University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Patrick H. O'Farrell, PhD

Patrick H. O'Farrell, PhD

Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, UCSF

Cancer Center Program Memberships

Affiliate Member

Research Summary

We are interested in the decoding of biological information to produce functional structures at the level of cells and organisms. We focus on the control of the cell cycle during development using Drosophila genetics, molecular biology and fancy microscopy. We are examining temporal coordination of early embryonic cell cycles with development. Having found that slowing early rapid cell cycles is due to prolongation of S phase, the period of DNA replication, we are studying this control. This prolongation of S phase is tightly integrated with a developmental program of chromatin changes that introduces epigenetic controls. Using GFP tagged proteins marking molecular hallmarks of these events, we are able to watch them occur in real time in embryos and to probe the processes that regulate their onset.

A newer effort explores the genetics and biology of the mitochondria. Our principle interest is in a newly recognized mystery. The mitochondrial genome encodes functions that benefit the host rather than propagation and transmission of the mitochondrial genome. This would not be problem if evolution of this genome were based on the usual selection for fit organisms as Darwin suggests. However, we found that selection is based on the ability of genomes to compete for transmission from one generation to the next. This ought to select for selfish genes promoting genome success. To achieve the real outcome, the host manipulates the competition to favor genes to its benefit. We are trying to understand how this managed evolution is achieved.


McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, B.Sc., 1969, Genetics
University of Colorado, Boulder, Ph.D., 1974, Cell & Dev Biol
University of California San Francisco, Postdoc, 1978

Professional Experience

  • 1969-1974
    Grad. Student: lab of Jacques Pene (1969-72) & David Hirsh (1973 -74). Development of 2-D gel electrophoresis; pleiotropic control. MCD Biology, University of Colorado
  • 1974-1976
    Postdoctoral studies with Gordon Tomkins. Regulation of translational accuracy; hormonal control; expression of recombinant DNA. Dept of Biochemistry, UCSF
  • 1976-1979
    Postdoctoral studies with Bruce Alberts. Stringency of gene inactivation; new preparative separation technology. Dept of Biochemistry, UCSF
  • 1979-1985
    Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, UCSF
  • 1985-1989
    Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, UCSF
  • 1986
    Sabbatical research, with Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Tubingen, FRG
  • 1989-present
    Professor, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, UCSF
  • 1995-1996
    Sabbatical research with Dr. Gerald Rubin, University of California, Berkeley

Honors & Awards

  • 1975-78
    Fellow of the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research
  • 1978-1979
    Senior Fellow of the California Division of the American Cancer Society
  • 1986
    Award - Sarstedt Research Prize for the development of electrophoretic separations
  • 1989
    Chairman of the Biological Regulatory Mechanism Gordon Conference
  • 1998
    Chairman of the Molecular Genetics Gordon Conference
  • 1999-2007
    Scientific Review Board, Howard Hughes Institute
  • 1998
    Advisory Panel to the NCI
  • 2006
    Outstanding mentorship award, Posdoc. Scholars Assoc. UCSF
  • 2009
    UMDF – chairman's prize for top proposal
  • 2009
    Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2010
    Member of the NIH College of CSR Reviewers.
  • 2010-2020
    MERIT award from NIH/NIGMS
  • 2012
    Honorary Doctorate of Science, Univ. of Lethbridge
  • 2014
    ABRF Award for Outstanding Contributions to Biomolecular Technologies
  • 2017
    Member, National Academy of Sciences

Selected Publications

  1. O'Farrell PH. Quiescence: early evolutionary origins and universality do not imply uniformity. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Dec 27; 366(1584):3498-507.
    View on PubMed
  2. O'Farrell PH. The pre-omics era: the early days of two-dimensional gels. Proteomics. 2008 Dec; 8(23-24):4842-52.
    View on PubMed
  3. O'Farrell PH. Triggering the all-or-nothing switch into mitosis. Trends Cell Biol. 2001 Dec; 11(12):512-9.
    View on PubMed
  4. O'Farrell PH. Conserved responses to oxygen deprivation. J Clin Invest. 2001 Mar; 107(6):671-4.
    View on PubMed

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