Philip Leder


Philip Leder (November 19, 1934 – February 2, 2020) was an American geneticist.

Philip Leder
Born(1934-11-19)November 19, 1934
DiedFebruary 2, 2020(2020-02-02) (aged 85)
Alma materHarvard University (M.D., 1960)[1]
Known forNirenberg and Leder experiment
genetic code
AwardsRichard Lounsbery Award (1981)
Dickson Prize (1981)
Albert Lasker Medical Research Award (1987)
National Medal of Science (1989)
Heineken Prize (1990)
William Allan Award (1997)
Robert Koch Prize (Gold, 2008)
Harvey Prize
Scientific career
Molecular Biology

Early life and educationEdit

Leder was born in Washington, D.C. and studied at Harvard University, graduating in 1956. In 1960, he graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed his medical residency at the University of Minnesota.

Scientific AccomplishmentsEdit

Leder is one of the most accomplished scientists of the modern molecular genetics era, having made several contributions in each decade from the 1960s through the 1990s. He is perhaps best known for his early work with Marshall Nirenberg in the elucidation of the genetic code and the Nirenberg and Leder experiment. Since that landmark experiment, he has made several groundbreaking contributions in the fields of molecular genetics, immunology and the genetic basis of cancer. His group was the first to define the base sequence of a complete mammalian gene (the gene for betaglobin) which enabled him to determine its organization in detail, including its associated control signals. His research into the structure of genes which carry the code for antibody molecules was of pioneering significance. The main focus of this inquiry was the question of how the enormous diversity of antibody molecules are formed by a limited number of encoded genes. Leder's work on antibody genes was later extended to research into Burkitt's lymphoma, a tumour of antibody-producing cells, which involves the oncogene c-myc. This was crucial in understanding the origin of this type of tumor. In 1988, Leder and Timothy Stewart were granted the first patent on a genetically engineered animal. This animal, a mouse which had genes injected into its embryo to increase susceptibility to cancer, became known as the "oncomouse" and has been used in the laboratory study of cancer therapy.


In 1968, Leder headed the Biochemistry Department of the Graduate Program of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences at the National Institute of Health. In 1972 he was appointed director of the Laboratory for Molecular Genetics at the same institution and remained in that post until 1980 when he returned to Harvard Medical School as the founder of the newly formed Department of Genetics, occupying the John Emory Andrus Chair. He retired from this position in 2008 and died of complications from Parkinson's disease on February 2, 2020.[2]


Leder has been awarded various honors and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. His many prizes include the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1981),[3] the Lasker Award (1987), the National Medal of Science (1991), the Harvey Prize, and the Heineken Prize awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In November 2015 he has been awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the Medical Faculty of the University of Basel for his lifetime achievements.


  1. ^ Archived from the original on May 21, 2014. Retrieved May 21, 2014. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Wade, Nicholas (23 February 2020). "Philip Leder, Who Helped Decipher the Genetic Code, Dies at 85". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  • "The AAMC Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences. Philip Leder, M.D". Journal of Medical Education. UNITED STATES. 59 (2): 105–6. February 1984. ISSN 0022-2577. PMID 6363701.

External linksEdit

  • Remembrances: Phil Leder (1934-2020)
  • Biographical information Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center
  • Links to digital facsimiles Leder's 'Codon notebooks' documenting the Nirenberg and Leder experiment can be found in HOLLIS, the Harvard University's library catalog
  • Philip Leder's listing in Research Matters, Harvard University
  • Esquire Magazine
  • Science's Barry Bonds[Usurped!](, 7/2004)