Bruce Alberts

Bruce Michael Alberts
Born (1938-04-14) April 14, 1938
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Nationality American
Fields Biochemistry
Institutions Harvard University
University of Geneva
Princeton University
National Academy of Sciences
Science (journal)
Alma mater Harvard College (BSc)
Harvard University (PhD)
Thesis Characterization of Naturally Occurring, Cross-Linked Fraction of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (1966[1])
Doctoral advisor Paul Doty[2]
Known for Molecular Biology of the Cell
Notable awards NAS Award in Molecular Biology (1975)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2005)
Vannevar Bush Award (2010)
National Medal of Science (2012)
Spouse Betty Neary Alberts
External video
Bruce Alberts, “Learning from failure”, iBioMagazine
Bruce Alberts, “DNA Replication”, iBioMagazine
Bruce Alberts, ”Redefining Science Education”, Distinctive Voices

Bruce Michael Alberts (born April 14, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American biochemist and the Chancellor’s Leadership Chair in Biochemistry and Biophysics for Science and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.[3] He has done important work studying the protein complexes which enable chromosome replication when living cells divide. He is known as an original author of the "canonical, influential, and best-selling scientific textbook," Molecular Biology of the Cell,[4] and as Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine.[5][6]

Alberts was the president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1993 to 2005.[4] He is known for his work in forming science public policy, and has served as United States Science Envoy to Pakistan and Indonesia.[2][7]


After graduating from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois,[8] Alberts attended Harvard College, as a pre-medicine major.[4][9] Bored by assigned laboratory "cooking classes", he petitioned to skip the physical chemistry laboratory requirement and instead was allowed to work with his tutor Jacques Fresco, in Paul M. Doty's laboratory. The summer's research led to the publication of two successful papers on mismatch errors in the helical structures of DNA and RNA,[10][11] and Alberts decided to continue on in biophysics.[4] He graduated with his A.B. in biochemical sciences, summa cum laude, in 1960.[4]

Alberts then worked with Paul M. Doty on an "enormously ambitious" thesis on DNA replication, attempting to solve the genetic code using nearest neighbor analysis of DNA polymerase.[8][9] After failing his first oral examination in spring 1965, he completed his Ph.D. research in fall 1965.[2][8][12] His doctorate in biophysics was published by Harvard University in 1966.[1] Alberts credits his initial failure with teaching him much more than his successes.[8] "That was a very important learning experience for me. I had decided that experimental strategy was everything in science, and nobody had ever told me anything about this."[2]


After graduating, Alberts went to the Institut de Biologie Moleculaire[13] at the University of Geneva as a postdoctoral fellow, and worked with Richard H. Epstein on genes involved in DNA replication of phage T4. Epstein and his students had shown that there were at least seven different proteins needed for replication of T4 DNA. Alberts decided to do something that no one else was doing, and developed a DNA column for the purification of proteins that bound to DNA.[2] This enabled him to purify T4 Bacteriophage Gene 32.[14]

In 1966, Alberts joined the Department of Biochemical Sciences at Princeton University as an Assistant Professor. In 1971, he became an Associate Professor and in 1973 a full Professor, holding the Damon Pfeiffer Professorship in life sciences from 1975-1976.[13][15][16] At Princeton, he continued to work in the area of protein biochemistry, reconstituting systems.[2]

In 1976, Alberts accepted a position as professor and vice-chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.[15] Also in 1976, he and his students were able to add all seven proteins to double-stranded DNA in an appropriate magnesium concentration to make DNA. More years of research were spent understanding the reactions involved. Another important step in understanding DNA synthesis was realizing that leading strand DNA polymerase and lagging strand DNA polymerase were coupled.[2][17]

Alberts was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978.[15][18] From 1981 to 1985 Alberts held the American Cancer Society Research Professorship, a title granted for life as of 1980.[13] From 1985 to 1990, he was Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco. From 1990-1993 he again held the American Cancer Society Research Professorship.[15]

Science and education

Alberts served as the President of the National Academy of Sciences for two terms from 1993 until 2005.[13][19]

Alberts has long been committed to the improvement of science education, dedicating much of his time to educational projects such as City Science, a program seeking to improve science teaching in San Francisco elementary schools.[4] He has served on the advisory board of the National Science Resources Center, a joint project of the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution working with teachers, scientists, and school systems to improve teaching of science as well as on the National Academy of Sciences' National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment. He has published important National Academies reports: the National Science Education Standards (NSES; NRC, 1996), intended to change the way that science is taught K-12, and Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2000)[19]

The Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education is given in his name to those who have made outstanding contributions in science education.[20]

He has served in different capacities on a number of advisory and editorial boards, including as chair of the Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council.[4] Prior to his election as President of the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 he was president-elect of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.[17] From 2007-2008 he served as president of the American Society for Cell Biology.[21]

He served as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 2000 to 2009.[22][23] He and others have critiqued the biomedical research system, pointing out what they consider "systemic flaws"[24] and have created the Rescuing Biomedical Research organization, to "collect and organize input for solutions"[25] to the problems identified by themselves[24] and others.[26]

Alberts was Editor-in-Chief of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's flagship publication, Science for five years from 2008-2013.[27] He is one of the founding editors of the journal Cell Biology Education.[19]

International work

From 2000-2009, Alberts was the Co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, an advisory institution in Amsterdam governed by the presidents of fifteen science academies from around the world, and a member of the Science Initiative Group board.[28]

In his June 4, 2009 speech at Cairo University, US President Barack Obama announced a new Science Envoy program as part of a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." In January 2010, Bruce Alberts, Ahmed Zewail, and Elias Zerhouni became the first US science envoys to Islam, visiting Muslim-majority countries from North Africa to Southeast Asia.[29]


Alberts has had a productive research career in the field of DNA replication and cell division. His textbook, Molecular Biology of the Cell, now in its sixth edition, is the standard cell biology textbook in most universities; the fourth edition is freely available from National Center for Biotechnology Information Bookshelf.[30] This book and its counterpart for undergraduate students, Essential Cell Biology],[31] have been translated into multiple languages.[32]

Awards and honours

Alberts was awarded the National Medal of Science "for intellectual leadership and experimental innovation in the field of DNA replication, and for unparalleled dedication to improving science education and promoting science-based public policy."[33]

Alberts has received many awards and honours, including the following:[34]


