Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize - 2011
Michael Rosbash, Ph.D.
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
and Professor of Biology, Brandeis University
Michael Rosbash was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents had fled Germany in 1938 and moved the family to the Boston area when he was a toddler. His interest in math took him to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), but a first biology course and a sophomore summer working in the laboratory of the renowned CalTech biochemist Norman Davidson changed his mind. Rosbash was also seduced by the infectious excitement of those early days in molecular biology, when the genetic code was being cracked.
After graduating from Caltech in 1965 with a degree in chemistry, Rosbash spent a year at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. He returned to Boston to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966, where he received a doctoral degree in biophysics in 1970. Rosbash joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1974 after a three year post-doctoral stint at the University of Edinburgh. He has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 1989 and is now the Director of the Brandeis National Center for Behavioral Genomics as well as a Professor of Biology.
After moving to Brandeis, Rosbash focused on gene expression regulation, principally the metabolism and processing of RNA in yeast. He was, however, deeply interested in the genetic influences on behavior. Jeffrey Hall also arrived at Brandeis in 1974 and was a close personal friend. Hall was studying behavioral genetics of Drosophila, including the role of the period gene in courtship behavior.In 1982, Rosbash and Hall decided to team up to clone that gene, which they reported in 1984. This was done at the same time and independently by Michael Young and colleagues at the Rockefeller University. A few years later, Rosbash and Hall proposed the mechanism—a transcriptional negative feedback loop—that drives the fruit fly’s internal biological clocks. That model is still largely valid and has been found to be applicable not just to fruit flies but to virtually all animals including humans. Rosbash continues to study the molecular underpinnings of circadian rhythms as well as its relationship to the nervous system and to fly sleep. He still retains a strong interest in the regulation of gene expression.
Rosbash was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. He was awarded the 2009 Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation Neuroscience Prize along with Hall and Young.