Baltimore, MD–Biochemist, developmental biologist, and physician, Donald D. Brown of Carnegie’s Department of Embryology, will receive the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology. The award is given to “a senior developmental biologist in recognition of her/his outstanding and sustained contributions in the field…[and]for the individual's excellence in research and for being a superb mentor who has helped train the next generation of exceptional scientists.”
Brown has been a Carnegie staff member since 1962 and directed the Department of Embryology from 1976-1994. From 1960 to 1990 Brown studied how genes are expressed during embryonic development by purifying specific genes and reconstructing their control in the test tube. Many of these studies termed “genetics by gene isolation,” took place before the recombinant DNA era and established facts about genes such as their structure, their evolution, and the signals in and around genes that control where they start and where they stop.
In 1990, Brown changed his research to a more complex problem, the control of gene expression that regulates the transformation of tadpoles into frogs. The many developmental changes that occur when a tadpole turns into a frog are controlled entirely by thyroid hormone. By studying its role in amphibian metamorphosis, Brown and colleagues developed a strategy to analyze the complexities of the hormone-gene interactions. He used thyroid hormone-induced metamorphosis in the frog Xenopus laevis to identify genes and gene pathways regulated by the hormone. This work provides the foundation for understanding how hormones control the development of organ and tissue development, growth, and death.
“Doing genetics by gene isolation gave Don Brown a firm grip on fundamental mechanisms that were beyond the classical genetics of that era,” remarked Allan Spradling, director of Embryology. “Likewise his current work on metamorphosis allows access to sophisticated processes of tissue remodeling that today’s researchers in the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine can only dream about.”
“Donald Brown has been a pivotal figure in developmental biology as a result of his path-breaking discoveries,” stated Carnegie president Richard Meserve. “He also has had a major role at Carnegie through his mentoring of and assistance to his many Carnegie colleagues over the years. This award is very much deserved.”
After three years at Dartmouth College, Brown received his M.D. and his M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1956. He then interned at a New Orleans hospital and became a research associate for 2 years at NIH. He later conducted research at the Pasteur Institute in France before joining Carnegie as a fellow in 1960.
Among his many affiliations, Brown is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He organized the first Developmental Biology Gordon Conference in 1970 and has served on numerous editorial boards and visiting committees. Brown has received many awards including the 1985 Louisa Gross Horwitz Award, from Columbia University, and the 1996 E.B. Wilson Award of the American Society for Cell Biology. In 1983 he founded the Life Sciences Research Foundation, an international post-doctoral fellowship agency now in its 27th year.