A molecular biologist, DeRisi has designed new tools for exploring the activity of genes, and used them to make major advances in understanding such infectious diseases as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and malaria. He is an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics and Gordon M. Tomkins Chair at UCSF.
The honor, which includes $500,000 in support over the next five years, to be used at the recipient's discretion, is intended to "celebrate the creative individual in our midst," says Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which bestows the honor. It is given in recognition of an individual's "originality, creativity and the potential to do more in the future."
It is the Foundation's conviction, says Fanton, "that talented individuals, free to follow their insights and instincts, will make a difference in shaping the future."
DeRisi, the only molecular biologist to be named in 2004, is one of 23 new fellows, who include such talents as a ragtime pianist, a novelist and an archaeological illustrator. The award is popularly referred to as the "genius award."
"I'm very surprised and extremely honored," says DeRisi, who learned about the award with a single phone call from the MacArthur Foundation last Tuesday, Sept. 21. "I feel like I'm in pretty extraordinary company."
Candidates are nominated for the award, evaluated and selected through a rigorous and confidential process, according to the Foundation. No one can apply for the awards, and no interviews are conducted.
"I have not before experienced anything coming close to the degree of transformation that Joe has brought about in our community," says Peter Walter, PhD, chairman and professor of the UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Bio
Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
University of California - San Francisco