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Fellows Directory

Richard Axel

Professor Richard Axel ForMemRS

Foreign Member

Elected: 2014


Richard Axel is a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist and neuroscientist whose landmark work has definitively explained how our sense of smell, or olfaction, works. Through experiments in fruit flies, he revealed that over 1,000 genes are necessary for the perception of odours. He went on to show that these findings are highly applicable to humans and other mammals.

Although he began his studies in the humanities, his interest in science was triggered by a part-time job as a glassware washer in a laboratory at Columbia University. This change of track ultimately led to Richard’s early discovery of an ingenious method for inserting foreign genes into host cells — allowing in vivo analysis of gene function and the manufacture of protein-based drugs on an industrial scale.

Richard was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his pioneering work on the olfactory system. His technique for transferring genetic material is used in labs across the world and he continues his quest to understand how our brain determines what our nose is smelling.


  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Jointly with Linda B. Buck for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system.