American molecular biologist who was awarded a share (with Paul Berg
and Frederick Sanger) of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1980 for his
development of a method for determining the sequence of nucleotide links
in the chainlike molecules of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA).
In the late 1960s Gilbert confirmed the theory of Jacques Monod and Francois Jacob that "repressor proteins" control the genes responsible for beginning and ending protein synthesis in the cell. He was able to demonstrate the existence of a repressor in the bacterium Escherichia coli that prevents a gene from manufacturing a certain enzyme except when lactose is present. In the 1970s Gilbert developed a widely used technique of using gel electrophoresis to read the nucleotide sequences of DNA segments. The same method was developed independently by Sanger.
In 1979 Gilbert, while retaining his affiliation with Harvard, joined
a group of other scientists and businessmen to form Biogen, a commercial
genetic-engineering research corporation. Gilbert resigned from Biogen
in 1984 and, while continuing to teach at Harvard, became a chief proponent
of the Human Genome Project, a government-funded effort to compile a
complete map of the gene sequences in human DNA.
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