergraduate students in his laboratory.

“I came here, in large part, for the opportunity to do teaching,” he said. “I enjoy teaching and interacting with students and hope that I am more than just a standard boring lecturer.”

Maxwell earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the State University of New York College at Cortland, and a doctorate in molecular biology from Syracuse University. He received a Pathways to Independence Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health in 2009. He joined the Rensselaer faculty in October 2010.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 7, April 15, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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