Research in the Department is largely concerned with fundamental processes associated with a number of significant biomedical and biological problems: heart disease; cancer; diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and gout; memory and neurological disease; pathogenic viruses, micro-organisms and fungi; flowering, senescence, photosynthesis, nitrogen utilization in plants, symbiosis; mammalian preimplantation embryo development; cold adaptation; eukaryotic retroelements; body weight and cell signalling; molecular evolution; apoptosis; biodiversity. Extensive use is made of bioinformatics, microarray technology and proteomics tools. The Otago Genomics Facility, the Centre for Protein Research and the X-ray facility for protein structure determination are all located within the Department.
Members of the staff are very successful in obtaining grants for their research from a range of sources, including the Marsden Fund, Crown Research Institutes, the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Foundation for Research Science and Technology. This enables a large number of grant-funded research staff (usually about 25 Research Fellows, Senior Research Fellows and Professorial Research Fellows; five to ten Postdoctoral Fellows; about 10 Assistant Research Fellows and 15 to 20 research technicians). Department staff are involved in several of the University's Research Themes.
The Departments extensive research programme also enables an active and productive postgraduate research programme with students enrolled for PhD (usually 35-45 at any one time), MSc (10 to 15) and fourth year (final year BScHons) students (20-30).