Kathryn V. Anderson, PhD (1952-2020), was Member and Chair of the Developmental Biology Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute until her death in November 2020.
Trained as a geneticist, Dr. Anderson was a specialist in early mammalian (mouse) and invertebrate (fruit fly) development. The focus of her early research was on genes that control dorsal-ventral patterning in the fruit fly embryo, which led to the discovery of a gene called Toll. She discovered that Toll functions not only in embryonic patterning but also in innate immunity. Her later research focused on the cellular behaviors that underlie the development of the early mouse embryo.
Dr. Anderson is well known for her pioneering use of “forward genetics” — which she had utilized in the fruit fly system — to study mouse development. Using this unbiased approach to identify genes essential for the formation of the tissues of the embryo, Dr Anderson and her colleagues made many seminal discoveries. In 2003, using forward genetics, they discovered a previously unknown role for cilia, a microscopic, hair-like structure found on the surface of certain cells, in receiving signals from a protein called Hedgehog.
Dr. Anderson joined SKI in 1996 as a member of the Molecular Biology Program. In 2002, she was appointed Chair of the newly established Developmental Biology Program. Under her leadership, Developmental Biology became not only one of the strongest programs of its kind in the nation but a model for gender diversity in the sciences.
Dr. Anderson’s accomplishments have been recognized by numerous awards, including the Genetics Society of America’s 2012 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime contributions to the science of genetics; the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2014 Excellence in Science Award for outstanding achievements by a woman in biology; and the Society for Developmental Biology’s 2016 Edwin G. Conklin Medal for distinguished and sustained research in the field. She also held the Enid A. Haupt Chair in Developmental Biology at MSK and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
Deeply principled, incredibly fair, and with a penetrating intelligence, she was a pivotal figure in her field, a generous and kind mentor to countless younger scientists, and a friend to everyone who had the good fortune to work with her.
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