Eric H. Davidson, American biologist, died at 78

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Eric Harris Davidson, born on April 13, 1937 and died September 1, 2015 of a heart attack, he was a developmental biologist at the California Institute of Technology.

Eric was best known for his pioneering work on the role of gene regulation in evolution, on embryonic specification and for spearheading the effort to sequence the genome of the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus.

He devoted a large part of his professional career to developing an understanding of embryogenesis at the genetic level.

He wrote many academic works describing his work, including a textbook on early animal development.

Eric has spent the majority of his scientific career investigating the molecular and mechanistic basis of animal development, i.e. how animals are built by reading the instructions encoded in the egg and, ultimately, in the genome.

While at Rockefeller and very early in his career, he and Roy Britten, then at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, speculated on how the products of transcription, e.g. various RNAs or other downstream products, would need to in principle interact in order for cellular differentiation and gene regulation to occur in multicellular organisms.

This research program eventually led him to investigations regarding the role of gene regulation in cell lineage and embryonic territory specification, both endeavors of which contributed substantially to many biological disciplines, including developmental biology, systems biology and evolutionary developmental biology.

In 2011, he was awarded the International Prize for Biology in recognition for his pioneering work on developmental gene regulatory networks.

Eric H. Davidson died of a heart attack in 2015.