Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

New Biology and Convergence of Life Sciences and Engineering

Phillip A. Sharp

Institute Professor, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT

December 11, 2012, 5:00-7:00PM
Science Center A, 1 Oxford Street


Revolutionary advances over the past half century produced the sequence of the human genome and remarkable advances in the understanding of disease. Perhaps more important, the technology of DNA sequencing has revealed the information of all life forms. This advance can be considered the second revolution in life sciences, the first being the discovery of the structure of DNA. The third revolution will come from the convergence of life sciences with engineering, and computation and physical sciences. Convergence will help mankind meet some of the major challenges of the coming century, i.e. food for nine billion people, better protection of the environment, sustainable energy sources and better quality of healthcare. Video of this lecture is located here.


Walter Gilbert

Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University

Everett Mendelsohn

History of Science, Harvard University

Fiona Murray

MIT Sloan School of Management

Moderated by

Sheila Jasanoff

Harvard Kennedy School

About the speaker

A world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry, Dr. Phillip A. Sharp is Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Much of Dr. Sharp's scientific work has been conducted at MIT's Center for Cancer Research (now the Koch Institute), which he joined in 1974 and directed from 1985 to 1991.  He subsequently led the Department of Biology from 1991 to 1999 before assuming the directorship of the McGovern Institute from 2000-2004.  His research interests have centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing.  His landmark achievement was the discovery of RNA splicing in 1977.  This work provided one of the first indications of the startling phenomenon of “discontinuous genes” in mammalian cells. The discovery that genes contain nonsense segments that are edited out by cells in the course of utilizing genetic information is important in understanding the genetic causes of cancer and other diseases. This discovery, which fundamentally changed scientists' understanding of the structure of genes, earned Dr. Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  His lab has now turned its attention to understanding how RNA molecules act as switches to turn genes on and off (RNA interference).  These newly discovered processes have revolutionized cell biology and could potentially generate a new class of therapeutics. Dr. Sharp has authored over 385 scientific papers.  He has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and has served on many advisory boards for the government, academic institutions, scientific societies, and companies.  His awards include the Gairdner Foundation International Award, General Motors Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize for Cancer Research, the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the National Medal of Science and the inaugural Double Helix Medal from CSHL.  He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and is a Foreign Fellow of the Royal Society, UK.  A native of Kentucky, Dr. Sharp earned a B.A. degree from Union College, KY in 1966, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1969.  He did his postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied the molecular biology of plasmids from bacteria in Professor Norman Davidson's laboratory.   Prior to joining MIT, he was Senior Scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In 1978 Dr. Sharp co-founded Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and in 2002 he co-founded Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an early-stage therapeutics company.


A video of the Sharp talk can be viewed here: