Victor Bloomfield, U of M biochemistry professor and administrator, was Phillip Sharp’s advisor when he was a graduate student in the late 1960s. Bloomfield, who is retiring this year, will introduce Sharp at commencement.
Nobel Laureate to give U of M College of Biological Sciences commencement address and receive honorary doctorate
Phillip Sharp, who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, will give the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) commencement address on Saturday, May 14, and receive an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Minnesota during a symposium on Friday, May 13. The commencement ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m. in Mariucci Arena, 1901 Fourth St. S.E., Minneapolis.
Sharp received the Nobel Prize for his 1977 discovery that genes contain “nonsense” segments that cells delete as they use genetic information. The discovery fundamentally changed understanding of the structure of genes and contributed to the rise of genetic engineering as a tool for science and industry.
Victor Bloomfield, CBS biochemistry professor and university administrator, was Sharp’s advisor when he was a graduate student at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) in the late 1960s. Bloomfield, who is retiring this year, will introduce Sharp at commencement.
“I knew he was destined for great things when he was my graduate student, and I followed his career with growing admiration,” Bloomfield said. “He’s one of the most influential scientists of our time, yet he’s very unpretentious and has a good sense of humor.”
Sharp was born and raised in rural Kentucky, where his parents, who were tenant farmers, hoped to send him to college. When he was young, they gave him a cow so he could sell its calves and save the money for his education. They also provided him with a fraction of an acre to grow tobacco and use the proceeds for college. He maintains strong ties to his family and his hometown, Fairmouth, where a middle school and street are named after him.
After earning his Ph.D. from Illinois in 1969, Sharp did postdoctoral research in molecular biology at Cal Tech. He then spent three years at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he worked under James Watson, who shared the 1953 Nobel Prize for discovering the helical structure of DNA. In 1974 Sharp moved to MIT, where he is now a member of the Koch Institute for Cancer Research and an Institute Professor, MIT’s highest academic rank. His research has focused on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and mechanisms of RNA splicing. In 1978, shortly after his landmark discovery, he founded Biogen, a pioneering biotech company.
Sharp has trained dozens of doctoral students at MIT, including Andrew Fire, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering RNA interference. In addition to his other accomplishments, he has dedicated a significant amount of his time to providing scientific leadership to academia, government and industry.
Bloomfield is retiring after 40 years of service to the university as a researcher, teacher and administrator, which included leadership for the CBS Biochemistry Department and the U of M Graduate School and Office for Public Engagement. Raised by a single mother who supported the family with a modest chicken ranch in northern California, he earned a B.S. from UC Berkeley and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Several years ago, he used the proceeds from selling his mother’s land to establish a graduate fellowship for biochemistry students.
Both Sharp and Bloomfield will be at the annual Bollum Symposium hosted by the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophyics on Friday, May 13, from 1 to 5 p.m. in Mayo Auditorium, Mayo Memorial Building, 420 Delaware St. S.E., Minneapolis. Sharp will deliver a lecture and receive an honorary doctor of science degree. Bloomfield will be recognized by university President Robert Bruininks, CBS Dean Robert Elde and Department Head David Bernlohr for his many contributions to research, teaching and administration at the University of Minnesota.