Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Richard Axel, M.D. (born July 2, 1946, New York City) is an American scientist whose work on the olfactory system won him and Linda B. Buck, then a post-doctoral scientist in his research group, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004.
In their landmark paper published in 1991, Buck and Axel cloned olfactory receptors, showing that they belong to the family of G protein coupled receptors. By analyzing rat DNA, they estimated that there were approximately one thousand different genes for olfactory receptors in the mammalian genome. This research opened the door to the genetic and molecular analysis of the mechanisms of olfaction.
Born in New York City, New York, Axel graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1963, received his A.B. in 1967 from Columbia University, and his M.D. in 1970 from Johns Hopkins University. He returned to Columbia University and became a professor in 1978.
During the late 1970's, Axel, along with microbiologist Saul J. Silverstein, and geneticist Michael H. Wigler, discovered a technique of cotransformation, a process which allows foreign DNA to be inserted into a host cell to produce certain proteins. Patents, now colloquially referred to as the "Axel patents", covering this technique was filed for February 1980 and issued in August 1983. As a fundamental process in recombinant DNA research as performed at pharmaceutical and biotech companies, this patent has proven a cash cow for Columbia University, earning it nearly almost $100 million a year at one time, and a top spot on the list of top universities by licensing revenue. The Axel patents expired in August 2000.
Axel's primary research interest is on how the brain interprets the sense of smell, specifically mapping the parts of the brain that are sensitive to specific olfactory receptors. He holds the titles of University Professor at Columbia University, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of Pathology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Buck, Linda, and Richard Axel. 1991. "A Novel Multigene Family May Encode Odorant Receptors: A Molecular Basis for Odor Recognition." Cell 65:175–183.
- Nobel Citation
- Homepage of Axel's research group at Columbia University
- Webpage at Howard Hughes Medical Institute
- Coverage of Columbia's Axel Patent story
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