Martin Frank Gellert, president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1993, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He attended Harvard University and received his A.B. degree in 1950. His graduate studies were at Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1956. He then joined the faculty of Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, and remained there as assistant professor until 1959 when he took a position at the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1962, Gellert switched institutes at the National Institutes of Health, becoming a research chemist at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. Finally, in 1969, Gellert became chief of the Section on Molecular Genetics at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a position he retains today.
Throughout his research career, Gellert has made numerous contributions to the scientific understanding of DNA recombination and replication and antibody diversity. His discovery of DNA ligase in 1967 is one of his major accomplishments. Working independently, Gellert's group and two other laboratories discovered DNA gyrase in 1976. More recently, his research has focused on how humans and animals produce millions of infection-fighting antibodies from a handful of gene segments. Gellert has determined many of the basic principles that govern V(D)J recombination, the process that makes antibody diversity possible.
Gellert was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He was the recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Richard Lounsbery Award (1985) and the ASBMB-Merck award (1985). Gellert has also served on many editorial boards, including those of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Journal of Molecular Biology, Annual Reviews of Biochemistry, Biochemistry, and Nucleic Acids Research.