Gary Bruce Ruvkun (born 26 March 1952, Berkeley, California) is an American molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Ruvkun discovered the mechanism by which lin-4, the first microRNA (miRNA) discovered by Victor Ambros, regulates the translation of target messenger RNAs via imperfect base-pairing to those targets, and discovered the second miRNA, let-7, and that it is conserved across animal phylogeny, including in humans. These miRNA discoveries revealed a new world of RNA regulation at an unprecedented small size scale, and the mechanism of that regulation. Ruvkun also discovered many features of insulin-like signaling in the regulation of aging and metabolism.
Ruvkun obtained his undergraduate degree in 1973 at the University of California, Berkeley. His PhD work was done at Harvard University in the laboratory of Frederick M. Ausubel, where he investigated bacterial nitrogen fixation genes. Ruvkun completed post-doctoral studies with Robert Horvitz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Walter Gilbert of Harvard.
Ruvkun's research revealed that the miRNA lin-4, a 22 nucleotide regulatory RNA discovered in 1992 by Victor Ambros' lab, regulates its target mRNA lin-14 by forming imperfect RNA duplexes to down-regulate translation. The first indication that the key regulatory element of the lin-14 gene recognized by the lin-4 gene product was in the lin-14 3’ untranslated region came from the analysis of lin-14 gain-of-function mutations which showed that they are deletions of conserved elements in the lin-14 3’ untranslated region. Deletion of these elements relieves the normal late stage-specific repression of LIN-14 protein production, and lin-4 is necessary for that repression by the normal lin-14 3' untranslated region. In a key breakthrough, the Ambros lab discovered that lin-4 encodes a very small RNA product, defining the 22 nucleotide miRNAs. When Ambros and Ruvkun compared the sequence of the lin-4 miRNA and the lin-14 3’ untranslated region, they discovered that the lin-4 RNA base pairs with conserved bulges and loops to the 3’ untranslated region of the lin-14 target mRNA, and that the lin-14 gain of function mutations delete these lin-4 complementary sites to relieve the normal repression of translation by lin-4. In addition, they showed that the lin-14 3' untranslated region could confer this lin-4-dependent translational repression on unrelated mRNAs by creating chimeric mRNAs that were lin-4-responsive. In 1993, Ruvkun reported in the journal Cell (journal) on the regulation of lin-14 by lin-4. In the same issue of Cell, Victor Ambros described the regulatory product of lin-4 as a small RNA These papers revealed a new world of RNA regulation at an unprecedented small size scale, and the mechanism of that regulation. Together, this research is now recognized as the first description of microRNAs and the mechanism by which partially base-paired miRNA::mRNA duplexes inhibit translation.
In 2000, the Ruvkun lab reported the identification of second C. elegans microRNA, let-7, which like the first microRNA regulates translation of the target gene, in this case lin-41, via imperfect base pairing to the 3’ untranslated region of that mRNA. This was an indication that miRNA regulation via 3’ UTR complementarity may be a common feature, and that there were likely to be more microRNAs. The generality of microRNA regulation to other animals was established by the Ruvkun lab later in 2000, when they reported that the sequence and regulation of the let-7 microRNA is conserved across animal phylogeny, including in humans. Presently thousands of miRNAs have been discovered, pointing to a world of gene regulation at this size regime.
When siRNAs of the same 21-22 nucleotide size as lin-4 and let-7 were discovered in 1999 by Hamilton and Baulcombe in plants, the fields of RNAi and miRNAs suddenly converged. It seemed likely that the similarly sized miRNAs and siRNAs would use similar mechanisms. In a collaborative effort, the Mello and Ruvkun labs showed that the first known components of RNA interference and their paralogs, Dicer and the PIWI proteins, are used by both miRNAs and siRNAs. Ruvkun's lab in 2003 identified many more miRNAs, identified miRNAs from mammalian neurons, and in 2007 discovered many new protein-cofactors for miRNA function.
Dr. Ruvkun's laboratory has also discovered that an insulin-like signaling pathway controls C. elegans metabolism and longevity. Klass  Johnson  and Kenyon  showed that the developmental arrest program mediated by mutations in age-1 and daf-2 increase C. elegans longevity. The Ruvkun lab established that these genes constitute an insulin like receptor and a downstream phosphatidylinositol kinase that couple to the daf-16 gene product, a highly conserved Forkhead transcription factor. Homologues of these genes have now been implicated in regulation of human aging. These findings are also important for diabetes, since the mammalian orthologs of daf-16 (referred to as FOXO transcription factors) are also regulated by insulin. The Ruvkun lab has used full genome RNAi libraries to discover a comprehensive set of genes that regulate aging and metabolism. Many of these genes are broadly conserved in animal phylogeny and are likely to reveal the neuroendocrine system that assesses and regulates energy stores and assigns metabolic pathways based on that status. Recently, the Ruvkun lab discovered a deep connection between longevity and small RNA pathways, with the production of germline specific small RNA factors induced in somatic cells in long lived mutant animals.
