Lubert Stryer wins National Medal of Science

Called Renaissance man of biomedical research

Lubert Stryer

Neurobiologist Lubert Stryer, MD, has been named to receive the nation's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science, for his achievements in a wide range of fields that included the development of a DNA chip used in genetics.

Stryer, the Mrs. George A. Winzer Professor of Cell Biology, Emeritus, and professor emeritus of neurobiology, will be one of eight scientists to receive the 2006 award at a Washington, D.C., ceremony on July 27, the White House announced.

Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, said he was thrilled to hear the news. "Lubert Stryer is a true legend as a scientist and scholar whose name also is known to students of biochemistry because of his classic book on this topic," he said.

Although best known for developing a gene chip and for writing a biochemistry textbook, Stryer, 69, also made major contributions to diverse areas of research. His research over four decades has dealt with the interplay of light and life. He made landmark contributions to understanding proteins on the molecular level through the use of fluorescence spectroscopy techniques that he pioneered. He also helped explain how the eye's retina processes light.

"Lubert Stryer is one of the last Renaissance men in biomedical research," said Tobias Meyer, PhD, a Stanford professor of chemical and systems biology who did postdoctoral work under Stryer. "He combines a broad knowledge of science with amazing communication skills and an ability to translate his research discoveries into practical applications."

The highest profile product of his work, the microarray "gene chip," took root during his 1989 leave of absence from Stanford to help found Affymax, a therapeutic drug discovery company in Palo Alto. Serving as its president and scientific director for one year, Stryer helped develop a light-directed method for generating vast numbers of compounds in a relatively small number of steps. This method of generating microarrays is still used today by Affymetrix, the Santa Clara company later spun off from Affymax, to make gene chips for genetic analyses.

Stryer, was also dedicated to teaching, and wrote Biochemistry, a widely used textbook now in its sixth edition. "His textbook set new milestones for teaching and got thousands of medical and biology students around the world excited about pursuing careers in biomedical research," said Meyer.

Born to German and Russian parents who escaped to China before World War II, Stryer emigrated to the United States with his family in 1948, at the age of 10. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1957 and from Harvard Medical School in 1961.

In 1962, he went to Cambridge, England, where his mentor was John Kendrew, PhD, and two colleagues were Francis Crick, PhD, and Max Perutz, PhD. All three received Nobel Prizes that year.

Stryer first came to Stanford in 1963 as an assistant professor of biochemistry. "I had the good fortune of being nurtured by Arthur Kornberg, Paul Berg, Robert Baldwin and other members of that remarkable department," he said. He later left for a seven-year stint at Yale University, returning to Stanford in 1976 to be the first chair of the Department of Structural Biology. His interests shifted to neurobiology, where he is currently an emeritus professor.

At each juncture of his career, Stryer contributed to leaps in knowledge.

He developed what he termed "a spectroscopic ruler"—a method of measuring what atoms are neighbors and how far apart they reside in large, complex protein molecules using fluorescence—that is used in thousands of labs.

As he later began to work more with neurobiologists, Stryer's group discovered a protein called transducin that explained how the retina can be sensitive enough to register extremely subtle changes in light. It turned out that this scheme is a generalized way of amplifying a signal used by many cell types.

Both the 2006 and 2005 medals will be presented to the laureates by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on July 27.