John Abelson (born 1938, Grand Coulee, Washington) is an American molecular biologist with expertise in biophysics, biochemistry, and genetics. He was a professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Abelson graduated in 1960 with a bachelor's degree in physics from Washington State University. He obtained his Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University in 1965. He then did a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Structural Studies Division, Cambridge, England, where he worked with Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick studying DNA transcription.
He occupied his first faculty post at the University of California, San Diego in 1968.
In 1978, Dr. Abelson and several colleagues founded Agouron Institute, a non-profit research organization which sponsors innovative research in biology. He is the current president and executive director of the institute.
The institute has a substantial endowment because it founded a for profit company, Agouron Pharmaceuticals, six years later. This company, a pioneer in rational drug design, discovered and brought to market Viracept, the leading drug used for controlling HIV infections. In 1999, the company was bought by Warner Lambert for $2.1 Billion, and in 2000 Warner Lambert was acquired by Pfizer Incorporated.
In 1980, he was made a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
In 1982 Abelson joined the faculty at Caltech. He chaired the Division of Biology there and became the George Beadle Professor of Biology in 1991. He retired in 2002 and lives in San Francisco, where he currently works with his wife, Christine Guthrie, a noted RNA biochemist, geneticist and faculty at UCSF.
Abelson was a key figure in the elucidation of RNA splicing. His work has made possible an understanding of how genomic DNA can be converted to both messenger RNA and transfer RNA, particularly when there are introns present in the genome. He identified the enzymes that cleave genes into fragments, and elucidated the mechanisms by which fragments are spliced together to make the functional RNA.
- Nicole Kresge, Robert D. Simoni and Robert L. Hill, 2009, DNA Transcription and tRNA Ligase: the Work of John Abelson, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 284, e20-21.
- Agouron Institute Board of Directors
- MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology Archives
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- John Abelson's Caltech home page
- University Names John Abelson Recipient of its Highest Alumni Award on Washington State University site
- Roberts & Company Publishers
- PNAS Bio