Marc Kirschner bigraphy, stories - Biologists

Marc Kirschner : biography

28 February 1945 -

Marc W. Kirschner (born February 28, 1945) is an American cell biologist and biochemist and the founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. His research involves problems in cell and developmental biology, such as the dynamics and function of the cytoskeleton, the regulation of the cell cycle, and the process of signaling in embryos, as well as the evolution of the vertebrate body plan, and applying mathematical approaches to biology.


  • with , Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability (Blackwell's, 1997) ISBN 0-86542-574-4
  • with , The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma (Yale University Press 2005) ISBN 0-300-10865-6


Kirschner was born in Chicago, Illinois, on February 28, 1945. He graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in chemistry in 1966. In 1971, he received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. He held post-doctoral positions at UC Berkeley and at the University of Oxford in England. He became assistant professor at Princeton University in 1972. In 1978 he was made professor at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1993, he moved to Harvard Medical School, where he served as the chair of the new Department of Cell Biology for a decade. He became the founding chair of the HMS Department of Systems Biology in 2003. He was named the John Franklin Enders University Professor in 2009.Ireland C Harvard Gazette, 23 July 2009 (retrieved 16 May 2012)

Scientific contributions

Kirschner studies how cells divide, how they generate their shape, how they control their size, and how embryos develop. In his eclectic lab, developmental work on the frog coexists with biochemical work on mechanism of ubiquitination, cytoskeleton assembly or signal transduction.

At Princeton, his early work on microtubules established their unusual molecular assembly from tubulin proteins and identified the first microtubule-stabilizing protein tau, later shown to be a major component of the neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer's disease. In studies at UC San Francisco of the frog embryo as a model system of cell development, Kirschner identified the first inducer of embryonic differentiation, fibroblast growth factor (FGF),Kimelman D, Abraham JA, Haaparanta T, Palisi TM, Kirschner MW ", Science, 18 November 1988 an early finding in the field of signal transduction.

Kirschner's lab is also known for uncovering the basic mechanisms of the cell cycle in eukaryotic cells. Working in Xenopus (frog) egg extracts, Kirschner and Andrew Murray showed that cyclin synthesis drives the cell cycle Pulverer, Bernd Nature Publishing Group (retrieved 16 May 2012) and, later, that ubiquitin regulates levels of cyclin by marking the cell-cycle molecule for destruction.Brooksbank, Cath Nature Publishing Group (retrieved 16 May 2012) His lab discovered and purified many of the components involved in cell cycle progression, including anaphase promoting complex (APC), the complex that ubiquitinates cyclin B.

A second notedLewin, B , CELLS! The web site accompanying the Cells textbook (Jones and Bartlett Publishers (2007) finding was his discovery, with Tim Mitchison, of the dynamic instability of microtubules,Le Bot, Nathalie Nature Publishing Group, 1 December 2008 (retrieved 16 May 2012) In mitosis, for example, microtubules form the spindle that separates the chromosomes. The first step in spindle formation is the nucleation of microtubules by microtubule-organizing centers, which then grow in all directions. Microtubules that attach to a chromosome are stabilized and are therefore retained to form part of the spindle. Because of dynamic instability, some individual microtubules that are not stabilized are at risk of collapse (or “catastrophe” as Kirschner named it), allowing re-use of the tubulin monomers. This recognition of self-organization in biological systems has been highly influential, and helped shape the view of the cytoplasm as a collection of dynamic molecular machines.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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