Phillip A. Sharp, a world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry and an institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been named winner of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Herbert Tabor/Journal of Biological Chemistry Lectureship. Sharp will give his award lecture, titled “The Biology of Small RNAs,” at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at the 2010 annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
Sharp’s research interests have centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing. His landmark achievement was the discovery of RNA splicing in 1977, for which he shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Richard J. Roberts.
“Phil’s work has been characterized by a remarkable creativity— he has literally broken open whole new fields— and also by an equally remarkable track record for training outstanding scientists,” said ASBMB President Gregory A. Petsko. “I can personally testify to his willingness to help young colleagues and to the generosity with which he has given his time to numerous good causes. He is a shining example of what a senior scientist should be.”
Currently, Sharp has turned his attention to understanding RNA interference, the process by which RNA molecules act as switches to turn genes on and off. This recently discovered phenomenon has revolutionized biology and could potentially generate a new class of therapeutics.
Sharp did his undergraduate studies at Union College in Barbourville, Ky., where he majored in chemistry and mathematics, then completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1969, studying under noted physical chemist Victor Bloomfield.
While at the University of Illinois, Sharp read the 1966 volume of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology, titled “The Genetic Code,” and became interested in molecular biology and genetics. He subsequently obtained a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied the structure of sex factor and drug resistance plasmids in bacteria. In 1971, Sharp began a second postdoc, studying gene expression at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory under the renowned James D. Watson.
In 1974, Sharp joined MIT’s Center for Cancer Research, now known as the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and has remained on the MIT campus ever since. He has held numerous leadership positions along the way: He was director of the Center for Cancer Research from 1985 to 1991, head of the biology department from 1991 to 1999 and director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research from 2000 to 2004.
Sharp, who has authored more than 350 scientific papers, has received numerous awards and honorary degrees and has served on advisory boards for the government, academic institutions, scientific societies and companies. His other awards include the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the General Motors Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize for Cancer Research, the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the National Medal of Science and the inaugural Double Helix Medal from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Sharp is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
In addition, Sharp is a co-founder of Biogen (now known as Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
The Herbert Tabor/Journal of Biological Chemistry Lectureship was established by ASBMB to recognize the many contributions of Herbert Tabor to both the Journal of Biological Chemistry and to the society.
Angela Hopp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB. Nick Zagorski (email@example.com) is a science writer at ASBMB.