Elizabeth H. Blackburn, 60, was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, and is a naturalized citizen of the United States. She received both her undergraduate degree in biochemistry (BSc, Honors, 1970) and her MSc degree (1972) in biochemistry from University of Melbourne, Australia. She received a PhD degree in molecular biology from University of Cambridge, England (1975). After receiving a postdoctoral degree from Yale University in 1977, she did a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, San Francisco (1978). Blackburn was a professor of molecular biology at University of California, Berkeley from 1978 to 1990.
Blackburn joined University of California, San Francisco in 1990 as a professor in the departments of biochemistry and biophysics and microbiology and immunology. In 1993, she was the first woman named to head the UCSF School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology, a position she held until 1999.
Blackburn has received 55 prestigious honors during the last 35 years. In September 2006, she and Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. In 1993, she was named a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be awarded to a scientist in the United States. In 2005, she was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, awarded by the Franklin Institute, and the Landon-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Prize for Basic Cancer Research. In 2001, she was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, given by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation. In 1999, she was named California Scientist of the Year by the California Science Center, a department of the state of California, and its nonprofit affiliate, the California Science Center Foundation. The award recognizes a current contribution to science that “extends the boundaries of any field of science” and signifies a “definite advance of knowledge.”
Blackburn and Greider also received, in 1999, the Passano Award from the Passano Foundation — which annually recognizes an outstanding contribution to the advancement of medical science, with prime consideration given to work with immediate clinical value or promise of practical application in the near future — and the Gairdner Award.
Blackburn was the 1998 president of the American Society for Cell Biology, an organization of more than 10,000 members that provides for the exchange of scientific knowledge in cell biology and strives to ensure the future of basic scientific research through training and development opportunities for students and young investigators.
She lives in San Francisco with her husband, John Sedat, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF. They have a son, Benjamin.