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Election Year: 1986
Scientific Discipline: Cellular and Developmental Biology
Membership Type: Member
Ira Herskowitz’s genetic research on S. cerevisiae mating type switching, an organism’s ability to allow for mating and diploid formation, improved our understanding of cell differentiation. He found that yeast have a silent mating type allele that can be transposed to a particular location, locus, in its genome and become functional. This discovery revolutionized the way scientists thought about the importance of plasticity in gene regulation. He was also a pioneer in personalized medicine; a field of medicine that takes people’s specific genetic information into account when determining the effectiveness of drugs.
After graduating from the California Institute of Technology in 1967, Herskowitz received his PhD in microbiology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971, where he taught biology until 1972. He was a professor at the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon from 1972 to 1981. That same year he moved to the University of California, San Francisco, where he was a Professor of Biochemistry and Physics, Head of the Division of Genetics, and Vice-Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. He was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Reviewing and the Institute for Scientific Information in Honor of J. Murray Luck in 1985.