David Botstein

2003 Genetics Prize

Laureate Profile

Boy from the Bronx, and Gruber Prize winner Dr. David Botstein is using the latest gene technology to understand how to target breast cancer therapy better.

In 2003 he and his colleagues distinguished four distinct subtypes of breast cancer. Each subtype affects different cells and shows a different life history. And each of these subtypes needs different medical treatment.

“The subtypes match the genes. People with a particular genetic predisposition only get one subtype,” he says. “And we already know this is a productive path. It has already worked with leukemia. Eighty per cent of kids with childhood leukemia now survive five years, due to advances in diagnosis which separates one subtype from another.”

At the 19th International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne, Dr. Botstein was awarded the Genetics Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation for a lifetime of such work linking genes with their impact.

As the official citation makes clear, David Botstein has been one of the driving forces of modern genetics. In fact, he has been called “The Father of Modern Genetics”. His work, for instance, established the ground rules for human genetic mapping and laid the foundation of the human genome project. He also co-discovered transposons or “jumping genes” in bacteria.

“Throughout his career, he has been a powerhouse of innovation, and his concepts and strategies have repeatedly opened new avenues for genetic research,” the official citation reads.

His work will continue at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University of which he has just been appointed the director. “We’re talking about using computers and mathematics to probe biology–bioinformatics, computational biology and the like. And we want to become leaders in teaching students in this area.”

In accepting the award, Dr. Botstein said he was a “Boy from the Bronx” who had been able to achieve because of the breadth of his education, which allowed him to switch from physics to genetics. “I deplore the current trend towards narrow education,” he said. “I expect to end my career working on how to educate young people in a way that serves them well.”