2011 Gruber Genetics Prize
The groundbreaking biotechnologies developed by biochemist and geneticist Ronald W. Davis, PhD, have played an indispensable role in advancing the fields of molecular genetics and genomics. His contributions have been numerous and profound and include a long string of “firsts.” Early on in his career, Davis developed one of the first mapping methods for DNA, as well as some of the earliest cloning vectors (DNA molecules that carry foreign DNA into a host cell, where the foreign DNA can then be replicated). Later, working on the genome and biology of Saccaharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s yeast), Davis developed the first artificially constructed chromosomes, which are now routinely used to clone large genes and to map complex genomes. He also described the very first case of what is now known as genome editing, the ability to replace any nucleotide in the yeast genome with any other nucleotide. In 1980, Davis described how sequence variants in the genomes of humans and other species could provide genetic markers for making a genetic and physical map of the human genome, a finding that helped launch the field of genomics. A few years later, his lab showed how DNA libraries could be searched with protein-finding antibodies, a technique that has made it possible for scientists to identify genes for important proteins, including in humans. Davis also contributed to the development of the very first microarrays, tools that enable scientists to analyze the gene expression of thousands of genes simultaneously. He then went on to help standardize this technology, paving the way for other scientists to use it for clinical applications.