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Professor David J. Anderson

Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Leadership Chair
Director, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience

A.B., Harvard University, 1978; Ph.D., Rockefeller University, 1983. Assistant Professor, Caltech, 1986-92; Associate Professor, 1992-96; Professor, 1996-2004; Roger W. Sperry Professor, 2004-09; Benzer Professor, 2009-. Assistant Investigator, 1989-92; Associate Investigator, 1992-97; Investigator, 1997-.

David J. Anderson, Ph.D., is Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology where he has been on the faculty since 1986.  Dr. Anderson is also an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Anderson received his A.B. from Harvard, Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University under Günter Blobel and was postdoctoral fellow with Richard Axel at Columbia.  

For the first 20+ years of his career, Anderson’s research focused on the biology of neural crest stem cells.  He was the first to isolate a multipotent self-renewing stem cell for neurons and glia, and subsequently identified growth factors and master transcriptional regulators that control their differentiation into neurons vs. glia, as well as their self-renewal.  Anderson has also made important contributions to angiogenesis and nerve-blood vessel interactions, including the discovery that arteries and veins are genetically distinct from before the onset of heartbeat.  

Beginning in the early part of the last decade, Anderson gradually switched his research focus from neural development to the study of neural circuits underlying innate behaviors that are associated with emotional states, including defensive behaviors and inter-male aggression.  His work employs both mice and the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster as model organisms, and incorporates optogenetics, pharmacogenetics, electrophysiology, in vivo imaging and (in collaboration with Prof. Pietro Perona in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences), quantitative behavior analysis using machine vision-based approaches.  

Dr. Anderson played a key advisory role in the initial foundation of the Allan Institute for Brain Sciences and the Allen Brain Atlas, and now serves on their Scientific Advisory Board, as well as on the Advisory Council for Project MindScope and the Connectional Atlas.  He has also been a Visiting Scientist at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus.  Dr. Anderson received the Alden Spencer Award in Neurobiology from Columbia University in 1999, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2007. 

Professional Activities

2013 Working Group for the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, Obama BRAIN Initiative 
2011-present Mindscope Advisory Council, Allen Institute for Brain Science 
2010-present Neural Systems & Circuits Editorial Board 
2010-present Connectional Atlas Advisory Council, Allen Institute for Brain Science 
2009-2011 SAB Chair, Allen Institute for Brain Science 
2009-present Scientific Advisory Committee, Helen Hay Whitney Foundation

Awards and Honors

2018 Edward M. Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience
2016 17th Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize (read more)
2010 Allen Distinguished Investigator
2009 Named Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology 
2007 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences 
2005 Alenxander von Humboldt Award 
2004 Named Roger W. Sperry Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology 
2002 American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow 
2002 American Academy of ARts and Sciences Fellow 
2001 Elected Associate, The Neurosciences Institute 2001 Ferguson Award for Graduate Teaching

Special Lectures

2013 Albert and Ellen Grass Lecture, SFN Meeting 
2012 Emotional Brain Institute Distinguished Speaker, NYU
2011 Francis Crick Lecture, MRC Cambridge
2011 Steven Kuffler Lecture, Harvard Medical School
2011 Harvey Lecture, Rockefeller University
2011 Seymour Benzer Lecture, Oberlin College