Richard Anthony Jefferson

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Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson, 2010
Richard Jefferson, 2010
Born Richard Anthony Jefferson
Alma mater
Thesis DNA Transformation of Caenorhabditis elegans devleopmetn and Application of a New Gene Fusion System (Cloning, Chimeric, Sequence) (1985)
Known for

Richard Anthony Jefferson (born 1956) is an American-born molecular biologist, who developed the reporter gene system GUS,[3] a widespread molecular technique. In 2003 he was named by Scientific American as one of the 50 most influential technologists in the world, and is renowned for his work on making science-enabled innovation more widely accessible.[4][5] He was profiled in 'Open & Shut: The Basement Interviews' [6]


Born in Santa Cruz, California, Jefferson studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara at the College of Creative Studies, and obtained his BA (Molecular Genetics) in 1978. He then moved to the University of Colorado Boulder for his Ph.D., where he first developed the GUS reporter system, isolating, sequencing and characterizing the first microbial glucuronidase,[3][7] and creating transgenic technology for C. elegans [8]


As a postdoctoral researcher he worked at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, England: there he adapted the GUS assay for the use in plants.[3] His GUS system was a breakthrough in plant molecular sciences, useful for the development of efficient transformation methods for crop plants, and cell and developmental biology. In 1986-87 he sent all the components of the GUS system (DNA and strains) together with a comprehensive users' manual to over five hundred labs worldwide, before publication, pioneering a biological open source paradigm and a rapid uptake of the technology. The work has been cited in the primary literature almost 15,000 times.[9]

During his postdoc in Cambridge, he also initiated and managed the world's first field release of a transgenic food crop (June 1, 1987), in Trumpington, near Cambridge, UK.[10][11] The planting date of the experiment was serendipitously one day before that of Monsanto, in Jerseyville, Illinois, which has been widely but incorrectly viewed as the first such trial.[12][13]

In 1989, Jefferson joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as senior scientist, the first molecular biologist in this position. Since then he traveled, worked and taught in many developing countries. He left the organization in 1991, when he founded a private research institution, Cambia. His non-profit company moved later to Australia, due to the involvement in the Asian rice biotechnology programs of the Rockefeller Foundation.[10]

In 1994, Jefferson first articulated the Hologenome Theory of Evolution, at a presentation at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, at a Symposium "A Decade of PCR" [14] This theory was developed from his molecular and genetic work on glucuronide metabolism by vertebrate-associated microbes, including the role of glucuronidases in modulating and effecting enterohepatic circulation of steroid hormones. The levels, ratios and timing of steroid hormone de-conjugation and resorption modulates virtually all aspects of vertebrate ontogeny, physiology and reproduction. The premise for his theory was that natural selection acts on the 'holobiont' comprising a 'scaffold genome' and myriad microbial constituents in diverse ecosystems, selecting for persistence of the set of genetically-encoded capabilities.

This theory was also informed by studies including that of Froebe et al [15] in 1990 indicating that essential mating pheromones, including androstenols, required activation by skin-associated microbial glucuronidases and sulfatases.

The theory and its logic were also outlined in his blog in 2007,[16] and summarized in a cover article Jan 9, 2013, in New Scientist [17]

In 1999 he was appointed as Author-in-Chief to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity for the landmark study, submitted to the UN General Assembly, on the contentious genetic technology, colloquially called 'Terminator Technology'. In Jefferson's study [18] he coined and defined the term GURT - Genetic Use Restriction Technology and its variants.

Jefferson is also considered a global leader in social entrepreneurship and is an Outstanding Social Entrepreneur of the Schwab Foundation,[19] and a plenary speaker at the Skoll World Forum [20]

In 2009, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jefferson moved with Cambia to the [Queensland University of Technology] (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, as Professor of Science, Technology & Law, to direct a global project on open Innovation Cartography.[21]

Richard Jefferson is known also for his expertise regarding intellectual property. The BiOS Initiative, which he founded in 2005, is active in the promotion of open source biological innovation of a similar philosophy to that in informatics, which was covered extensively by global media.[22] Jefferson was on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Intellectual Property for four years, and is on the WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Economics of Innovation. In 2013 Cambia launched The Lens[23] a free and open source patent searching and analysis tool, replacing the older Patent Lens.


  1. ^ Jefferson, R. A. (1987). "Assaying chimeric genes in plants: The GUS gene fusion system". Plant Molecular Biology Reporter 5 (4): 387. doi:10.1007/BF02667740.  edit
  2. ^ Jefferson, R. A. (1989). "The GUS reporter gene system". Nature 342 (6251): 837–8. doi:10.1038/342837a0. PMID 2689886. 
  3. ^ a b c Jefferson, R. A.; Kavanagh, T. A.; Bevan, M. W. (1987). "GUS fusions: Beta-glucuronidase as a sensitive and versatile gene fusion marker in higher plants". The EMBO journal 6 (13): 3901–7. PMC 553867. PMID 3327686. 
  4. ^ Scientific American Website: The 2003 Scientific American 50 List of Winners [1], URL accessed on 30 May 2006
  5. ^ Richard Anthony Jefferson's publications indexed by Google Scholar, a free service provided by Google
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  7. ^ Jefferson, R. A., S. M. Burgess, and D. Hirsh. “Beta-Glucuronidase from Escherichia Coli as a Gene-Fusion Marker.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 83, no. 22 (November 1, 1986): 8447–8451. doi:10.1073/pnas.83.22.8447.
  8. ^ Jefferson, Richard A., Michael Klass, Nurit Wolf, and David Hirsh. “Expression of Chimeric Genes in Caenorhabditis Elegans.” Journal of Molecular Biology 193, no. 1 (January 1987): 41–46. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(87)90624-3.
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  10. ^ a b Jefferson, R. (2006). "Science as Social Enterprise: The CAMBIA BiOS Initiative". Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization 1 (4): 13. doi:10.1162/itgg.2006.1.4.13. 
  11. ^ Jefferson, Richard A. “New Approaches for Agricultural Molecular Biology: From Single Cells to Field Analysis.” Stadler Genetics Symposia Series (1990): 365–400. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-7047-5_20.
  12. ^ 2001, E Simanis & S. Hart, World Resources Institute Case Study,
  13. ^ Archives of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
  14. ^ Number 6 in a series of 7 VHS recordings, 'A Decade of PCR: Celebrating 10 Years of Amplification,' released by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1994. ISBN 0-87969-473-4.
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  17. ^, doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)60115-3
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  22. ^ Herrera, S. (2005). "Profile: Richard Jefferson". Nature Biotechnology 23 (6): 643. doi:10.1038/nbt0605-643. 
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