Photo of Charles Yanofsky

Charles Yanofsky

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his fundamental contributions to our understanding of how genetic messages are read and translated into proteins, including important mechanisms of RNA-based gene regulation.

Charles Yanofsky on raising orchids

Charles Yanofsky, one of the 20th century’s most important geneticists, has a simple formula for his success. By approaching some of science’s most vexing questions as a personal challenge, and always focusing on doing what he loved, Yanofsky helped build and shape what has now become the modern field of genetics.

Yanofsky’s first major breakthrough came after he joined the faculty at Stanford University, to which he had moved from Case Western Reserve University in 1958. Beginning where the work of two future Nobel laureates had left off, Yanofsky and his colleagues definitively proved the colinearity of gene and protein sequences — or the “one-to-one” relationship between genes and proteins — which helped to reveal the nature of genetic code. He also developed tools to regulate gene expression, through his discovery of a process known as transcriptional attenuation. Together, these two major achievements have profound implications for medical genetics, which seeks to understand and treat inherited diseases.

Though now retired, Yanofsky’s authentic passion for his craft is a gift that keeps on giving. During his more than 50 years as a professor at Stanford, Yanofsky helped mentor and train new generations of scientists, who in turn have become leaders in both genetics and other emerging fields, like biotechnology.

By Jeremy Gordon