He was born in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology, and from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in 1971. He taught at the University of Oregon. He moved to University of California, San Francisco in 1981, where he headed the Herskowitz lab.
James D. Watson said after his passing:
He was one of the people who made U.C.S.F. the most exciting place in the world for a younger scientist to be. A talk by Ira was always fun to listen to. And he approached science with a certain degree of idealism."
- 1985 NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing of the National Academy of Sciences.
- 1987 MacArthur Fellows Program
- 1988 Genetics Society of America Medal
- 2002 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal
- 2002 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research.
- Duenwald, Mary (3 May 2003). "Ira Herskowitz, a Top Geneticist, Dies at 56". The New York Times.
- Botstein, David (2004-02-01). "Ira Herskowitz: 1946-2003". Genetics. 166 (2): 653–660. doi:10.1534/genetics.166.2.653. ISSN 0016-6731. PMC 1470729. PMID 15020456.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
- "Ira Herskowitz dies". vetscite.org. May 25, 2003. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
- "NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 18 March 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2011.