  1. 1 2 Alberts, Bruce (1966). Characterization of a naturally occurring, cross-linked fraction of deoxyribonucleic acid (PhD thesis). Harvard University.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gitschier, J. (2012). "Scientist Citizen: An Interview with Bruce Alberts". PLoS Genetics. 8 (5): e1002743. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002743. PMC 3364944Freely accessible. PMID 22693457.
  3. "Bruce Alberts, PhD". UCSF Profiles. University of California, San Francisco. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Nuzzo, R. (21 June 2005). "Profile of Bruce Alberts: The education president". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (26): 9109–9111. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504186102. PMC 1166644Freely accessible. PMID 15972327. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  5. Anon (2007). "Scientific publishing: Bruce Alberts Named Science Editor-in-Chief". Science. 318 (5858): 1852b–1852b. doi:10.1126/science.318.5858.1852b.
  6. Kirschner, M. (2008). "Profile: Bruce Alberts, Science's New Editor". Science. 319 (5867): 1199–1199. doi:10.1126/science.1155869. PMID 18309070.
  7. Walsh, Bari (2011). "A Conversation with Bruce Alberts" (PDF). Colloquy: Alumni Quarterly. Fall/Winter: 8–9. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Yollin, Patricia (October 28, 2011). "Bruce Alberts: He Has Science in His Soul". UCSF News Center. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  9. 1 2 "Bruce Alberts on Becoming a Scientist". CSHL Digital Archives, Oral History. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  10. Fresco, Jacques R.; Alberts, Bruce M. (1960). "The accommodation of noncomplementary bases in helical polyribonucleotides and deoxyribonucleic acids". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 46 (3): 311–321. doi:10.1073/pnas.46.3.311.
  11. Fresco, JR; Alberts, BM; Doty, P (8 October 1960). "Some molecular details of the secondary structure of ribonucleic acid.". Nature. 188: 98–101. doi:10.1038/188098a0. PMID 13701785.
  12. Alberts, Bruce (October 28, 2004). "A wake-up call". Nature. 431: 1041. doi:10.1038/4311041a. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  13. 1 2 3 4 "Moments in Academy History Bruce Michael Alberts 1993-2005 NAS President". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  14. ALBERTS, BRUCE M.; FREY, LINDA (26 September 1970). "T4 Bacteriophage Gene 32: A Structural Protein in the Replication and Recombination of DNA". Nature. 227 (5265): 1313–1318. doi:10.1038/2271313a0.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Register of the Bruce M. Alberts Papers, 1960-94, n.d., UC San Francisco Special Collections
  16. "Endowed Professorships and Other Designated Chairs". Princeton University. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  17. 1 2 Kresge, Nicole; Simoni, Robert D.; Hill, Robert L. (January 26, 2007). "DNA Polymerase and Leading and Lagging Strand Synthesis: the Work of Bruce Alberts" (PDF). The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 282 (4): e3–e6.
  18. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  19. 1 2 3 Labov, J. B. (1 September 2005). "From the National Academies: A Tribute to the Science Education Legacy of National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts". Cell Biology Education. 4 (3): 185–188. doi:10.1187/cbe.05-06-0081.
  20. "Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education". ASCB. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  21. Farley, Pete (October 3, 2014). "UCSF Scientist Wins the National Medal of Science". University of California San Francisco News Center. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  22. 1 2 "Dr. Bruce Alberts Elected to the Board of Carnegie Corporation of New York". Carnegie Corporation of New York. March 7, 2000. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  23. 1 2 "Bruce Alberts, a former Carnegie Corporation trustee, honored with Award for Advancing Cooperation in Science". Carnegie Corporation of New York. September 10, 2010. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  24. 1 2 Alberts, B.; Kirschner, M. W.; Tilghman, S.; Varmus, H. (14 April 2014). "Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (16): 5773–5777. doi:10.1073/pnas.1404402111. PMC 4000813Freely accessible. PMID 24733905.
  25. "Home - Rescuing Biomedical Research". Rescuing Biomedical Research. Retrieved 2015-12-13.
  26. Pickett, Christopher L.; Corb, Benjamin W.; Matthews, C. Robert; Sundquist, Wesley I.; Berg, Jeremy M. (2015-09-01). "Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112 (35): 10832–10836. doi:10.1073/pnas.1509901112. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4568264Freely accessible. PMID 26195768.
  27. Alberts, B. (2013). "After 5 Years at Science". Science. 340 (6136): 1015–1011. doi:10.1126/science.1240945. PMID 23723204.
  28. "SIG Board". Science Initiative Group. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  29. Pellerin, Cheryl (16 February 2010). "First U.S. Science Envoys Begin Work in Muslim-Majority Countries". IIP Digital. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  30. Alberts, Bruce; Johnson, Alexander; Lewis, Julian; Raff, Martin; Roberts, Keith; Walter, Peter (2002). Molecular biology of the cell (4th ed.). New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-4072-9. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  31. Alberts, Bruce; Bray, Dennis; Hopkin, Karen; Johnson, Alexander D.; Lewis, Lewis; Raff, Martin; Roberts, Keith; Walter, Peter (2014). Essential cell biology (Fourth ed.). New York, NY: Garland Science. ISBN 9780815344544.
  32. "Molecular Biology of the Cell". Garland Science. Retrieved 21 September 2015., Click on "(Translations)" to see a list.
  33. "Remarks by the President at National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation Award Ceremony". White House Briefing Room Speeches and Remarks. United States Government. November 20, 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  34. 1 2 "Bruce Alberts". Academy Europaea. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  35. "GSAS Honors Four with Centennial Medals". 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  36. "Centennial Medalist Citations". Harvard Magazine. May 28, 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  37. Szalinski, Christina (October 4, 2014). "Former ASCB President Bruce Alberts Receives the National Medal of Science". ASCB, An international forum for cell biology. The American Society for Cell Biology. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  38. Wang, Linda (April 5, 2010). "Bruce Alberts Wins Vannevar Bush Award". Chemical & Engineering News. 88 (14). Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  39. Pinol, Natasha D. (26 March 2010). "Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts Wins 2010 Vannevar Bush Award". AAAS News. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  40. "Bruce Alberts to Receive National Science Board's Vannevar Bush Award". National Science Board. April 1, 2010. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  41. "NAS Award in Molecular Biology". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 21 September 2015.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bruce Alberts.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Donald Kennedy
Editor-in-chief of Science
Succeeded by
Marcia McNutt
Preceded by
Mary Beckerle
ASCB Presidents
Succeeded by
Robert D. Goldman
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