1989: Nathans


Molecular biologist Jeremy Nathans, MD, PhD, won the 1989 Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation for pioneering research which revealed how genes govern color vision.

Nathans, was the first to isolate the genes responsible for color vision in work done at Stanford University with Professor of Biochemistry David Hogness. Now at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., Nathans uses molecular genetics to explore the mechanisms that permit us to see color. His work with the retina of the eye is helping to explain basic evolutionary processes and may someday make it possible to treat hereditary eye disease.

Nathan's work has not only explained the genetics of color blindness by identifying the genes responsible for red, green, and blue color reception, but also provided insight into the workings of the central nervous system.

"The retina of the eye is part of the brain and the nervous system," Nathans explained. "If you are going to study how the brain works, it is a good idea to start with the simplest part. The retina is the simplest part--it is specialized for seeing light--yet it has all the elements of the larger system, such as cells communicating with each other."

"Using genes to learn about the fundamental mechanisms at work in the retina, and applying this knowledge to central nervous system biology, is the challenge for the next 30-50 years," Nathans said.

Nathans has been at Hopkins since 1988 as an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and the Department of Neuroscience. He received the Initiatives in Research Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1987, the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1988, the Distinguished Young Scientist Award of the Maryland Academy of Sciences in 1989, and others.

The fifth scientist to receive the Golden Brain Award, Nathans was honored at a dinner on Tuesday, October 31, in Phoenix, Ariz., where he attended a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. In 1989, Nathans was the youngest recipient to be so honored.