The Ruvkun lab in collaboration with Maria Zuber at MIT and Michael Finney, George Church, Steve Quake, and Walter Gilbert is also developing protocols and instruments that use PCR primers corresponding to universal sequence elements of the 16S RNA gene to search for divergent microbes. One long term goal of this project is to send a robotic thermal cycler with these primers to Mars in search of microbial life that is ancestrally related to life on Earth. Closer to home, these protocols may reveal microbes that may cause diseases unsuspected to be due to pathogens and microbes from extreme environments.
As of 2010, Ruvkun has published about 130 scientific articles. Ruvkun has received numerous awards for his contributions to medical science, particularly his study of microRNAs. He is a recipient of the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science. Ruvkun was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008.
- 2005 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Research of Brandeis University (co-recipient (with Craig Mello, Andrew Fire and Victor Ambros)
- 2007 Warren Triennial Prize, Massachusetts General Hospital (co-recipient with Victor Ambros)
- 2008 Gairdner Foundation International Award (co-recipient (with Victor Ambros)
- 2008 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science (co-recipient with Victor Ambros and David Baulcombe)
- 2008 Lasker Foundation Award for Basic Medical Research (co-recipient with Victor Ambros and David Baulcombe)
- 2008 National Academy of Sciences
- 2009 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, Columbia University (co-recipient with Victor Ambros)
- 2009 American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 2009 Massry Prize from the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California (co-recipient with Victor Ambros)
- 2009 Institute of Medicine
- 2011 Dan David Prize
- 2012 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research with Victor Ambros
- 2014 Wolf Prize for Medicine (co-recipient with Victor Ambros)
- Who's Who in America 66th edition. Vol 2: M–Z. Marquis Who's Who, Berkeley Heights 2011, p. 3862
- Nair, P. (2011). "Profile of Gary Ruvkun". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (37): 15043–5. doi:10.1073/pnas.1111960108. PMC 3174634. PMID 21844349.
- Harvard Medical School faculty page
- Arasu, P.; Wightman, B.; Ruvkun, G. (1991). "Temporal regulation of lin-14 by the antagonistic action of two other heterochronic genes, lin-4 and lin-28". Genes & Development 5 (10): 1825–1833. doi:10.1101/gad.5.10.1825. PMID 1916265.
- Wightman, B.; Bürglin, T. R.; Gatto, J.; Arasu, P.; Ruvkun, G. (1991). "Negative regulatory sequences in the lin-14 3'-untranslated region are necessary to generate a temporal switch during Caenorhabditis elegans development". Genes & Development 5 (10): 1813–1824. doi:10.1101/gad.5.10.1813. PMID 1916264.
- Wightman, B.; Ha, I.; Ruvkun, G. (1993). "Posttranscriptional regulation of the heterochronic gene lin-14 by lin-4 mediates temporal pattern formation in C. Elegans". Cell 75 (5): 855–862. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(93)90530-4. PMID 8252622.
- Lee, R. C.; Feinbaum, R. L.; Ambros, V. (1993). "The C. Elegans heterochronic gene lin-4 encodes small RNAs with antisense complementarity to lin-14". Cell 75 (5): 843–854. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(93)90529-Y. PMID 8252621.
- Ruvkun, G; Wightman, B; Bürglin, T; Arasu, P (1991). "Dominant gain-of-function mutations that lead to misregulation of the C. Elegans heterochronic gene lin-14, and the evolutionary implications of dominant mutations in pattern-formation genes". Development (Cambridge, England). Supplement 1: 47–54. PMID 1742500.
- Ruvkun, G.; Ambros, V.; Coulson, A.; Waterston, R.; Sulston, J.; Horvitz, H. R. (1989). "Molecular Genetics of the Caenorhabditis Elegans Heterochronic Gene Lin-14". Genetics 121 (3): 501–516. PMC 1203636. PMID 2565854.
- Ruvkun, G.; Wightman, B.; Ha, I. (2004). "The 20 years it took to recognize the importance of tiny RNAs". Cell 116 (2 Suppl): S93–S96, 2 S96 following S96. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(04)00034-0. PMID 15055593.
- Reinhart, B. J.; Slack, F. J.; Basson, M.; Pasquinelli, A. E.; Bettinger, J. C.; Rougvie, A. E.; Horvitz, H. R.; Ruvkun, G. (2000). "The 21-nucleotide let-7 RNA regulates developmental timing in Caenorhabditis elegans". Nature 403 (6772): 901–906. Bibcode:2000Natur.403..901R. doi:10.1038/35002607. PMID 10706289.
