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Nominee pioneer in gene work


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By Andrea Lamberti

Sharp's contributions to medical research include the groundbreaking 1977 discovery of surplus DNA and the splicing of RNA.

He and his colleagues at the cancer center discovered that genes of higher organisms are significantly different from bacterial cells, which are frequently used for biological research. Bacterial cells have a continuous sequence of genes along their DNA strand, while cells with nuclei, and the viruses that infect them, have gene sequences which are interrupted by segments of apparently "surplus" DNA called introns.

To translate hereditary instructions, coded in DNA, into proteins, large amounts of introns are removed from the gene sequence. The remaining significant gene sequences are then spliced together. Sharp later showed that the spliced sequences are composed of messenger RNA, the genetic material that translates hereditary instructions coded in DNA into proteins.

Sharp shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1988 for this work, and many scientists feel he will receive the Nobel Prize soon.

Brought a "great wealth" Sharp was born in Falmouth, KY, on June 6, 1944. He attended Union College in Barbourville, KY, where he received a BA in chemistry and mathematics. He received his PhD in chemistry in 1969 from the University of Illinois.

From 1969 to 1970 Sharp was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology. In 1971, he continued postdoctoral studies at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and quickly moved into the faculty, according to Joseph Sambrook, chair of chemistry at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, TX, and a colleague of Sharp's at Cold Spring Harbor. Sharp was senior research investigator at Cold Spring Harbor from 1972-1974.

Sharp brought to the lab "a great wealth of physical chemistry [and knowledge of] how DNA molecules interact physically," Sambrook said. "I came from a purely biology background, so it was a good mix," Sambrook added.

Sharp left Cold Spring Harbor to become an associate professor of biology at the MIT's Center for Cancer Research in 1974. He was promoted to professor of biology in 1979, and became director of the center in 1985. He directs a staff of 150 there, including 10 other faculty members. The cancer center's $10 million research program concentrates on the molecular biology of cancer, virology, immunology, and cellular and developmental biology. Sharp also teaches courses on cell biology and animal virology.

In 1983 Sharp was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research has been supported by numerous scientific foundations and pharmaceutical companies.

An author of over 200 scientific research articles, Sharp sits on the editorial board of the scientific journals Cell He is also a co-founder, consultant, and member of the board of Biogen, Inc., a biotechnology firm in Cambridge.

Center has large impact

The Center for Cancer Research was founded in 1973 by Nobel laureate Salvador Luria, with the intent of studying the "basic cellular and molecular biology of mammalian systems" to examine how cancers and other diseases develop, Sharp said in December 1986. Research at the cancer center focuses on three major fields: oncogenes and genetics, immunology, and cell biology.

Nobel laureate David Baltimore '61, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, began his research on reverse transcriptase in the Department of Biology and further developed it at the cancer center. And Professor Robert A. Weinberg '64 discovered the oncogene there.

"I think he's a great choice [for the president]. He spans a wide area of science; he's got common sense; he's fair; he listens; he's independent; makes up his own mind; [and] sticks to his decisions," Sambrook said about Sharp.