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Robert Tjian PhD

Board of Governors

Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology, University of California, Berkeley; Former President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Dr. Tjian joined the University of California, Berkeley faculty in 1979, where he assumed several leadership roles including: Director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center, Faculty Director of the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences and Head of the Siebel Stem Initiative.

He recently served as President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2009-2016), a non-profit organization that supports basic biomedical research with an endowment of ~$20B and an annual budget of $950M. He currently holds the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biology and serves as scientific advisor to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the BioHub.

Trained as a biochemist at Cal and Harvard, he pioneered the discovery of human proteins called transcription factors that unlock the genetic information encoded in our chromosomes in the process called gene expression. Tjian’s research aims to understanding how the molecular machinery that reads DNA operates to drive gene expression in normal human cells and in disease. His recent work focuses on using sophisticated microscopes capable of tracking single protein molecules and their dynamic behavior in living cells to decipher how regulatory genes control the ability of embryonic stem cells to self-renew and differentiate into various cell lineages.

During nearly 4 decades on the faculty at Cal, he taught 1000’s of undergrads while doing biomedical discovery research. He has received many scientific awards including election to the US National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Alfred P. Sloan Prize and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, California Scientist of the Year and HHMI investigator since 1987.

He was a co-founder of Tularik with Dave Goeddel and Steve McKnight (1992) and joined The Column Group as a Discovery Partner in September 2016 and sits on the Board of several TCG portfolio biotech companies.

Tjian and his wife Claudia, a retired corporate attorney, have two grown daughters, Alexis and Lindsey, who all live in the Bay Area.