James E. Darnell Jr., Vincent Astor Professor Emeritus, has been elected to the American Philosophical Society in the biological sciences.
The American Philosophical Society is an honorary society that elects new members each year who have shown extraordinary accomplishments in their fields. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, it is the United States’ first learned society, and unique among its peers for the wide variety of academic disciplines represented by its membership: math and physics, biology, humanities, social sciences and the arts, professions and leaders in public and private affairs. Its mission is to promote useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources and community outreach.
For more than 50 years, Darnell has studied RNA: its synthesis, processing and transcriptional regulation. His research supplied much of the original evidence for the widely accepted concept of how mRNA is formed in animal cells. His studies on pre-mRNA from adenoviruses paved the way for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of RNA splicing in mRNA formation by Phillip Sharp, Richard Roberts and their colleagues. In the 1980s he began the study of transcriptional activators including those activated by reception of signals from cell surface proteins. The far-reaching results from these experiments culminated in the description of the first complete cell surface to nucleus signal transduction pathway: the JAK-STAT pathway.
Darnell received his M.D. in 1955 from the Washington University School of Medicine. His career has included poliovirus research with Harry Eagle at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, research with François Jacob at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and academic appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Columbia University. In 1974 Dr. Darnell joined Rockefeller as Vincent Astor Professor, and from 1990 to 1991 he was vice president for academic affairs. He was instrumental in the 1980s and 1990s in establishing a new focus in hiring young independent faculty, a now accepted mechanism in university practice.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1973, he has received numerous awards, including the 2003 National Medal of Science, the 2002 Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, the 1997 Passano Award, the 1994 Paul Janssen Prize in Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and the 1986 Gairdner Foundation International Award.
He is the coauthor with S.E. Luria of General Virology and the founding author with Harvey Lodish and David Baltimore of Molecular Cell Biology, now in its sixth edition. His book RNA, Life’s Indispensable Molecule was published in July 2011 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. The 10th Rockefeller University faculty member to be inducted to the American Philosophical Society, Darnell is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of The Royal Society and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.