David Allis, Winner of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Passes Away

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation was saddened by the passing of David Allis. Allis was a world-renowned molecular biologist, head of the Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics at Rockefeller University, and winner of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He passed away at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer.

For many years, it was assumed that chromatin was an inert structure whose only function was to package and support the DNA molecule. But Allis discovered an enzyme that modifies chromatin in a specific way that influences how certain genes are expressed. He went on to show that chromatin plays a significant role in gene expression generally, and to develop the influential “histone code hypothesis,” inaugurating a new approach to epigenetics that has expanded our understanding of fundamental processes in eukaryotic cells, and shed light on numerous diseases including cancer.

Allis was a beloved figure in the life science community, and will be deeply missed by his colleagues, students and friends. The Breakthrough Prize offers deep condolences to them, and especially to his wife Barbara and children, Laura, Brian and Michael.