Robert Tjian

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Robert Tjian
Born Hong Kong
Institutions University of California, Berkeley, HHMI
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Doctoral advisor Richard Losick
Other academic advisors Richard Losick, James D. Watson
Doctoral students Stephen P. Bell, Brian David Dynlacht, Laura Donatella Attardi
Notable awards NAS Award in Molecular Biology (1991)
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1999)
Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize (1999)

Robert Tjian (Chinese: 錢澤南; pinyin: Qián Zénán; born 1949) is an Asian-American biochemist best known for his work on eukaryotic transcription. He is currently Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). On April 1, 2009, Tjian became the President of HHMI. On August 4, 2015, he announced that he would step down as President at the end of 2016.[1]


Tjian was born in Hong Kong in 1949. His father Tjian Tze-Ning (Qian Zining; 錢子寧), a native of Shaoxing, Zhejiang, was a famous capitalist in Shanghai and pioneer of China's modern paper industry. In April 1949, Tjian's family and business all moved to Hong Kong; in 1950 moved to São Paulo, Brazil; and later settled in New Jersey, the United States.[2]

Tjian received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971 and a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1976. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with James D. Watson for three years before returning to the University of California in 1979 when he was appointed Assistant Professor of Biochemistry.[3] In 2008, Tjian joined the Board of Directors of the Lasker Foundation.

In 1978, Tjian found the first protein of a virus which can regulate gene expression in mammalian cells, the SV40 large T antigen. He showed that "activator" proteins, which previously had been shown to play crucial roles in regulating gene expression in simple organisms, also exist in higher organisms. He and his colleagues further discovered several gene-regulatory proteins.

Tjian is also notable in drug-target studies and their applications. Tjian developed some highly efficient and sensitive techniques to detect cellular quantities such as proteins. In 1989, Tjian, together with two colleagues, co-founded Tularik Inc., a biotechnology company based in South San Francisco, California.

Tjian is also a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.[4]

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