STANFORD (CBS SF) — Retired Stanford researcher Charles Yanofsky, one the world’s most influential geneticists, had died at the age of 92, the university announced Friday.

Yanofsky’s initial discoveries about the relationship between DNA and protein form a foundation for the science of genetics.

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“Charley was a dear friend and supportive colleague for me throughout my entire career at Stanford,” said Philip Hanawalt, professor in biology, emeritus. “I marveled at his humble manner while he and his incredibly well-mentored students contributed world-class science for well over half-a-century.”

Yanofsky’s most famous and early contribution to the field of genetics, now known as the ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology, confirmed that the linear sequence of amino acids in a protein corresponds to the linear sequence of chemicals that make up DNA.

His son, Martin, said along with his academic successes was Yanofsky’s strong sense of family.

“My father was one of the greatest scientists of the last century,” said Martin Yanofsky. “He was also a wonderful father and role model, not just to me and my two brothers, but to everyone who knew him.”

Yanofsky was born April 17, 1925 in New York. He attended the City College of New York but his undergraduate studies were interrupted by service in the Army in World War II, including active combat in the Battle of the Bulge.

He later finished his bachelor’s in biochemistry and went on to Yale University in 1948, to earn masters’ and doctoral degrees in microbiology.
Yanofsky joined the faculty of Case Western Reserve University in 1954, which is where he first crossed paths with Paul Berg, who was a student there at the time.

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“Since I was studying the same kinds of things that Charley was working on, I was well aware of his accomplishments, which I would say were profound, even at the earliest stage of his career,” said Berg, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980. “He, to me, was a scientific idol.”

In 1958, Yanofsky joined the Stanford faculty as an associate professor of biological sciences, rapidly advancing to full professor in 1961.

Yanofsky and his family lived on the Stanford campus from the time he first joined the faculty. A devoted sports fan, he attended every Stanford basketball game and most football games for many years.

“On the tennis court, Charley was a fierce left-handed competitor,” said Marcus Feldman, a professor of biology at Stanford, who participated in weekly tennis matches with Yanofsky. “I and other players always enjoyed Charley’s good humor even in the ‘heat’ of competition.”

Yanofsky was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London, and received the Albert Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research and the Genetics Society of America Medal, among many other awards. He was past president of the American Society of Biological Chemists and of the Genetics Society of America, and was a Career Investigator of the American Heart Association.

At age 79, Yanofsky was awarded the 2003 National Medal of Science. Of that honor, he said, “It’s always wonderful to be appreciated. It’s not what we do research for, but nevertheless, it’s nice when it happens, and everyone else can enjoy it, too – my friends, family and colleagues.”

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Yanofsky is survived by his wife Edna, his three sons, Stephen, Robert and Martin, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His first wife, Carol, died of breast cancer in 1990. In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Charles Yanofsky Graduate Fellowship Fund.