Kirschner, Marc W. 1945–
Kirschner, Marc W. 1945–
(Marc Kirschner, Marc Wallace Kirschner)
PERSONAL: Born February, 28, 1945, in Chicago, IL. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1966; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1971.
ADDRESSES: Office—Harvard Medical School, Alpert 536, Systems Biology, 200 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Biochemist, educator, and author. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor of biochemistry, 1972–78; University of California, San Francisco, professor of biochemistry, 1978–93; Harvard University, Boston, MA, professor and chair of cell biology, 1993–2003, professor of systems biology and chair of department, 2003–.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Science Foundation fellowship, University of California, 1971–72; Research Career Development Award, National Institutes of Health, 1975–80; Richard Lounsberg Award, National Academy of Sciences, 1991; William C. Rose Award, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2001; International Award, Gairdner Foundation of Toronto, 2001; Rabbi Shai Shacknai Lectureship Prize, Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology, 2003; Dickson Prize, Carnegie Mellon University, 2004, for making the greatest strides in a scientific field in the past year.
(As Marc Kirschner; with John C. Gerhart) Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability, illustrated by Eileen Starr Moderbacher, Blackwell Science (Malden, MA), 1997.
Also contributor to periodicals, including Cell, Nature, Science, Current Biology, and Public Library of Science.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1997 biology professors Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhart published Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability. The book examines how cellular processes have influenced the course of physical evolution. The authors explain that the same core cellular processes that create eyes also create elbows, and that those core processes also explore possible evolutionary changes.
According to Kirschner and Gerhart, the core cellular processes that make up our basic physical features are exploratory, meaning they attempt different outcomes to address new environmental circumstances. These processes also regulate themselves. When exploratory procedures are unsuccessful, the processes adjust so that the organism is not adversely affected by mutations. Cells adapt to disturbances created by the processes so that they do not affect basic cellular processes in the organism. The writers call this "robust flexibility," meaning that a few core cellular processes can direct many more diverse processes, even those that cause the evolution of many differing phenotypes. The book revolves around the hypothetical idea that the body has a built-in capacity for evolution, which the authors call "evolvability." Darwin suggested that animals that evolve are naturally selected; however, Kirschner and Gerhart assert that animals are naturally selected because of their ability to evolve.
In 2005 Kirschner and Gerhart published The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma, which addresses the same ideas explored in Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, but it presents further research on the topic. This book examines the origins of new adaptations. Darwin asserted that random and gradual change in organisms is responsible for species variation, but Kirschner and Gerhart suggest a theory of "facilitated variation," in which core processes are responsible for the range of possible physiological responses that allow an organism to adapt to environmental conditions. Many adaptations, the scientists explain, are "exploratory" in response to circumstances; biological differences occur when plants and animals need them most, not just as a matter of chance. In The Plausibility of Life the writers anticipate and address counter-theories and suggest areas for further research. Library Journal contributor Gregg Sapp found that the authors "skillfully lay out their arguments so that, while drawing on current research, their work is remarkably comprehensible to general readers."
Kirschner told CA: "As a scientist, writing is an essential and common task, but writing books for lay people and/or for scientists are very different tasks. I very much enjoyed writing two books on evolution with my close scientific colleague, John Gerhart. Amazingly, though we live on opposite coasts, we managed to write both books entirely in each other's presence. Having written the two books, one very scientific, and the other for an educated but lay audience and scientists as well, I feel it difficult to choose my favorite. I could not imagine ever again amassing the material of the first book, Cells, Embryos, and Evolution—it took ten years. The second book was much more polished as a literary product.
"I hope my books will inspire people to appreciate what the organism brings to evolution. This was largely missing from Darwin and was impossible to comprehend until very recently. It makes life and evolution seem more plausible, and more interesting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2005, Bryce Christensen, review of The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwi's Dilemma, p. 16.
Cell, August 22, 1997, Kathryn V. Anderson, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability, p. 593.
Evolution, February, 1998, Gregory A. Wray, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, p. 291.
Library Journal, September 15, 2005, Gregg Sapp, review of The Plausibility of Life, p. 87.
Nature, June 26, 1997, J.M.W. Slack, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, p. 866.
Publishers Weekly, September 5, 2005, review of The Plausibility of Life, p. 52.
Science, August 8, 1997, Anthony P. Mahowald, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, p. 772.
Times Higher Education Supplement, February 20, 1998, Mark Pagel, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, p. 36.
Trends in Biochemical Sciences, December, 1997, Gilean T. McVean, review of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution, p. 495.
Cytokinetics, http://www.cytokinetics.com/ (January 13, 2006), biography of Marc W. Kirschner.
Harvard Medical School Web site, http://www.med.harvard.edu/ (January 13, 2006), biography of Marc W. Kirschner.
Marine Biological Laboratory Home Page, http://www.mbl.edu/ (January 13, 2006), biography of Marc W. Kirschner.
Mellon College of Sciences News Page, http://www.cmu.edu/mcs/ (January 13, 2006), "Carnegie Mellon to Award Dickson Prize to Top Cell Biologist."