US geneticist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with US geneticist Craig C Mello in 2006 for their discovery of RNA interference, a fundamental control mechanism in gene expression.
Fire and Mello were studying how to silence a muscle gene in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Genes are expressed by the creation of the appropriate messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. Gene silencing using artificial RNA molecules called sense and antisense RNA was known, but this method was unreliable and inconsistent in its efficiency. Fire and Mello discovered that sense and antisense RNA could be combined to form double stranded RNA molecules and that when these were injected into the worm, the muscle gene no longer functioned, it was silenced. They went on to show that very small amounts of double stranded RNA was required to perform this function and that targeted mRNA molecules were actually destroyed by a cellular defence mechanism responding to double stranded RNAs (as the most likely reason for its presence would normally be a virus infection). They called this mechanism RNA interference or RNAi. This procedure is now widely used as a basic tool in genetics.
Fire was born in Palo Alto, California. He was awarded his PhD in biology by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1983. He was a staff member at the Department of Embryology of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, from 1986 until 2003. Fire joined the faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, in 2003 and holds the positions of Professor of Pathology and Professor of Genetics. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 and also became a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the same year.
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