David Baltimore - Biography

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David Baltimore is an American biologist who won a share of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. As a researcher, he has made tremendous contributions to immunology, virology, cancer research, biotechnology, and recombinant DNA research. He has served as president of Rockefeller University and also as president of the California Institute of Technology. He became interested in biology as a high school student after spending a summer at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor. This prompted him to choose biology as a major in college. However, he soon shifted to chemistry and received his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College following which he proceeded to study animal virology at the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University). He started graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in biophysics and eventually took the Cold Spring Harbor course on animal virology, then taught by Dr. Richard Franklin and Dr. Edward Simon. Following this, he moved to Franklin's lab at the Rockefeller Institute where he performed pioneering research on animal virology. Later in his career, he independently discovered reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that synthesizes DNA from RNA, and researched on interaction between viruses and the genetic material of the cell. His research, along with that of Howard M. Temin and Renato Dulbecco contributed to the understanding of the role of viruses in the development of cancer.



Childhood & Early Life

  • David Baltimore was born on March 7, 1938, in New York City. His mother, Gertrude Lipschitz, was an atheist, while his father, Richard Baltimore, had been raised as an Orthodox Jew. David observed Jewish traditions like his father.
  • He graduated from Great Neck High School in 1956. While in high school he spent a summer at the Jackson Laboratory's Summer Student Program in Bar Harbor, Maine, which kindled the teenager’s interest in biology.
  • He initially decided to major in biology in college but then switched to chemistry. He earned his Bachelor's degree with high honors at Swarthmore College in 1960. During his college days he spent a summer at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories working with Dr. George Streisinger which inspired the young man to take up molecular biology.
  • He entered graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in biophysics but soon his interest shifted to animal virology. He proceeded to take the animal virus course at Cold Spring Harbor, taught by Dr. Richard Franklin and Dr. Edward Simon. He was highly influenced by Franklin who he joined at the Rockefeller Institute to do his thesis work. He obtained his doctorate in 1964
  • He also studied for a while with Dr. Jerard Hurwitz at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to learn about enzymology.




    • In 1965, he joined the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California, as a Research Associate. There he worked in association with Dr. Renato Dulbecco and performed important research on the mechanism of replication of the poliovirus.
    • Along with his colleagues he discovered the mechanism of proteolytic cleavage of viral polyprotein precursors and demonstrated the importance of proteolytic processing in the synthesis of eukaryotic proteins. One of his major works was the discovery that polio produced its viral proteins as a single large polyprotein that was subsequently processed into individual functional peptides.
    • In 1968, he accepted the position of Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Department of Biology at MIT. One of his colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Alice S. Huang also moved to MIT and the two worked together on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).
    • Over the course of their work Baltimore and Huang demonstrated that VSV, an RNA virus, reproduced itself by means of an unusual enzyme (an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase) that copies RNA by a process not involving DNA. The couple eventually married.
    • In 1972, Baltimore was awarded tenure as a Professor of Biology at MIT, a post that he held until 1997. In 1973, he also became an American Cancer Society Professor of Microbiology.
    • During the late 1960s and early 1970s Baltimore focused on two RNA tumor viruses—Rauscher murine leukemia virus and Rous sarcoma virus—and discovered reverse transcriptase through his experiments.
    • Baltimore became director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, in 1983. A few years later he was appointed the sixth President of Rockefeller University in New York City in 1990.
    • In 1997, he became president of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a position he resigned from in 2005.
    • In 2005, he became a member of the Encyclopædia Britannica Editorial Board of Advisors, and in 2006 he was elected to a three-year term as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    Major Works

    • In 1970 David Baltimore isolated a reverse transcriptase (RT)—an enzyme used to generate complementary DNA (cDNA)—from two RNA tumor viruses: R-MLV and RSV. It is mainly associated with retroviruses though several non-retroviruses also use the process of RT.
    • He developed a system of virus classification—now known as the Baltimore classification—that groups viruses into families, depending on their type of genome (DNA, RNA, single-stranded (ss), double-stranded (ds), etc.) and their method of replication.



      Awards & Achievements

      • In 1974, he was honored with the NAS Award in Molecular Biology for distinguished leadership in virus research, and for his discoveries on the reproduction and enzymology of RNA viruses.
      • David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco and Howard Martin Temin were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1975 "for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell."

      Personal Life & Legacy

      • David Baltimore married Alice Huang in October 1968; they first met while working together at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The couple has one daughter. His wife is also a biologist specializing in microbiology and virology.





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Which american biologist won a share of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine ?

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