Herbert Boyer

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Herbert Boyer
Herbert Boyer HD2005 Winthrop Sears Medal.JPG
Herbert Boyer receiving Winthrop Sears Medal, 2005
Born (1936-07-10) July 10, 1936 (age 86)
Fields Biology
Alma mater Saint Vincent College (B.S., 1958)
University of Pittsburgh (Ph.D. 1963)
Notable awards National Medal of Science (1990)

Herbert W. Boyer (born July 10, 1936) is a researcher and entrepreneur in biotechnology. Along with Stanley N. Cohen and Paul Berg he discovered a method to coax bacteria into producing foreign proteins, thereby jump starting the field of genetic engineering. He is recipient of the 1990 National Medal of Science, co-recipient of the 1996 Lemelson–MIT Prize, and a co-founder of Genentech. He served as Vice President of Genentech from 1976 until his retirement in 1991.[1]

Life and career

Boyer was born in Derry, Pennsylvania. He received his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1958. He married his wife Grace the following year. He received his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963 and participated as an activist in the civil rights movement. He spent three years in post-graduate work at Yale University in the laboratories of Professors Edward Adelberg and Bruce Carlton, then became an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco and a Professor of Biochemistry from 1976 to 1991, where he discovered that genes from bacteria could be combined with genes from eukaryotes. In 1977, Boyer's laboratory and collaborators Keiichi Itakura and Arthur Riggs at City of Hope National Medical Center described the first-ever synthesis and expression of a peptide-coding gene.[2] In August 1978, he produced synthetic insulin using his new transgenic genetically modified bacteria, followed in 1979 by a growth hormone.

In 1976, Boyer founded Genentech with venture capitalist Robert A. Swanson. Genentech's approach to the first synthesis of insulin won out over Walter Gilbert's approach at Biogen which used whole genes from natural sources. Boyer built his gene from its individual nucleotides.

In 1990 April, Boyer and his wife Grace gave the single largest donation ($10,000,000) bestowed on the Yale School of Medicine by an individual. The Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine was named after the Boyer family in 1991.[3][4]

At the Class of 2007 Commencement, St. Vincent College announced that they had renamed the School of Natural Science, Mathematics, and Computing the Herbert W. Boyer School.[5]

Among his professional activities, Boyer is on the Board of Scientific Governors of the Scripps Research Institute.[6]



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  2. Expression in Escherichia coli of a chemically synthesized gene for the hormone somatostatin. Science. 198(4321):1056–63.
  3. Yale and Medicine, 1951–2001: 1991–2001
  4. Boyer Center Homepage
  5. Saint Vincent College announces naming of the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences – Saint Vincent College
  6. The Scripps Research Institute [1]
  7. "2009 Honoree, Herbert W. Boyer, for Scientific Research", Double Helix Medals, 2009, accessed Feb. 8, 2012.
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  • They Made America by Harold Evans (Little Brown, 2004) and in the subsequent WGBH television series.