Jack W. Szostak

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Jack William Szostak
Szostak at the 2010 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Born (1952-11-09) November 9, 1952 (age 66)
Residence United States
Citizenship Canada, United States
Alma mater McGill University
Cornell University
Awards Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (2009)
Lasker Award (2006)
NAS Award in Molecular Biology (1994)
Scientific career
Fields Biochemistry
Synthetic Biology
Institutions Harvard Medical School
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Thesis Specific binding of a synthetic oligonucleotide to the yeast iso-1 cytochrome c̲ mRNA and gene (1977)
Doctoral advisor Ray Wu
Notable students David Bartel, Jennifer Doudna, Terry Orr-Weaver, Andrew W. Murray, Rachel Green

Jack William Szostak (born November 9, 1952)[1] is a Canadian American[2] biologist of Polish British descent, Nobel Prize laureate, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Szostak has made significant contributions to the field of genetics. His achievement helped scientists to map the location of genes in mammals and to develop techniques for manipulating genes. His research findings in this area are also instrumental to the Human Genome Project. He was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol W. Greider, for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres.

Early life

Szostak grew up in Montreal and Ottawa. Although Szostak does not speak Polish, he stated in an interview with Wprost weekly that he remembers his Polish roots.[3] He attended Riverdale High School (Quebec) and graduated at the age of 15 with the scholars prize.[4] He graduated with a B.Sc in cell biology from McGill University at the age of 19. In 1970, as an undergraduate, he participated in The Jackson Laboratory's Summer Student Program under the mentorship of Dr. Chen K. Chai. He completed his PhD in biochemistry at Cornell University (advisor Prof. Ray Wu[5]) before moving to Harvard Medical School to start his own lab at the Sydney Farber Cancer Institute. He credits Ruth Sager for giving him his job there when he had little yet to show. In 1984 Howard Goodman recruited him to Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Molecular Biology. He was granted tenure and a full professorship at Harvard Medical School in 1988.


Szostak has made contributions to the field of genetics. He is credited with the construction of the world's first yeast artificial chromosome. That achievement helped scientists to map the location of genes in mammals and to develop techniques for manipulating genes. His achievements in this area are also instrumental to the Human Genome Project.

His discoveries have helped to clarify the events that lead to chromosomal recombination—the reshuffling of genes that occurs during meiosis—and the function of telomeres, the specialized DNA sequences at the tips of chromosomes.

In the early 90s his laboratory shifted its research direction and focused on studying RNA enzymes, which had been recently discovered by Cech and Altman. He developed the technique of in vitro evolution of RNA (also developed independently by Gerald Joyce) which enables the discovery of RNAs with desired functions through successive cycles of selection, amplification and mutation. He isolated the first aptamer (term he used for the first time). He isolated RNA enzymes with RNA ligase activity directly from random sequence (project of David Bartel).

Currently his lab focuses on the challenges of understanding the origin of life on Earth, and the construction of artificial cellular life in the laboratory.[6]

Beyond his research, he has delivered talks about the origin of life on Earth, as he did at the first Starmus Festival in the Canary Islands, in 2011. He subsequently joined the Starmus Board of Directors, and his 2011 lecture was published in the book Starmus: 50 Years of Man in Space.[7]

Awards and honors

Szostak has received several awards and honors for his contributions. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and New York Academy of Sciences, and is a member of the Kosciuszko Foundation Collegium of Eminent Scientists of Polish Origin and Ancestry.[8]

He has received the following awards:

An organism's genes are stored within DNA molecules, which are found in chromosomes inside its cells' nuclei. When a cell divides, it is important that its chromosomes are copied in full, and that they are not damaged. At each end of a chromosome lies a "cap" or telomere, as it is known, which protects it. After Elizabeth Blackburn discovered that telomeres have a particular DNA, through experiments conducted on ciliates and yeast, she and Jack Szostak proved in 1982 that the telomeres' DNA prevents chromosomes from being broken down,

according to the statement released by the Alfred Nobel Foundation.[9]

Personal life

Szostak is married to Terri-Lynn McCormick and has two sons.[10] He has two sisters, Carolyn Szostak and Kathy Hysen.[11]


  1. ^ "Jack William Szostak". Bookrags.com. 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2015-12-24.
  2. ^ a b "The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - Press Release". Nobelprize.org. 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2015-12-24.
  3. ^ I want to get to know first steps of evolution - Interview with Jack Szostak (in Polish) "Moi pradziadowie wyemigrowali z Polski do USA. Ja urodziłem się w Londynie, a potem mieszkałem w Kanadzie. Niestety, nie mówię po polsku, ale chętnie przyznaje się do swoich polskich korzeni"( English translation: "My grandparents emigrated from Poland to the U.S.A. i was born in London, and then lived in Canada. Unfortunately, I do not speak Polish, but I eagerly confess to my Polish roots")
  4. ^ "Jack W. Szostak - Biographical". The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009. Nobel Media. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  5. ^ Szostak, Jack (1 February 2009). "Ray Wu, as remembered by a former student". Science in China Series C: Life Sciences. 52 (2): 108–110. doi:10.1007/s11427-009-0023-6.
  6. ^ http://exploringorigins.org/ Exploringorigins.org
  7. ^ "Starmus Festival and Stephen Hawking Launch the Book 'Starmus, 50... - TENERIFE, Spain, September 7, 2014 /PR Newswire UK/". united kingdom, spain, russia: Prnewswire.co.uk. 2014-09-07. Retrieved 2015-12-24.
  8. ^ "Kosciuszko Foundation - American Center of Polish culture - Eminent Scientists of Polish Origin and Ancestry". www.thekf.org.
  9. ^ ""In My Lab We're Trying to Create Synthetic Life": Jack Szostak". Ciencia del Sur.
  10. ^ http://onthecoattailsofgiants.blogspot.co.uk Blog written by Szostak's wife describing their experience visiting Sweden to receive his Nobel Prize. Retrieved, 29-12-2017.
  11. ^ http://yourlifemoments.ca/sitepages/obituary.asp?oid=992205 Obituary of Szostak's mother, with family details.

See also


  • "About Jack W. Szostak". The Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
  • "Jack W. Szostak at Harvard University". Harvard University. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
  • "Curriculum Vitae of Jack W. Szostak" (PDF). Massachusetts General Hospital. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 2007-11-02.

External links

  • Nobel Prize information
  • Szostak Lab website
  • DNA Ends: Just the Beginning Nobel Prize Lecture
  • Jack Szostak's Lecture: "The Origin of Life on Earth"
  • Last interview of Dr. Jack Szostak
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