Charles Yanofsky was born in New York City. He entered the City College of New York in 1942 to major in biochemistry, but his education was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army during World War II, including active combat in the Battle of the Bulge. He eventually earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 and attended Yale University for graduate school, earning his master's and doctoral degrees in microbiology in 1950 and 1951, respectively, with David Bonner. In 1954, Yanofsky became an assistant professor of microbiology at Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio. Four years later, in 1958, he joined the Biological Sciences Department at Stanford University. He was appointed Herzstein Professor of Biology in 1967 and remains at Stanford today as an emeritus professor.
Yanofsky's major contributions to science include establishing the "one gene, one protein" relationship, demonstrating the RNA-based regulation of gene expression, and discovering colinearity, the linear relationship between the structures of genes and their protein products. His work on colinearity was the subject of a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1). Yanofsky's subsequent experiments on the regulation of gene expression led to the discovery of transcriptional attenuation, a process that enables the gene regulatory machinery to fine-tune its response to subtle environmental cues. That work also revealed how alterations in RNA structure allow RNA to serve as a regulatory molecule in both bacterial and animal cells.
Yanofsky has received numerous awards including the Albert Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research, the Genetics Society of America Medal, the Eli Lilly Award in Bacteriology, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology William C. Rose Award, and the 2003 National Medal of Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1964 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1966. Yanofsky was president of the American Society of Biological Chemists in 1984 and president of the Genetics Society of America in 1969. In 1980, he and other Stanford scientists founded DNAX, a Palo Alto-based research institute now owned by Schering-Plough Corporation.
1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2005) Using tryptophan synthase to prove gene-protein colinearity: The work of Charles Yanofsky. J. Biol. Chem. 280 (46)