UCSD developmental biologist Michael Levine receives award from National Academy of Sciences

April 30, 1996

Media Contact: Warren R. Froelich, (619) 534-8564


Michael Levine, a professor of biology and holder of the Chancellor's Associate Chair in Biology at the University of California, San Diego, has received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology.

In black tie ceremonies held April 29 during the Academy's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Levine received a bronze medal and a $20,000 prize as this year's award winner. The prize, presented annually since 1962 to a young scientist who has made a recent notable discovery in molecular biology, is supported by Monsanto Co.

Levine was cited from "insightful contributions to our understanding of gene regulation networks and molecular mechanisms governing the development of organisms with a segmented body plan."

Determining how patterns are formed in living organisms is one of the fundamental questions in the field of developmental biology.

Levine has devoted most of his career studying Drosophila melanogaster (the fruitfly) to identify the "master regulatory" genes that control development. Many of the genes that control the fruitfly embryo are evolutionarily conserved and have been implicated in the embryonic development of a wide variety of organisms, including humans.

More recently, Levine has focused his attention on a marine organism called Ascidians, or sea squirts. Originally considered a primitive species, scientists have learned that sea squirt embryos actually are quite sophisticated. Like a frog or juvenile, they have a tadpole stage. Like vertebrates, they feature a structure similar to a backbone called a notochord around which a spinal column, muscles and organs are organized. Because the notochord of the sea squirt is built from a mere 40 cells, researchers can follow each cell from their beginning, at fertilization.

Insights gained from such studies could help scientists learn more about higher organisms develop, which ultimately could be important for understanding what happens when such processes go awry in humans.

Prior to joining UCSD, for about seven years Levine was a professor and assistant professor of biology at Columbia University. His honors include a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Searle Scholars Research Fellowship, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Levine obtained his bachelor's degree in biology from UC Berkeley in 1976 and his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale in 1981. From 1982 to 1983 he was a postdoctoral fellow in Switzerland; the following year he returned as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

(April 30, 1996)