Richard Axel Biography

Richard Axel is Nobel Prize winning American scientist, well-known for his scientific work pertaining to ‘olfactory receptors’. Read this biography to learn more about his childhood, life, works, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: July 2, 1946

Nationality: American

Famous: American Men Columbia University

Age: 73 Years, 73 Year Old Males

Sun Sign: Cancer

Born in: Brooklyn, New York City

Famous as: Researcher


Spouse/Ex-: Ann Axel, Cornelia Bargmann

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

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One of world’s leading scientists, Richard Axel is the professor of molecular biophysics and pathology at Columbia University. He is well-known for his Nobel Prize-winning paper on ‘olfactory receptors’, which explains how the brain interprets smell. His ground-breaking discovery, ‘Axel Patents’ has earned him an estimated $600 million in royalty, with numerous pharmaceutical companies adopting this innovation. In addition to his contributions in the field of neurobiology, he has made several path-breaking discoveries in the area of immunology. His lab was the first to discover molecules related to the inhibition of the AIDS virus. He has been a recipient of numerous awards and has trained and mentored many leading scientists in the field of neurobiology. He also holds the title of ‘Investigator’ at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His cutting-edge discoveries in the field of science and technology including, DNA transfection has played a critical role in the study and research of biology. He is currently pursuing research in the field of scent detection in the human brain. To learn more interesting facts about his childhood, personal life, academic and scientific achievements, scroll down and read the biography below.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Richard Axel was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. He spent his childhood playing basketball and stickball on the streets of Brooklyn.
  • At the age of eleven, he started working for a dentist and his job was to deliver false teeth. He continued to do many odd jobs like laying carpets and working at restaurants.
  • He attended the Stuyvesant High School, a school known for its well-organised and established academic programs. Here, he played basketball and was also exposed to art, music and opera.
  • In 1967, he graduated from Columbia University. Here, he worked as a Research Assistant in the laboratory of Bernard Weinstein, a Professor of Medicine, and became immensely interested in genetics.
  • In 1971, he received an MD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore. Later that year, he joined the laboratory of Sol Spiegelman, a professor in the Department of Genetics at Columbia University.
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  • In 1972, he began his second post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he worked with Gary Felsenfeld on DNA and chromatin structure.
  • In 1974, he returned to Columbia University as an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Cancer Research, where he researched on ‘the structure of genes in chromatin’.
  • In 1978, he became a full-time professor of pathology and biochemistry at Columbia University.
  • On May 1, 1978, in collaboration with his colleagues, Angel Pellicer, Michael Wigler and Saul J. Silverstein, he published his first paper titled ‘The transfer and stable integration of the HSV thymidine kinase gene into mouse cells’.
  • In 1980, along with microbiologist Saul J. Silverstein and geneticist Michael H. Wigler, he filed for ‘Axel Patent’, a path-breaking discovery in DNA transfection.
  • In 1988, along with fellow researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University, he determined the link between HIV infection and ‘immunoreceptor CD4’ and discovered that the soluble form of CD4 inhibits the AIDS virus.
  • In April 1991, he partnered with biologist Linda B. Buck, and published the Nobel Prize winning paper, ‘A novel multigene family may encode odorant receptors: a molecular basis for odour recognition’.
Major Works
  • His seminal paper on ‘olfactory receptors’ was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004. His research laid the foundation for genetic and molecular analysis, which is used by a number of pharmaceutical laboratories and scientists around the world.
  • In 1983, along with his colleagues he founded the ‘Axel Patents’, a technique of genetically engineering cells. The royalties from this patented discovery has raised an estimated $600 million. The proteins obtained from this technology have been used in many pharmaceutical drugs.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1983, he was elected a ‘Fellow’ of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • In 1997, he received the New York City Mayor's Award for ‘Excellence in the field of Science and Technology’.
  • In 1998, he was honoured with the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for ‘Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research’.
  • In 2001, he received the New York Academy of Medicine Medal for ‘Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical Sciences’.
  • In 2003, he was the recipient of the ‘The Gairdner Foundation International Award’ for ‘Achievement in the field of Neuroscience’.
  • In 2004, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Linda B. Buck for their work on the ‘olfactory system’.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He is married to Cornelia ‘Cori’ Bargmann, fellow scientist and neurobiologist.

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- Richard Axel Biography
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Last Updated
- November 06, 2017
Richard Axel

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