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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 9, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 6
Andrew Fire, Adjunct Professor in Biology, Wins Nobel

Andrew Fire is interviewed in California by reporters on the day it was announced he had won the Nobel Prize. A professor at Stanford, Fire also advises graduate students at Johns Hopkins, where he has been an adjunct faculty member since 1989.
Photo by Stanford University News Service

By Lisa De Nike

The first thing that Blake Hill thought when he heard that Andrew Fire, an adjunct professor in the Krieger School's Biology Department, had won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was that "Andy is exactly the type of person you want to see win the Nobel Prize: a nice guy who is thoughtful, considerate and insightful.

"Andy is a scientist's scientist; he loves to think deeply about scientific problems and data, and he is careful not to overinterpret his data in a climate that encourages such behavior," says Hill, an assistant professor in the Biology Department. "What's more, he is amazingly selfless with his time in discussing ideas and research that are unrelated to his own. A rare trait."

Fire's association with Johns Hopkins began in 1989, when he became a senior researcher at the Carnegie Institution's Baltimore-based Department of Embryology; scientists there receive unpaid part-time adjunct positions in the Johns Hopkins Biology Department, where they typically work with graduate students.

Fire shares the Nobel with Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In an Oct. 2 announcement of the prize, the two were honored by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet for discoveries related to RNA interference, a process that could eventually allow researchers to "turn off" the genes that trigger various illnesses. Since Fire and Mello published their findings in 1998, RNAi has become a widespread research tool.

Though he left the Carnegie Institution in 2003 for the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he is a professor of pathology and genetics, Fire remains active at Johns Hopkins despite the distance between Palo Alto, Calif., and the Homewood campus in Baltimore. Fire currently is mentoring Frederick Tan's doctoral thesis on "Apoptosis in C. elegans."

Tan describes Fire as "an insightful, helpful and inspiring mentor."

"[Andy] has been willing and enthusiastic in sharing his tremendous insight to help guide my thesis project," Tan said. "From drawing parallels between the apoptic and mitotic machineries, to drawing parallels between enzymology and structural biology, Andy has pushed my thinking in new directions. Whether spending time on a conference call to craft the perfect presentation title or taking a moment to help design a now seemingly basic cloning strategy, Andy doesn't hesitate to do what he loves best: to help and teach others."

Mark Van Doren, an associate professor who also has worked with Fire, praises Fire for his support of Johns Hopkins' graduate program.

"Andy was a great member of our scientific community before he left for Stanford," Van Doren said. "He cares a lot about training young scientists and is a fantastic mentor. He was always thinking of ways to improve the graduate program here. It's wonderful to see the most prestigious award in all of science won by someone who is also such a wonderful colleague, who cares so much about training future scientists."

Fire is the 32nd person associated in some way with Johns Hopkins to win a Nobel Prize, dating back to President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, who received his doctorate in history from the university in 1886, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. A list of all Johns Hopkins-affiliated winners of Nobel Prizes is online at:


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