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Alice S. Huang

Alice S. Huang

American biologist
Alice S. Huang
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American biologist
Is Scientist Biologist
From United States of America
Type Science
Gender female
Birth 22 March 1939
Age 81 years
Spouse: David Baltimore
The details


Alice S. Huang (simplified Chinese: 黄诗厚; traditional Chinese: 黃詩厚; pinyin: Huáng Shīhòu; Wade–Giles: Huang Shih-hou; is an American biologist specialized in microbiology and virology. She is Senior Faculty Associate in Biology at the California Institute of Technology, and served as President of AAAS during the 2010-2011 term.

Early years

Alice Huang's father, Quentin K. Y. Huang, was orphaned at age 12 in Anhui, China and was taken in by a missionary. He was later educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Divinity School, returning to China as an Anglican bishop. He later married Huang's mother, Grace Betty Soong.

Alice Huang’s mother, Grace Betty Soong, was from Kiangsi Province where her family had large land holdings. Grace’s father appreciated the practical work of Christian missionaries and allowed several of his children to become Christian instead of remaining Buddhist.

Alice Huang was born in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province, in 1939. Huang was raised Christian. Huang emigrated to the U.S. in 1949.

She attended St. Mary's Hall-Doane Academy (in Burlington, New Jersey), the National Cathedral School (in Washington, D.C.), and Wellesley College (in Wellesley, Massachusetts). Huang received B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. (in microbiology in 1966) degrees all from The Johns Hopkins University.



Alice Huang's research focused on defective interfering particles (DIPs) which can be utilized to combat viruses. DIPs are composed of viral structural proteins and sets of DNA or RNA which are incomplete. These DIPs will interfere in replication of the virus because they are reproduced at the expense of a standard viral particle. Alice Huang's work on DIPs has been utilized to combat cancer, HIV, and plant related diseases. Alice S. Huang’s passion for viruses drove her to her success in the discovery of viruses features and learning how to manipulate their development.

She started studying about viruses as a graduate student, when little was known about them, where she was the first person "to purify and characterize interfering viral particles". While at Johns Hopkins University, Huang conducted research looking into the inhibition of cellular RNA synthesis by nonreplicating vesicular stomatitis virus. She completed this research with Robert R. Wagner. She thought that these mutants played a vital role in viral pathogenesis and could possibly be used to prevent disease.

The vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), known to infect horses, cattle and swine, was the virus she first chose to study. It did not take long for her and her colleagues to find out about its single strand of RNA and many other features about the VSV, including replication details. Their findings about the VSV served as a model for the understanding of the biology of viruses.

For the research, she isolated a rabies type of virus which produced mutant strains interfering with viral growth. Later, in her work with her husband at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the vesicular stomatitis viruses (VSV) she studied made ribonucleic acid (RNA) from RNA instead of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which did not follow the conventional central dogma: DNA RNA Protein. Her discovery of this VSV virion-associated RNA – dependent RNA polymerase led to Baltimore’s research on tumor viruses and the discovery of the enzyme called reverse transcriptase. This enzyme converted RNA to DNA, and became a major breakthrough in virology.

In her postdoctoral work at the Salk Institute and MIT with David Baltimore, Dr. Huang worked on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and discovered that these viruses had RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase. Through this work on VSV she uncovered a mix of surface glycoproteins which resulted in a novel replication strategy for Negative Strand Viruses as well as Pseudotyping. Pseudotyping is combining a virus or a part of a virus (vector) with a foreign viral envelope protein. Doing this alters their antigenicity which allows them to have a more broad range of hosts.

At the time, biologists knew the central dogma to be DNA to RNA to protein, with DNA replication as the way to replicate ones genome. Dr. Huang and Dr. Baltimore unraveled that RNA viruses were different and used RNA polymerase to replicate its RNA genome. With continued researched and publications from other researchers, along with help from Dr. Huang, Dr. Baltimore discovered an enzyme, reverse transcriptase (in a mouse leukemia retrovirus), that converts RNA to DNA (involved in a process now known as reverse transcription). Dr. Baltimore later received the Nobel Prize in 1975 for his discovery.

