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This year’s Bloch Lecture will be given by Michael Rosbash, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Peter Gruber Professor of Neuroscience at Brandeis University. Originally interested in the metabolism and processing of messenger RNA, Rosbash is known for his groundbreaking work on the genetics of circadian rhythms of internal biological clocks. Found in most living organisms from humans and the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster)—which Rosbash studies—to plants and tiny microbes, circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that occur over a 24-hour cycle in response to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.

Rosbash’s accomplishments include cloning the Drosophila period gene which drives circadian rhythms; discovering the Drosophila clock and cycle genes; identifying the light sensitive protein cryptochrome as a Drosophila photoreceptor and lateral ventral neurons as the primary circadian pacemaker cells; as well as proposing a regulatory negative feedback loop in the transcription and translation of circadian clock genes.

Today, Rosbash investigates the mechanisms of circadian timing, regulation of circadian gene expression, neural circuits involved in circadian timekeeping, and the functions of individual circadian neurons. He is primarily interested in how these neurons affect the behavior of male and female flies separately, their circuitry and how they regulate sleep. Using neuronal purification and deep sequencing, he is not only analyzing and comparing the RNA from these cells, but also identifying molecules that contribute to circadian-specific behaviors.

In recognition of his contribution to the field of genetics, Rosbash has received numerous awards including the NIH Career Development Award, Gruber Prize in Neuroscience, Columbia University’s Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, Canada Gairdner International Award, the Massry Prize, and the 12th Annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, to name a few. He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rosbash earned a doctoral degree in biophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, after which he spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh studying genetics. In 1974, he joined the faculty of Brandeis University, where he has remained ever since. Rosbash currently serves as director of the National Center for Behavioral Genomics, located at the university.

By Jim Henle

Konrad E. Bloch was an outstanding scientist who helped shape the discipline of biochemistry in its formative years. One of the founders of biochemical studies at Harvard, he was part of the pioneer generation that included George Wald, Paul Doty, John Edsall and Frank Westheimer. Best known for his studies of cholesterol, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1964 (shared with Feodor Lynen) for investigations in the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. Especially noteworthy were the studies on the biological synthesis of the molecule and, according to the Nobel Prize website, “on various aspects of terpene and sterol biogenesis…enzymatic formation of unsaturated fatty acids and…in various aspects of biochemical evolution.”

Arriving at Harvard from the University of Chicago in 1954, he was appointed Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, a position he held until his retirement in 1982. He was part of the core group at Harvard that founded the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry. With the somewhat later arrival of James Watson, Matthew Meselson, Walter Gilbert, Mark Ptashne and Guido Guidotti, Harvard had achieved a remarkably dynamic and productive core group in biochemistry and molecular biology, of which Dr. Bloch was a signal part. The late Dean Jeremy Knowles described him as “a marvelously perceptive biochemist and a wise, generous and cultivated man who forged the connections between chemistry and biochemistry. He was one of that distinguished line of European biochemists whose deep understanding of metabolism laid the chemical foundations of today’s biology.” [quoted in Harvard Gazette, Oct. 19, 2000]
Dr. Bloch was born in Neisse, then part of Germany, in 1912; he was racially excluded from his studies at Munich in 1934 upon the Nazi advent to power. His subsequent odyssey began in Switzerland, and he was spared a likely fatal return to Germany by the intervention of John Anderson, a Yale biochemist, who helped him with a visa to the US. In America, his studies resumed at Columbia; after a brief stay in Chicago, he came to Harvard.
His work was widely recognized; in addition to the Nobel, he received the US National Medal of Science, and many other awards and honorary degrees. In addition to his scientific output, he wrote intriguing popularizing works such as “Blondes in Venetian Paintings, the Nine-banded Armadillo, and Other Essays in Biochemistry”. He died in 2000, at the age of 88. In 1986, the annual Konrad Bloch lecture was inaugurated in his honor.The author wishes to express his gratitude to Prof. Guido Guidotti for reviewing the text for accuracy.
The Bloch lecture, sponsored by Pfizer, honors Harvard faculty member and Nobel-prize recipient Konrad Bloch (1912-2000), a pioneer in the field of cholesterol and lipid metabolism.