October 4, 2004
Alumnus Joseph DeRisi wins MacArthur Fellowship
By Tim Stephens
UCSC alumnus Joseph DeRisi, an associate professor of biochemistry
and biophysics at UC San Francisco, is among 23 new MacArthur
Fellows for 2004 named in September by the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation.
Joseph DeRisi Photo
courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation
DeRisi, 35, will receive $500,000 in "no strings attached"
support over the next five years.
DeRisi, who received his B.S. in biochemistry and molecular
biology from UCSC in 1992, is developing the means to measure
thousands of genes simultaneously in an effort to decode the
mysteries of cellular function. He was recently profiled in
the Spring 2004 issue of the UC
Santa Cruz Review magazine
The MacArthur Fellows are selected for their originality, creativity,
and the potential to do more in the future. DeRisi is the fifth
graduate of UCSC to receive the award. The MacArthur Fellows
Program places no restrictions on how recipients may use the
$500,000, and no reports are required.
"The new MacArthur Fellows illustrate the foundation's
conviction that talented individuals, free to follow their insights
and instincts, will make a difference in shaping the future,"
said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation.
A molecular biologist, DeRisi develops and uses new technologies
for exploring the complex, interdependent pathways regulating
gene expression. He is extending the impact of recent advances
in DNA sequencing by examining not just the population of genes
within a cell, but also their interactions that lead to complex
DeRisi uses glass slides, carefully prepared with spots of DNA,
arranged by robotic devices in a microarray, to make hundreds
and even thousands of measurements of individual gene expression
from a single experimental sample. His studies on the most common
type of malaria parasite have revealed an unusual pattern of
synchronized gene activity. This observation suggests that the
infectious agent may be particularly sensitive to drugs that
disrupt the gene synchronization necessary to move into the
next phase of its life cycle.
DeRisi has also demonstrated the power of microarrays for rapid
characterization of unknown viral strains; he and colleagues
used this method to identify and characterize a novel coronavirus
responsible for the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS) in early 2003. By enhancing methods for bulk measurement
of gene activity and applying this technology to questions of
vital biological and medical interest, DeRisi demonstrates the
vast potential for discoveries in molecular genetics to decode
the mysteries of cellular function and to advance the diagnosis
and treatment of disease.
After receiving his bachelor's degree from UCSC, DeRisi earned
a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1999. He was a postdoctoral
fellow at UCSF before joining the faculty there. His research
has been published in such academic journals as Science,
Nature Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
USA, and PLoS Biology.
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