A Conversation with Richard Young, Ph.D

Richard Allen Young, Ph.D.
Richard Allen Young  is a professor of biology at the Whitehead Institute located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a pioneer in the systems biology of gene control who has developed genomics technologies and concepts key to understanding gene control in human health and disease. He has served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and numerous scientific societies and journals. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Scientific American has recognized him as one of the top 50 leaders in science, technology and business. Young has made major contributions to the understanding of gene control in human development and disease. He discovered that a small set of human embryonic stem cell master transcription factors form a core regulatory circuitry that controls the gene expression program of these cells. This concept of core regulatory circuitry helps guide current efforts to understand gene control, to develop reprogramming protocols for other human cell types and to understand how gene dysregulation contributes to disease.
Young introduced the concept of transcriptional amplification and described how much of the gene control program in cancer cells is amplified by oncogenic transcription factors such as c-MYC. According to Young, most genes experience transcription initiation, but it is the control of transcription elongation that plays key roles in cell control in health and disease. Young also discovered that large clusters of gene control elements, called super-enhancers, regulate genes that play prominent roles in cell identity. Furthermore, he showed that disease-associated human genome variation occurs frequently in these super-enhancers and that cancer cell super-enhancers are especially vulnerable to certain transcriptional drugs. Young has proposed that control of gene expression occurs within insulated neighborhoods, which are structural DNA loops that contain enhancers and their target genes. He has further shown that disruption of these neighborhoods in disease contributes to gene dysregulation.
Dr. Young received his Bachelor of Science from Indiana University and his Doctorate from Yale University.