University of Massachusetts Medical School
2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
For discovering a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.
The game of life is played according to a fundamental rule: genes instruct the machinery of the cell to build specific proteins, which do much of the work in the cell. But Victor Ambros, in collaboration with Gary Ruvkun, discovered a new player: microRNAs. These tiny stretches of genetic information can interfere with the process, blocking particular proteins from being constructed. This turns out to be a ubiquitous and important means by which genes regulate other genes, influencing how much they are “expressed” as proteins. Gene regulation by microRNAs may also have played a key role in the development of multicellular organisms.
I thank Candy Lee and Rhonda Feinbaum, whose brilliant collaboration resulted in the discovery of the first microRNA, the product of the lin-4 gene of the nematode C. elegans. As is usually the case, talented people in the lab did the hard work, but the professor gets the credit. I also thank my parents, Melissa and Longin, who taught me to see the limitless wonders of nature, to trust my curiosity, and to question authority. I was lucky to attend MIT, and to work with postdocs Ed Gruberg and Lan Bo Chen, who taught me the fundamentals and helped me publish my first papers. As a graduate student, I was incredibly fortunate to work with David Baltimore, who seemed to have a confidence in me that I did not have in myself, and that has sustained me ever since. Huge thanks to Bob Horvitz, who introduced me to the worm and to my buddy Gary Ruvkun, and launched our synergistic careers. Finally, my greatest gratitude is to Candy, who has, for 40 years, been my partner in every dimension of my life, including science. That I am today a reasonably decent person, parent, and scientist I owe entirely to Candy.