Paul Schimmel is the Ernest and Jean Hahn Professor of Molecular Medicine and of Chemistry at Scripps Research. Prior to joining The Scripps, he was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at MIT. Author or coauthor of over 500 scientific research publications, he is also coauthor of a widely used 3-volume textbook on biophysical chemistry. His research interests have focused on aminoacyl tRNA synthetases as fundamental interpreters of the genetic information. Through career-long investigations of this ancient and universal set of essential enzymes, his laboratory has worked on a universal mechanism for correcting errors in the interpretation of genetic information, and went on to show how this mechanism is essential for maintaining cellular homeostasis and for preventing serious pathologies and disease. His laboratory also discovered what others have referred to as a primordial, or ‘second’, genetic code that eventually was incorporated into the modern code.
In a separate line of research published back in 1983, Schimmel developed the concept of what are now known as ESTs (expressed sequence tags) and the strategy of shotgun sequencing, approaches that several years later were adopted for the human genome project. Nature magazine listed Schimmel’s work on the development of ESTs as one of the four key developments that launched the human genome project (Nature volume 409, p. 862 (2001)). Lastly, his laboratory established connections of synthetases to disease and, most recently, they reported the structural and functional metamorphosis of these proteins, whereby they are repurposed with novel activities, both inside and outside the cell, in a variety of cell signaling pathways. This knowledge is now being applied in clinical trials to treat a major lung disorder.
Schimmel is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has been active in many scientific and academic organizations and committees, including past service as President of the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (presently with over 7,000 members) and as an editorial board member of numerous scientific journals.
Schimmel holds a portfolio of patents and is a cofounder or founding director of what matured into seven NASDAQ-listed enterprises that developed new medicines that flowed out of academic research. These enterprises created FDA-approved medicines. Lives saved by just one of these medicines are estimated as over 800,000.