- Slack, F. J.; Basson, M.; Liu, Z.; Ambros, V.; Horvitz, H. R.; Ruvkun, G. (2000). "The lin-41 RBCC gene acts in the C. Elegans heterochronic pathway between the let-7 regulatory RNA and the LIN-29 transcription factor". Molecular Cell 5 (4): 659–669. doi:10.1016/S1097-2765(00)80245-2. PMID 10882102.
- Pasquinelli, A. E.; Reinhart, B. J.; Slack, F.; Martindale, M. Q.; Kuroda, M. I.; Maller, B.; Hayward, D. C.; Ball, E. E.; Degnan, B.; Müller, B.; Spring, P.; Srinivasan, J. R.; Fishman, A.; Finnerty, M.; Corbo, J.; Levine, J.; Leahy, M.; Davidson, P.; Ruvkun, E. (2000). "Conservation of the sequence and temporal expression of let-7 heterochronic regulatory RNA". Nature 408 (6808): 86–89. doi:10.1038/35040556. PMID 11081512.
- Hamilton, A. J.; Baulcombe, D. C. (1999). "A species of small antisense RNA in posttranscriptional gene silencing in plants". Science 286 (5441): 950–952. doi:10.1126/science.286.5441.950. PMID 10542148.
- Grishok, A.; Pasquinelli, A. E.; Conte, D.; Li, N.; Parrish, S.; Ha, I.; Baillie, D. L.; Fire, A.; Ruvkun, G.; Mello, C. C. (2001). "Genes and mechanisms related to RNA interference regulate expression of the small temporal RNAs that control C. Elegans developmental timing". Cell 106 (1): 23–34. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(01)00431-7. PMID 11461699.
- Grad, Y.; Aach, J.; Hayes, G. D.; Reinhart, B. J.; Church, G. M.; Ruvkun, G.; Kim, J. (2003). "Computational and experimental identification of C. Elegans microRNAs". Molecular Cell 11 (5): 1253–1263. doi:10.1016/S1097-2765(03)00153-9. PMID 12769849.
- Parry, D.; Xu, J.; Ruvkun, G. (2007). "A whole-genome RNAi Screen for C. Elegans miRNA pathway genes". Current biology : CB 17 (23): 2013–2022. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.10.058. PMC 2211719. PMID 18023351.
- Kim, J.; Krichevsky, A.; Grad, Y.; Hayes, G.; Kosik, K.; Church, G.; Ruvkun, G. (2004). "Identification of many microRNAs that copurify with polyribosomes in mammalian neurons". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101 (1): 360–365. Bibcode:2003PNAS..101..360K. doi:10.1073/pnas.2333854100. PMC 314190. PMID 14691248.
- Hayes, G.; Frand, A.; Ruvkun, G. (2006). "The mir-84 and let-7 paralogous microRNA genes of Caenorhabditis elegans direct the cessation of molting via the conserved nuclear hormone receptors NHR-23 and NHR-25". Development (Cambridge, England) 133 (23): 4631–4641. doi:10.1242/dev.02655. PMID 17065234.
- Hayes, G.; Ruvkun, G. (2006). "Misexpression of the Caenorhabditis elegans miRNA let-7 is sufficient to drive developmental programs". Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology 71: 21–27. doi:10.1101/sqb.2006.71.018. PMID 17381276.
- Pierce, M.; Weston, M.; Fritzsch, B.; Gabel, H.; Ruvkun, G.; Soukup, G. (2008). "MicroRNA-183 family conservation and ciliated neurosensory organ expression". Evolution & development 10 (1): 106–113. doi:10.1111/j.1525-142X.2007.00217.x. PMC 2637451. PMID 18184361.
- Klass, M.; Hirsh, D. (1976). "Non-ageing developmental variant of Caenorhabditis elegans". Nature 260 (5551): 523–525. Bibcode:1976Natur.260..523K. doi:10.1038/260523a0. PMID 1264206.
- Friedman, D. B.; Johnson, T. E. (1988). "A Mutation in the Age-1 Gene in Caenorhabditis Elegans Lengthens Life and Reduces Hermaphrodite Fertility". Genetics 118 (1): 75–86. PMC 1203268. PMID 8608934.
- Kenyon, C.; Chang, J.; Gensch, E.; Rudner, A.; Tabtiang, R. (1993). "A C. Elegans mutant that lives twice as long as wild type". Nature 366 (6454): 461–464. Bibcode:1993Natur.366..461K. doi:10.1038/366461a0. PMID 8247153.
- Kenyon, C. J. (2010). "The genetics of ageing". Nature 464 (7288): 504–512. Bibcode:2010Natur.464..504K. doi:10.1038/nature08980. PMID 20336132.
- "Gary Ruvkun" – The Gairdner Foundation (Retrieved on May 25, 2008)
- "Gary Ruvkun"– The Lasker Foundation (Retrieved on September 15, 2008)
- Franklin Award