Columbia to Award the 2011 Horwitz Prize to Biologists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young, for their Ground-Breaking Studies on the Molecular Basis of Circadian Rhythms

Could lead to possible treatment for sleep disorders

NEW YORK (September 30, 2011)?Columbia University will award the 2011 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for their work on the molecular basis of circadian rhythms, the first demonstration of a molecular mechanism for behavior. Circadian rhythms?cyclic responses synchronized to the period of the day?are a fundamental aspect of behavior in humans and all other animals.

“It’s not often,” said Lee Goldman, MD, executive vice president of Columbia University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, “that researchers make discoveries that so quickly change our basic understanding of the biological world. This work by Hall, Rosbash, and Young did exactly that.”

"This year's Horwitz Prize,” said Wayne A. Hendrickson, PhD, University Professor, “recognizes profound and far-reaching discoveries in molecular genetics.  This work impacts physiology fundamentally, and it has medical implications as well.”

Molecular cloning of the gene named period, which is needed to maintain circadian rhythm in the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila, was achieved independently and nearly simultaneously by Hall and Rosbash, working together at Brandeis University, and by Young at Rockefeller University, in 1984. Subsequently, the Hall and Rosbash laboratories, working mainly collaboratively, and the separate Young laboratory made additional discoveries crucial to understanding the comprehensive molecular mechanism by which the 24-hour clock is maintained and adjusted in response to artificially altered lengths of day. The Hall-Rosbash-Young mechanism of the molecular clock was later found to be universal in the biological world.

The research has direct implications for the treatment of human disorders. Several hereditary sleep disorders, for example, map to human homologs of the fly period gene, providing a basis for the development of treatments of sleep and rhythm disorders.

“One of the best things about doing this research,” said Dr. Hall, “was that the results came out better than we, or at least Iintended. Taking a semi-major step toward elucidating the molecular basis of circadian rhythms in Drosophila was rewarding enough. Little did we know, back then in the 1980s, that our findings had the potential to apply to an appreciable proportion of the biological world writ large ?beyond a matter of the ‘first clock gene cloned,’ proceeding to how this gene functions in Drosophila. This, too, turned out to have broader than insect-bound significance."

"Having all this fun?doing science and (very occasionally) doing something important?is its own reward,” said Rosbash. “I also had the pleasure of collaborating with my friend and colleague Jeff Hall and for more than two decades. So it is an unexpected surprise to be recognized with this honor. It is also humbling to be in the company of the marvelous scientists who have received the Horwitz Prize before us.”

"I'm very grateful to be recognized in this way, and I am especially pleased to share the Horwitz Prize with my colleagues Jeff Hall and Michael Rosbash,” said Young. “The three of us set out on this project when not a thing was known about circadian clocks at the molecular level, and our efforts have been tightly interconnected for nearly 30 years. I also want to acknowledge those who over many decades have worked collectively to make Drosophila such an effective model organism for studies of this sort. I believe there is no alternative path that could have been taken to reveal how such clocks work in animal cells."

Dr. Michael Purdy, Columbia University’s Executive Vice President for Research, said, " The Horwitz Prize Committee has done an excellent job in choosing this team of awardees for their 2011 Prize, not only because of the recognition this brings to the quality and originality of their work, but also because it recognizes the fundamental importance of circadian rhythms to human and animal behavior."

Awardee Biographies

Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, received a BA in biology from Amherst College and a PhD in genetics from the University of Washington. He has focused on the genetics of Drosphila throughout his research career, including while working in the laboratories of his undergraduate advisor, Philip Ives; his graduate advisor, Laurence M. Sandler; and his postdoctoral advisor at the California Institute of Technology, Seymour Benzer. In particular, he has focused on the neurobiological basis of courtship behavior. Hall is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Genetics Society of America medal (2003) and, with Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, the 2009 Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation Neuroscience Prize.  From 1974 to 2007, he was on the faculty of Brandeis University.

After receiving his BS in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, Michael Rosbash, PhD, spent a year at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. He then returned to the US, where he received a PhD in biophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After a three-year postdoctoral position at the University of Edinburgh, Rosbash joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1974. For many years he studied gene expression, including RNA processing in yeast, and in 1982, he began his collaboration with Jeffrey Hall with the cloning of the period gene. Rosbash is currently Director of the Brandeis National Center for Behavioral Genomics, in addition to Professor of Biology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. With Jeffrey Hall and Michael Young, he was awarded the 2009 Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation Neuroscience Prize.

Michael Young, PhD, received both a BA in biology and PhD in genetics from the University of Texas at Austin. His graduate research, under Burke Judd, focused on gene sizes and distribution in the chromosomes of Drosophila. After doing postdoctoral research on transposable elements under David Hogness at Stanford University School of Medicine, Young joined the faculty of Rockefeller University, where he is currently Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. With Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, he was awarded the 2009 Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation Neuroscience Prize.

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established by Columbia University to recognize outstanding contributions to basic research in the fields of biology and biochemistry. Awarded annually since 1967, the prize is named for the mother of Columbia benefactor S. Gross Horwitz. Louisa Gross Horwitz was the daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross, author of “A System of Surgery” and a founder of the American Medical Association. For additional information about the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, visit

The 2011 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures will take place on November 21, 2011. Dr. Hall’s lecture is titled "The Seminal Clock Mutants in Drosophila, in Context of the Emergence of Neurogenetics and Molecular-Genetic Neurobiology.” Dr. Rosbash’s lecture is titled “Old and New Features of Circadian Rhythms.” Dr. Young’s lecture is titled "The Genetics of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Drosophila." Exact times and locations TBD. For more information about the lectures, visit

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