H. Robert Horvitz was born on May 8, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. Horvitz was as an undergraduate at MIT in 1964. In 1968, he entered graduate school in the Harvard Department of Biology. After obtaining his doctorate, Horvitz moved to England to continue his research on a fellowship from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He moved back to Boston in January 1978, to accept a faculty position in the MIT Department of Biology. Within a few years, Horvitz was promoted to Professor of Biology at MIT. He is also a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
He is best known for his research on the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. He is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Horvitz's work:
The human body consists of hundreds of cell types, all originating from the fertilized egg. During the embryonic and foetal periods, the number of cells increase dramatically. The cells mature and become specialized to form the various tissues and organs of the body. Large numbers of cells are formed also in the adult body. In parallel with this generation of new cells, cell death is a normal process, both in the foetus and adult, to maintain the appropriate number of cells in the tissues. This delicate, controlled elimination of cells is called programmed cell death.
This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have made seminal discoveries concerning the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. By establishing and using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as an experimental model system, possibilities were opened to follow cell division and differentiation from the fertilized egg to the adult. The Laureates have identified key genes regulating organ development and programmed cell death and have shown that corresponding genes exist in higher species, including man. The discoveries are important for medical research and have shed new light on the pathogenesis of many diseases.
Robert Horvitz (b 1947), Cambridge, MA, USA, has discovered and characterized key genes controlling cell death in C. elegans. He has shown how these genes interact with each other in the cell death process and that corresponding genes exist in humans.