Jef Boeke is the Founding Director of the Institute for Systems Genetics at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is known for work on mechanistic and genomic aspects of retrotransposition, and develops technologies in genetics, genomics and synthetic biology. Born in 1954 in Albany NY, he grew up in New Jersey and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Bowdoin College in 1972. Following this he spent a year as a Watson Fellow, collecting plants in the Andes. He obtained a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the Rockefeller University in 1982, where he worked on the genetics of filamentous phage assembly with Peter Model and Norton Zinder. He did his postdoctoral work at MIT/Whitehead Institute on yeast/transposon genetics with Gerald Fink. He served on the faculty of the Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1986-2014, where he also founded the High Throughput Biology Center.

Research Interests

Jef Boeke elucidated one of the major forms of DNA movement (transposition) in yeast cells, in which Ty1 elements move via reverse transcription of RNA. He coined the term retrotransposition to describe the process, which is common in virtually all eukaryotic genomes. His genetic and biochemical studies helped elucidate intricate molecular mechanisms involved in retrotransposition in yeasts, mammalian cells and mice. The Boeke laboratory has also constructed highly active synthetic retrotransposons as a probe of retrotransposition in cells and mice. Retrotransposition formed about half of all human DNA and has been a major force in genome evolution. Another current interest is exploration of the frequency and impact of ongoing retrotransposition in the human germ line, somatic cells, and cancer. In the area of Synthetic Biology, Jef Boeke is using yeast as a platform for exploring the construction of fully synthetic chromosomes for practical and theoretical studies. He is leading an international team to synthesize an engineered version of the yeast genome called Sc2.0, the first synthetic eukaryotic genome.

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Section 26: Genetics