Shirley Marie Tilghman Molecular Biology

Molecular biologist; conducted pioneering research on the role genes play in the development of the mammalian embryo.

The Story

Tilghman grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. After earning her BSc from Queens University in 1968, she travelled to Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she taught secondary school for two years. She then went to Temple University, Philadelphia, where she earned a PhD in biochemistry, and to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for postdoctoral work. It was here that she made a number of groundbreaking discoveries while participating in cloning the first mammalian gene. Her work continued at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, where she was an independent investigator, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an adjunct associate professor of human genetics and biochemistry and biophysics. There, she made further scientific breakthroughs in understanding the structure and mechanism of expression of mammalian genes during development.

In 1986, Tilghman moved to Princeton University as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences, with a focus on mammalian genetics. Two years later, she became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. And in 1998, she became the founding director of Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Tilghman's work focussed on the analysis of genes whose expression pattern is determined by whether the gene is inherited from the mother or the father. She proposed the first model to explain the mechanism of parent-specific silencing of genes. She was one of the architects for the Human Genome Project, and co-founded NIH's National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative.

Tilghman has been a scientific advisor and consultant for many organizations and has served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals. She is a tireless public speaker. In addition to her pioneering research, she has provided national leadership on behalf of women in science, has acted to encourage the teaching of science and technology to students who are not in the sciences, and has worked to improve aspects of the early careers of young scientists.

In 2001, Tilghman was elected Princeton University's 19th President.

Sources: Princeton University Press Release May 5, 2001; Notable Women Scientists, Pamela Proffitt, editor, 1999; Image: Photo by Denise Applewhite, Chemical and Engineering News, May 14, 2001.

The Person

September 17, 1946
Toronto, Ontario
Family Members
  • Father: Henry Caldwell
  • Mother: Shirley (Carre) Caldwell
  • Daughter: Rebecca
  • Son: Alex
Director, Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics
Princeton University
  • BSc (Chemistry and Biochemistry), Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, 1968
  • PhD (Biochemistry), Temple University, Philadelphia, USA, 1975
  • Fellow, Royal Society of London
  • Member, US National Academy of Sciences
  • President's Award for Distinguished Teaching, Princeton University, 1996
  • Senior Woman Scientist of the Year Award (American Society for Cell Biology), 2000
Last Updated
October 22, 2001

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