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Science and Democracy Lecture
“New Biology and Convergence of Life Sciences and Engineering” with Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, Institute Professor at MIT and a world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry.
Walter Gilbert, Harvard Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Everett Mendelsohn, Harvard Department of the History of Science
Fiona Murray, MIT Sloan School of Management
Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School
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.
Sharp’s talk will be followed by comments from a distinguished interdisciplinary panel: Walter Gilbert, Harvard Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Everett Mendelsohn, Harvard Department of the History of Science; and Fiona Murray, MIT Sloan School of Management.
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.
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.
This event is organized by the Program on Science, Technology, and Society, at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-sponsored by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Graduate School of Design, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment. For more information on Science, Technology, and Society events at Harvard University, please visit: www.ksg.harvard.edu/sts/. This lecture and discussion is free and open to the public.