Michael Ashburner was a geneticist and bioinformatician whose discoveries about the regulation of gene expression in the fruit fly Drosophila — a commonly used model organism — have shaped our understanding of genetic control in eukaryotes. Later, Michael played a leading role in the creation of databases aiding discovery in genetics.
Michael mapped the temporal activity of genes during Drosophila development by observing patterns of physical changes in chromosomes - known as puffs - that reveal gene expression in this organism. He discovered that the hormone ecdysone triggered this cascade of gene activity, hypothesising that the first wave of genes encoded activators for the next.
After the discovery of transcription factors, it became clear that Michael had correctly predicted the first model for eukaryotic gene regulation. Michael later took up a second career in bioinformatics, playing a leading role in the development of Flybase and the Gene Ontology Consortium, as well as co-founding the European Bioinformatics Institute.
Professor Michael Ashburner FRS died on 7 July 2023.
Interest and expertise
Microbiology, immunology and developmental biology