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Craig Mello
Craig Mello 01.JPG
Born October 18, 1960 (1960-10-18) (age 60)
Nationality American
Alma mater Brown University
Harvard University
Known for RNA interference
Awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2006)
Scientific career
Fields Biologist
Institutions University of Massachusetts Medical School

Craig Cameron Mello (born October 18, 1960) is an American biologist and Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Andrew Fire for the discovery of RNA interference. Mello has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 2000.

Family life

Mello was born in New Haven, Connecticut on October 18 1960. He was the third child of James and Sally Mello. His father, James Mello, was a paleontologist and his mother, Sally Mello, was an artist. His fathers parents moved to the US from the Portuguese islands of Azores. His parents met while at the Brown University and were the first children in their families to go to college. James Mello was awarded his PhD in paleontology from Yale University in 1962. The Mello family moved to Falls Church in northern Virginia so that James could take a job with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Washington, DC.

After a short time in Falls Church, the family moved to Fairfax, Virginia, when James Mello began work as Assistant Director at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Some of his happiest early memories were holidays with his whole family in Colorado, Wyoming and more often to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

The Mello family enjoyed long talks at the dinner table and this was very important to young Craig Mello. He learned to argue, to listen, and to accept if he was wrong about something. Mello's first few years of grade school were difficult. He was five years old when he started first grade in a local private school. He was too young to enter first grade in the public system. He does not know if he was a slow learner, or just not interested, but he did not do well in school until the seventh grade. In second grade, Mello only pretended that he could read and he was embarrassed of being talked to by the teacher. He enjoyed playing outdoors, in the woods and creeks, more than time spent in the classroom. At this time, his older siblings were great students, so his teacher's wanted him to do well. During these early years, Mello had no doubt that he would be a scientist when he grew up.


After he got his high school diploma, Mello went to Brown University, where he studied biochemistry and molecular biology. After finishing his studies at Brown, Mello went to Boulder, Colorado for more studies, and then to Harvard University. He was awarded his PhD at Harvard in 1990.

Nobel prize

In 2006, Mello and Fire were awarded the Nobel Prize for work published in 1998. The paper reports that tiny snippets of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) effectively shut down specific genes, and so caused the destruction of messenger RNA (mRNA) with sequences matching the dsRNA. As a result, the mRNA cannot be translated into protein.

Fire and Mello found that dsRNA was much more effective in gene silencing than the previously described method of RNA interference with single-stranded RNA. Because only small numbers of dsRNA molecules were required for the observed effect, Fire and Mello proposed that a catalytic process was involved. This hypothesis was confirmed by later research.

The Nobel Prize citation, issued by Sweden's Karolinska Institute, said: "This year's Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information". The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted Nick Hastie, director of the Medical Research Council's Human Genetics Unit, on the scope and implications of the research:

"It is very unusual for a piece of work to completely revolutionise the whole way we think about biological processes and regulation, but this has opened up a whole new field in biology".

Awards and honors

By year of award:

  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire) of National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology in 2003.
  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire, Thomas Tuschl and David Baulcombe) of the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences from Rockefeller University in 2003.
  • Elected member National Academy of Sciences in 2005.
  • Co-recipient (with Victor Ambros, Andrew Fire and Gary Ruvkun) of Brandeis University's Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Research in 2005.
  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire) of the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2005.
  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire and David Baulcombe) of Massry Prize in 2005.
  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire) of the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize in 2006.
  • Inaugural recipient of The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research by Johnson & Johnson in 2006.
  • Co-recipient (with Andrew Fire) of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2006.
  • Recipient of an honorary doctorate by Brown University in 2007. He gave the keynote Baccalaureate Address at Commencement ceremonies.
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