Bob Horvitz studies the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Only 1 mm long and containing fewer than 1000 cells, C. elegans has been key to discovering fundamental biological mechanisms that are conserved across species. Horvitz has focused on the genetic control of animal development and behavior, and on the mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative disease. By identifying mutations that affect C. elegans behavior, Horvitz has revealed much about the genetic control of many aspects of nervous system development and of brain function, including how neural circuits control specific behaviors and how behavior is modulated by experience and by the environment.
A major theme of Horvitz’s work is cell death. Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is pervasive in animal biology and important in certain human neurodegenerative diseases. Horvitz has shown that cell death is an active process, and that many of the genes that control the deaths of worm neurons have counterparts in the human brain. His discoveries might lead to new treatments for certain degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, stroke and traumatic brain injury. In October 2002, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Horvitz, Sydney Brenner, and John E. Sulston “for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.” Watch Horvitz’s Nobel lecture below.
In addition to his studies of C. elegans, Horvitz also has a longstanding active interest in human neurodegenerative disease. He was a principal member of the team that in 1993 identified the first gene to cause familial ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, he continues to work on the search for and analysis of additional ALS genes.
H. Robert Horvitz, a founding member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is the David Koch Professor in the Department of Biology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Horvitz received his PhD from Harvard University in 1974, and has been a faculty member at MIT’s Department of Biology since 1978. In 2002 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering and characterizing genes controlling cell death in the nematode worm C. elegans.
Honors and Awards
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Fellow, American Association for Cancer Research
Foreign Member, Royal Society of London
Member, National Academy of Medicine
Member, US National Academy of Inventors
Member, American Philosophical Society
Honorary Member, The Physiological Society, UK
Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology
Honorary D.Sc., University of Miami
Honorary D.Sc., Pennsylvania State University
Honorary D.Sc., Cambridge University
Honorary M.D., University of Rome
Genetics Society (UK), Mendel Medal, 2007
Eli Lilly Lecturer Award, 2007
MIT James R. Killian Faculty Achievement Award, 2005
Centennial Medal, Harvard University, 2005
Alfred G. Knudson Award, 2005
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Peter Gruber Foundation Genetics Prize, 2002
American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, 2002
Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences, 2002
Genetics Society of America Medal, 2001
Feodor Lynen Medal, 2001
Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience, 2001
Charles-Leopold Mayer Prize, 2000
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, 2000
March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, 2000
Segerfalk Award, 2000
Canada Gairdner International Award, 1999
Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize, 1998
Passano Award for the Advancement of Medical Science, 1998
Rosenstiel Award, 1998
H. Robert Horvitz won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston, "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death."
The C. elegans cell death gene ced-3 encodes a protein similar to mammalian interleukin-1 beta-converting enzyme. Yuan, J., Shaham, S., Ledoux, S., Ellis, H. and Horvitz, H.R. (1993).
Cell 75, 641-652.