HomeOur ScientistsGerald M. Rubin

Our Scientists

Gerald M. Rubin, PhD
Janelia, Executive Director, Janelia Group Leader / 2003–Present

Scientific Discipline

Genetics, Neuroscience

Host Institution

Janelia Research Campus

Current Position

Dr. Rubin is HHMI Vice President and Executive Director of the Janelia Research Campus as well as John D. Macarthur Professor of Genetics, emeritus, at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, he was HHMI Vice President for Biomedical Research (2000–2002) and an HHMI investigator at UC Berkeley (1987–2000).


Brain Structure and Function in Drosophila

Gerald Rubin’s lab team develops new research tools that they and others use to study the structure and function of the nervous system in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Their overall goal is to understand the circuit and cellular mechanisms that underlie neuronal functions such as learning and memory, sleep, and the processing of visual information.

To effectively probe the nervous system, scientists need to be able to visualize and manipulate the function of individual neuronal cells and cell types – but these kinds of studies have been limited by inadequate research tools. Over the past several years, the Rubin lab has developed a number of methods that researchers are using to comprehensively analyze the anatomy and function of the fruit fly brain at the level of individual cell types or circuits.

Rubin’s team has constructed and characterized a large collection of transgenic animals, for example, in which researchers can genetically tag individual neuronal cell types and instruct them to produce specific proteins or RNAs. They are using these reagents and methods to perform detailed anatomic studies of several key areas of the fruit fly brain, including the optic lobes, mushroom body, and central complex.

Because many types of data will be required to understand how the brain stores and processes information, Rubin’s team carries out much of its work in collaboration with lab groups skilled in complementary areas of expertise, including electron microscopic circuit mapping, electrophysiology, functional imaging, behavioral analysis, and theory. These studies will ultimately reveal how individual neurons are connected into functional circuits and how these circuits control fly behavior.

Morphology of individual neurons.

Morphology of Individual Neurons. Four neurons in the Drosophila central complex, which have been labeled in different colors using a stochastic genetic labeling method.
Nern, A. et al. 2015 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112:E2967-76; and Wolff, T. et al. 2015 J Comp Neurol. 523:997-1037.


Gerald Rubin received his BS degree in biology from MIT in 1971; as an undergraduate, he spent two summers working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1974 for work done at the Medical…

Gerald Rubin received his BS degree in biology from MIT in 1971; as an undergraduate, he spent two summers working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1974 for work done at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He began working on the fruit fly, Drosophila, as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of David S. Hogness at Stanford University, where he participated in some of the earliest studies of gene organization using the newly developed recombinant DNA methods.

Rubin has studied the structure and biology of transposable elements and molecular mechanisms of cell fate determination during development of the Drosophila retina. In 1982, he and Allan Spradling developed methods for making transgenic Drosophila, the first successful germline genetic engineering of a multicellular animal. Rubin served as the leader of the publicly funded effort to sequence the Drosophila melanogaster genome, which included collaborating with Celera Genomics Inc. to demonstrate that the whole-genome shotgun method could successfully sequence an animal genome.

Rubin held faculty positions at Harvard Medical School and the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Embryology before moving to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983, to assume the John D. MacArthur Professorship, a position he held until 1999. He became an HHMI investigator in 1987. Rubin served as HHMI’s vice president for biomedical research from 2000 to 2002 and vice president and director of planning for Janelia Research Campus in 2002. In 2003, he became vice president and executive director of Janelia, which officially opened in October 2006.

Rubin has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1987. He is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the U.K.’s Royal Society. He has received numerous awards, including the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, the National Academy of Sciences U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology, and the Genetics Society of America Medal.

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  • BS, biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • PhD, molecular biology, University of Cambridge, England


  • Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, American Chemical Society
  • US Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology, National Academy of Sciences
  • Genetics Society of America Medal


  • National Academy of Sciences
  • National Academy of Medicine
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • The Royal Society
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