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Hood Wins President’s Award; Hails ‘Century of Biology’

Leroy Hood, president of the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, was awarded the 2005 Bio-IT World President’s Award last night.

Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology.Hood thanked attendees for “this wonderful award” and “for validating the critical role technology is playing in biology and the importance of systems biology for the 21st century.” The award was presented at the annual Bio-IT World Best Practices dinner, held Tuesday night at the National Press Club before 150 guests.

Hood was unable to receive the award in person, having been called home from Washington, D.C., earlier in the day to complete preparations for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. In a written acceptance speech, Hood said: “I had the good fortune to be a participant in several paradigm changes in biology over the last 35 years, and the President’s Award is for two of these.”

Hood recalled his tenure at Caltech in the 1970s and 1980s as a young assistant professor, where he made major contributions to the field of molecular immunology, for which he received the prestigious Lasker Award in 1987. But much of his group’s effort was also dedicated to technology development.

Over a span of 15 years, Hood said, “my lab developed instruments for the sequencing and synthesis of both DNA and proteins. What was remarkable about these instruments was that each of them changed in fundamental ways how biology was practiced. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the automated DNA sequencer that permitted the sequencing of the human and other genomes. Genomics have certainly fundamentally altered the practice of biology.”

Hood continued: “In the late 1980s, I began to realize the importance of systems biology—the approach of studying all of the informational elements in a biological system and their interconnections so as to explain the emergent properties of the system of interest. At this time, we did not have the tools for carrying out systems biology. However, the genome project did enable systems biology—both by providing a genetics parts list and by driving the development of high-throughput biological instrumentation and the creation of powerful computational and mathematical tools for handling the explosion of emerging data.”

Hood was recruited to Seattle in 1992 by Microsoft’s Bill Gates to take an endowed chair in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Washington. In late 1999, he co-founded the Institute for Systems Biology, which Hood called “first organization devoted entirely to the practice of systems approaches to biology and medicine, and now after five years we remain one of the leaders in this emerging field. My feeling is that there are compelling examples already of how systems biology will play a fundamental role in transforming biology and medicine in the 21st century.

“The 21st century will be the Century of Biology!” Hood concluded.

Previous winners of the Bio-IT World President’s Award are Francis Collins (2004) and Caroline Kovac (2003).

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