US neuroscientist. With US neuroscientist Richard Axel she shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for her contributions to understanding how the olfactory system is able to recognize and differentiate between different smells.
Buck was awarded her half share of the Nobel Prize for work carried out initially in partnership with Axel. They determined that the mechanism that allowed the sense of smell to function involved a large gene family made up of over 10,000 different genes (or about 3% of all human genes). The genes have an equivalent number of receptors in particular cells in the lining of the nose. The researchers' work showed that each of these receptors is sensitive to only one type of odour molecule, but when activated the receptors start a chain reaction that sends a signal to the higher brain functions. This reaction can trigger a connection of the smell to a particular memory or emotion. Buck and Axel published their fundamental paper in 1991, and subsequently have worked separately in this field to clarify and define the workings of the olfactory system.
Buck was born in Seattle, Washington. She was awarded a bachelor of science degree in psychology and microbiology by the University of Washington, Seattle in 1975, and in 1989 she received her PhD in immunology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. From 1984 to 1991 Buck was an associate at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University, New York, and she held the position of assistant professor there from 1994 to 1997. From 1996 to 2001 she was associate professor at the department of neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and from 2001 she has held the position of full investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She has been a full member of the division of basic sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle since 2002, and has held the position of affiliate professor at the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington since 2003. In 2002 she was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003.