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2008 Genetics Prize

Allan C. Spradling

Laureate Profile

Allan C. Spradling directs the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Embryology in Baltimore and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator.

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he studied mathematics and physics at the University of Chicago before switching to biology in the hopes that it was not “too late.” He first became interested in the Drosophila genome at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his PhD in 1975 for using polytene chromosomes as a genome array to co-discover the heat shock response. A long infatuation with the Drosophila ovary began during a postdoctoral stint at Indiana University, where he discovered the first protein-coding genes to undergo amplification during development.

In 1980 Spradling accepted a faculty position at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, and two years later he and colleague Gerry Rubin, who currently directs HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, developed a general method to introduce DNA into the Drosophila genome. He teamed up with Rubin again in1991 to found the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project. Spradling’s role was to scale up a method he had developed earlier that uses special genetic strains to provide “instant” experimental access to individual Drosophila genes. The widely used project continues to this day and now encompasses more than 2/3 of fly genes.

Spradling was appointed an HHMI investigator in 1988 and Carnegie director in 1994. He has pursued research in a wide range of areas but is perhaps best known for identifying and analyzing stem cells in their normal context within tissues. In 1990 Spradling’s group described the first stem cell niche, again using the Drosophila ovary.

Allan Spradling has been awarded many prizes and accolades for his work, including jointly winning with Rubin the Newcomb Cleveland Prize and the Molecular Biology Award of the National Academy of Sciences. He also received the E.G. Conklin Award of the Society for Developmental Biology and the G.W. Beadle Award of the Genetics Society of America. Spradling was recently awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

His current studies focus on epithelial stem cells and also on egg development. He has recently found evidence that steroid hormones and prostaglandins regulate Drosophila oogenesis, of the process of creating an ovum or egg cell, providing new opportunities to study critically important mechanisms acting in the human ovary. He believes that “one can help address virtually any problem in human biology and medicine using Drosophila and the other powerful genetic model organisms”