Jump the navigation
James E. Russo, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and  Molecular Biology

James E. Russo

Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Director

Jim Russo joined the Whitman faculty in 1989 as an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry department after earning his Ph.D. in Pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  His graduate studies identified an enzyme produced by cancer cells which enable them to escape the effects of anticancer drugs, and showed how this same enzyme can tag stem cells that are essential for the success of bone marrow transplants.  In 1990 he was joined by Ruth Russo and they shared their faculty appointment in Chemistry until 2008, team teaching courses in General Chemistry and Biochemistry.

 In 2000, Russo was appointed as the Health Professions Advisor and served in that role until 2015.  In this role he advised and mentored students interested in pursuing careers in medicine, nursing, public health, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and other health professions.

In 2002 he co-founded the interdisciplinary Biochemistry, Biophysics, & Molecular Biology (BBMB) major program for students to engage with the molecular life sciences at the core of biomedicine and biotechnology.  The BBMB program now has four dedicated faculty and over 400 students have graduated with BBMB majors in its first 20 years.

Russo’s laboratory research in enzymology has involved student collaborators in designing novel enzyme inhibitors for leukemia, characterizing enzymes involved in Vitamin A metabolism, and probing early steps in metabolic associated liver disease.

His public policy work has focused on public school healthy nutrition policies and vaccine preventable diseases. 

Russo currently teaches courses in Biochemistry, Nutrition & Metabolism, Immunobiology, and Infectious Diseases.

Ph.D. Pharmacology & Molecular Sciences

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD


B.A. Chemistry

Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL


BBMB 325 and 335 Biochemistry lecture & laboratory

The 325 course provides students with a detailed examination of protein structure and function, focusing on the role of proteins in molecular recognition and catalysis. Topics include: techniques used to characterize proteins; enzyme kinetics and mechanisms; signal transduction across membranes; bioenergetics; catabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; and integration of metabolism and disease. Students actively participate in group problem-solving, and gain experience reading and critiquing scientific journal articles.

The 335 lab is a semester-long team project introducing students to the core laboratory techniques and methods in protein biochemistry for characterizing a catalytic protein. Students engage in biochemical reagent preparation, enzyme isolation and purification, enzyme and protein assays, gel electrophoresis, and immunodetection methods.

BBMB 340 Immunobiology

This new course was designed to return immunology to the Whitman life science curriculum.  The human immune system possesses a remarkable ability to distinguish among a wide array of molecular structures. This evolutionary adaptation enables the recognition and response to microbial pathogens as well as host cancer cells, while tolerating normal host cells, commensal microbes, and harmless environmental exposures. This course will explore the molecular and cellular basis of immune system function, perturbations of the immune response, and the use of immunotherapies to manipulate the immune system. 

BBMB 430 Infectious Diseases

This course uses the practices of public health to explore the role of infectious disease on human mortality and morbidity from biomedical, social, and economic perspectives. Readings, discussion, and journal writing  focus on: epidemiology and burden of disease, the immune system and the host response to viruses, bacteria, and parasites; antimicrobial agents and drug resistance; and vaccine development and policy. Each student works in a team to present a week-long Case Study on a disease of global importance such as COVID, influenza, dengue, HIV, malaria, or tuberculosis.

Biol 227 Nutrition & Metabolism

This course provides an introduction to the science of human nutrition. It emphasizes the ingestion and digestion of food, absorption of nutrients , and the metabolism of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). We  explore how the dietary patterns of the foods we eat promote health or contribute to disease risk by examining how nutrient balance or imbalance affect cellular and physiological systems. This course is recommended for students requiring nutrition for entry into health profession programs.

Analysis of early signals of hepatocellular inflammation following Fructose, Fatty Acid, and Ethanol exposures in an in vitro model of Fatty Liver Disease:

Metabolic associated  fatty liver disease (MAFLD) has emerged in the 21st century as the most common form of chronic liver disease. The progression of liver dysfunction from the initial accumulation of fat to inflammation, fibrosis, and cirrhosis has increased with higher incidences of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. At the same time, alcoholic fatty liver disease continues to persist, and delineations remain unclear as to how each metabolic state contributes to hepatic pathology.  Recent studies in the Russo lab have used a mouse (AML12) and human (HepG2) hepatocyte cell lines to identify the time courses of changes in mitochondrial and ER binding protein and enzyme expression in metabolic pathways.  These proteins and enzymes dispose of fatty acids following cellular exposure to combinations of the simple sugar fructose, saturated (palmitate) and unsaturated (oleate) fatty acids, and ethanol.


Lange Award for Distinguished Science Teaching, Whitman College


Pete and Hedda Reid Service to Walla Walla Award, Whitman College


George Ball Award for Outstanding Advising, Whitman College


Southeast Washington Association of School Administrators (SEWASA) Award for outstanding contribution to public school education in the development and implementation of the district nutrition and physical fitness policy


Lange Award for Distinguished Science Teaching, Whitman College


NSF Graduate Fellowship

beaker duck hiker icon-a-to-z icon-arrow-circle-down icon-arrow-circle-up icon-arrow-down icon-arrow-left icon-arrow-right icon-arrow-up icon-calendar-no-circle icon-calendar icon-camera icon-clock icon-cv icon-dot icon-down-triangle icon-email-circle icon-email icon-external-link icon-facebook icon-flickr icon-generic-blog icon-google-plus icon-home icon-instagram icon-library icon-link-circle icon-link-inverted icon-linkedin icon-lock icon-magazine icon-map-pin icon-map2 icon-menu-hamburger icon-menu-mobile-a icon-menu-mobile-b icon-menu-x icon-mywhitman-cog icon-news icon-phone icon-pinterest icon-play icon-quote icon-search-a icon-search-b icon-search-mobile-a icon-search-mobile-b icon-share icon-snail-mail icon-tumblr icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube logo-whitman-nc-flat logo-whitman-nc-stacked logo-whitman-no-clocktower slider-category-arrow-2px slider-category-arrow-no-line slider-category-arrow-solid slider-category-arrow slider-category-line-2px slider-category-line-solid slider-category-line tc_icon-filmstrip-fl tc_icon-filmstrip-ln tc_icon-play-fl-closed tc_icon-play-fl-open tc_icon-play-ln-closed tc_icon-play-ln-open wifi