Photo of James E. Darnell

James E. Darnell

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his seminal scientific discoveries related to gene expression in animal cells, including pathways of RNA processing and signal transduction from the cell surface to genes in the nucleus, and for his contributions as a scientific educator.

James Darnell on what drives his research

As a child growing up in an impoverished town in Mississippi, James Darnell saw medicine as his ticket out of the South. Young Darnell threw all his efforts into this goal and was able to graduate from the University of Mississippi in just three years. As planned, Darnell headed straight to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked in a lab for the first time. Almost immediately, Darnell found himself attracted to microbiology — the study of microscopic organisms, like bacteria or viruses. It was in this lab that Darnell realized his passion for research over practice, and decided to pursue a M.D.-to-scientist training program after receiving his medical degree.

After settling at Rockefeller University in 1973, Darnell devoted himself to researching RNA processing and gene expression in animal cells. His research has shed crucial light on how our genes work and how they are regulated, helping scientists today fight a number of diseases, including heart disease, anemia, and autoimmune disorders.

By Sara Grossman