Huang and Baltimore coauthored a paper with Martha Stampfer titled "Ribonucleic acid synthesis of vesicular stomatitis virus, II. An RNA polymerase in the virion." This paper went on to show that “the virions of vesicular stomatitis virus contain an enzyme that catalyzes the incorporation of ribonucleotides into RNA”.

At Harvard Medical School, Huang continued to study how mutant strains produced by rabies-like virus interfered with further growth of the viral infection. In 1977, she was awarded the Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology and Immunology for this research. Huang has spent more than twenty years as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. In 1971, Huang was appointed Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and was promoted to full Professor in 1979.


During her Harvard period, Huang was also a coordinator of the Virology Unit at the Channing Laboratories of Infectious Diseases at Boston Medical Center for two years. She also served as the Director of the "Virus-Host Interactions in Cancer" training program (funded by the National Cancer Institute) for fifteen years.

Huang became the Director of the Laboratories of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children's Hospital in 1979, where she studied viral diseases in pediatric patients. Subsequently, she was the Dean of the Faculty of Science of the New York University. She spearheaded many interdisciplinary programs and was instrumental in providing vision for what is now known as Silicon Alley from the Flatiron District to Wall Street. At New York University, Dr. Huang participated in a project in science education and received a grant that focused on improving teachers’ preparation and ability to engage students in science exploration and discovery.

Huang is an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees of the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences (KGI). Besides, Huang also served on the Board of Trustees of the Keystone Center, Health Effects Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her alma mater Johns Hopkins University.

Huang is a former trustee of the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology and a trustee of the Public Agenda. She was pointed a Council Member of the California Council on Science and Technology in 2004, and served for two terms. She currently consults on education, science, and science policy. Huang is commented as having a broad international view, and has also consulted on science policies for government agencies not only in the United States but also in several nations including Singapore, Taiwan, China, and Portugal.


In June 2015, Huang wrote a controversial advice article for the Science Careers website. A female postdoctoral scholar asked what she should do in response to her advisor looking down her shirt. Huang replied, "I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can."

Following strong reaction on social media, the article was removed within hours of being posted. After the article was removed, Science Careers tweeted, "We apologize for printing it. It does not reflect our values or standards". A fuller apology claimed the article had not "undergone proper editorial review prior to posting."

In an interview, Huang stood by her advice, saying, "What I try to do is give advice from experience, and to give the advice that would serve the writer well into the long-term future. I’m taking their best interests to heart rather than being in one camp or another camp or trying to push my own political agendas." She said she hoped to write a follow-up column with other people’s suggestions for dealing with the situation.

Huang's explanation was criticized for implying that "being against sexual harassment is a 'camp' or political agenda."

Awards and Honors

  • 1977 - Eli Lilly Award in Immunology and Microbiology (from the American Society for Microbiology)
  • 1982 - Doctor of Science (Honorary), Wheaton College
  • 1987 - Doctor of Science (Honorary), from Mount Holyoke College
  • 1991 - Doctor of Science (Honorary), Medical College of Pennsylvania
  • 1999 - Achievement Award (from the Chinese-American Faculty Association of Southern California)
  • 2001 - the Alice C. Evans Award (from the American Society for Microbiology)
  • 2015 - The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award

Professional Societies

  • 1966 - Sigma Xi Honor Society, Johns Hopkins Chapter
  • 1967 - American Society for Microbiology (president 1989)
  • 1971 - American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow, ‘00, president 2010)
  • 1974 - American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • 1978 - Association of Women in Science (fellow)
  • 1979 - Infectious Diseases Society of America (fellow)
  • 1981 - American Society for Virology
  • 1982 - American Academy of Microbiology (fellow)
  • 1988 - Society of Chinese Bioscientists of America
  • 1990 - Academia Sinica, Republic of China
  • 1990 - New York Academy of Sciences
  • 1995 - Pacific Council on International Policy

Personal life

Huang was married in 1968 to Dr. David Baltimore. They have one daughter.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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