NEW YORK (May 12, 2009) – Thomas P. Maniatis, Ph.D., an international pioneer in molecular cloning, has been appointed chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Maniatis, currently on the Harvard faculty, will join Columbia during the 2009-10 academic term.
“Dr. Maniatis is one of the founders of molecular cloning and has led the field of molecular and cellular biology since earning his doctorate in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University,” said Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president of Columbia University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “The methods he pioneered for understanding gene expression have had a profound impact on biology, from advancing basic knowledge to creating new therapies to treat human genetic diseases. Columbia University Medical Center continues to attract the best and brightest researchers and clinicians to our faculty, and I am pleased to welcome this outstanding recruit to chair this important department.”
Dr. Maniatis’ body of scientific study has focused on the way human genes are switched on and off in cells. He is best known for developing a method for cloning messenger RNAs (cDNA cloning), and for creating the first human DNA library, which made it possible to isolate virtually any human gene. Using these technologies his laboratory was the first to isolate, or “clone,” a human gene, and to use this gene to identify mutations that cause human genetic diseases. Dr. Maniatis focused on hemoglobin gene for much of this work and was able to pinpoint the mutations that cause the blood disease thalassemia.
A laboratory manual Dr. Maniatis coauthored in 1982, “Molecular Cloning,” compiled all these techniques, many of which were developed in his laboratory. This manual played a major role in spreading recombinant DNA technology throughout the world. This technology set the stage for sequencing the human genome and provided essential tools for the then emerging biotechnology industry.
Most recently Dr. Maniatis has moved into the study of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with the help of an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, which encourages creative, outside-the-box thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas about biomedical research. Dr. Maniatis is using induced pluripotent stem cells in conjunction with the tools of molecular and cellular biology to gain insights into the causes of the disease.
Dr. Maniatis started his career at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow and returned there in the 1980s, becoming chairman of Harvard’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1985. In addition to a postdoctoral fellowship at the Medical Research Council of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and a research position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, he was on the faculty of California Institute of Technology before returning to Harvard, where he is now the Jeremy R. Knowles Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Colorado.
His research accomplishments have been recognized by colleagues and associations, including election to some of the most prestigious organizations in the scientific world: National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He has also been honored with the Donald Mulder Award for ALS research from the ALS Association, honorary Ph.D.s from the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the University of Athens in Greece, a Scientific Achievement Award from the American Medical Association, the Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology and Immunology from the American Society of Microbiology, and the Richard Lounsbery Award for Biology and Medicine from the U.S. and French national academies of science.
Dr. Maniatis succeeds Dr. Arthur Palmer, professor of biochemistry & molecular biophysics, who has served as acting chair of the department since David Hirsh, Ph.D., left the chairmanship in 2003 to become Columbia’s executive vice president for research.
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