Open main menu

Eric Harris Davidson (April 13, 1937 – September 1, 2015) was an American developmental biologist at the California Institute of Technology.[1][2] Davidson was best known for his pioneering work on the role of gene regulation in evolution, on embryonic specification and for spearheading the effort to sequence the genome of the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus.[3][4] He devoted a large part of his professional career to developing an understanding of embryogenesis at the genetic level. He wrote many academic works describing his work, including a textbook on early animal development.[5]

Eric H. Davidson
Born(1937-04-13)April 13, 1937
New York City, New York
DiedSeptember 1, 2015(2015-09-01) (aged 78)
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania (BA, 1958) and Rockefeller University (Ph.D., 1963)
Known forGene regulatory networks, Sea Urchin Developmental biology
AwardsAlexander von Humboldt Foundation Awardee, A.O. Kowalevsky Medal (2002), International Prize for Biology (2011)
Scientific career
FieldsDevelopmental biology
InstitutionsCalifornia Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisorAlfred Mirsky


Early careerEdit

Davidson began conducting research as a teenager at The Marine Biological Laboratory.[6] After graduating from high school, he matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.A. in biology in 1958.[7] Davidson's Ph.D. work entailed studying RNA synthesis and gene expression in early development of the anuran Xenopus laevis in the lab of Alfred Mirsky at Rockefeller University.[8]

From Rockefeller to CaltechEdit

After obtaining his Ph.D., Davidson stayed on at Rockefeller first as a research associate and then as an assistant professor. In 1971, he moved to the California Institute of Technology as an associate professor. There, Davidson took an interest in development of marine invertebrates, especially of the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and in investigating the function of genomic repetitive DNA elements, both interests of which would lead to a long line of investigation that eventually led to his contemporary interest in gene regulatory networks.[9]

Career in biologyEdit

Davidson has spent the majority of his scientific career investigating the molecular and mechanistic basis of animal development, i.e. how animals are built by reading the instructions encoded in the egg and, ultimately, in the genome. While at Rockefeller and very early in his career, he and Roy Britten, then at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, speculated on how the products of transcription, e.g. various RNAs or other downstream products, would need to in principle interact in order for cellular differentiation and gene regulation to occur in multicellular organisms.[10] This research program eventually led him to investigations regarding the role of gene regulation in cell lineage and embryonic territory specification, both endeavors of which contributed substantially to many biological disciplines, including developmental biology, systems biology and evolutionary developmental biology. In 2011, he was awarded the International Prize for Biology in recognition for his pioneering work on developmental gene regulatory networks.

Shortly before his death from a heart attack in 2015,[11] Davidson co-authored a landmark review book [12] providing a grand synthesis of the theory and experimental evidence relating to the design and function of genomic regulatory networks within the animal taxonomic clade of Bilateria.

Interest in American Folk MusicEdit

In the 1950s and 1960s Davidson traveled throughout Grayson and Caroll counties in Virginia recording traditional folk music [13]. These recordings were eventually deposited in the Smithsonian Folkways collection [14].

Selected bibliographyEdit

  • Isabelle S. Peter and Eric H. Davidson Genomic Control Process: Development and Evolution (2015) ISBN 978-0-12-404729-7
  • Britten R.; E.H. Davidson (1969). "Gene regulation for higher cells: a theory". Science. 165 (3891): 349–57. doi:10.1126/science.165.3891.349. PMID 5789433.
  • Gene Activity in Early Development (1987) ISBN 0-12-205161-0
  • Genomic Regulatory Systems: Development and Evolution (2001) ISBN 0-12-205351-6
  • Davidson, E.H.; J.P. Rast; P. Oliveri; et al. (2002). "A genomic regulatory network for development". Science. 295 (5560): 1669–78. doi:10.1126/science.1069883. PMID 11872831.
  • The Regulatory Genome: Gene Regulatory Networks In Development And Evolution (2006) ISBN 0-12-088563-8


  1. ^ Hinman, Veronica (2016). "Eric Davidson (1937-2015) and the past, present and future of EvoDevo". Evolution & Development. 18 (2): 67–68. doi:10.1111/ede.12180. PMID 26766743.
  2. ^ "Eric Harris Davidson In Memoriam".
  3. ^ Sea urchin genome sequencing consortium (2006). "The genome of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus". Science. 314 (5801): 941–952. doi:10.1126/science.1133609. PMC 3159423. PMID 17095691.
  4. ^ Hood, L. (2008). "Gene regulatory networks and embryonic specification". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105 (16): 5955–62. doi:10.1073/pnas.0801434105. PMC 2329716. PMID 18417452.
  5. ^ Davidson, E.H. (1987). Gene Activity in Early Development. Academic Press.
  6. ^ Evolution - The Molecular Landscape Interview with Eric Davidson. 2011-03-28. Archived from the original on 2011-10-02.
  7. ^ "Eric H. Davidson".
  8. ^ Davidson, E.H.; Allfrey, V.G. & Mirsky, A.E. (1964), "On the RNA synthesized during the lampbrush phase of amphibian oogenesis" (PDF), PNAS, 52 (2): 501–508, doi:10.1073/pnas.52.2.501, PMC 300305, PMID 14206616
  9. ^ Genomic Regulatory Systems: Development and Evolution. Academic Press. 2001.
  10. ^ Britten R.; E.H. Davidson (1969). "Gene regulation for higher cells: a theory". Science. 165 (3891): 349–57. doi:10.1126/science.165.3891.349. PMID 5789433.
  11. ^ Healey, Melissa (16 September 2015). "Eric Harris Davidson dies at 78; pioneering developmental biologist". Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ Genomic Control Process: Development and Evolution. Academic Press. 2015. ISBN 978-0-12-404729-7.
  13. ^ Erwin, Douglas H. (2015-10-19). "Eric Davidson (1937–2015)". Current Biology. 25 (20): R968–R969. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.034.
  14. ^ "Bluegrass From the Blue Ridge: A Half Century of Change: Country Band Music of Virginia | Smithsonian Folkways". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Retrieved 2017-06-25.

External linksEdit