Photo of David Baltimore

David Baltimore

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his fundamental discoveries in virology, tumor biology and immunology, notably the discovery of how tumor-causing viruses multiply; for his devotion to building excellence in scientific institutions; and for his statesmanship in fostering communication between scientists and the general public.

There’s still much to learn about the intricacies of retroviruses, but David Baltimore laid the groundwork.

Baltimore, an accomplished researcher, educator, administrator and advocate, discovered early in his career the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell. More specifically, he discovered reverse transcriptase, or the conversion from RNA to DNA, which is essential for the reproduction of retroviruses, like HIV.

This 1975 Nobel Prize-winning work enabled biologists to better understand how those types of viruses, which also cause cancer, infect healthy cells, and in turn, led to future discoveries in treatment.

Outside of the lab, Baltimore is just as accomplished. He served as the President of the California Institute of Technology for nine years; he founded or co-founded several companies; and he successfully advocated for better national science policy.

He also led numerous scientific associations and advisory boards, and published more than 600 peer-reviewed articles.

Today, he is a professor emeritus of biology at Caltech, and the director of the Joint Center for Translational Medicine, a program shared by Caltech and the University of California at Los Angeles to translate basic science discoveries into clinical realities. An early champion of AIDS research, he is also now contributing to the creation of a vaccine.

By Sydni Dunn