Molecular biologist C. David Allis to present IU's graduate commencement address

  • April 21, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- C. David Allis, a molecular biologist and Indiana University alumnus whose work has potential benefits in fighting many diseases, including cancer, will speak at IU’s graduate commencement ceremony May 8.

Graduate commencement will begin at 3 p.m. inside John Mellencamp Pavilion, 1001 E. 17th St. Commencement is free and open to the public. Parking is free.

Allis, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at IU, also will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree during the ceremony.

"A true pioneer in his field, David Allis has made major contributions to our understanding of the role genetics plays in the development of complex human diseases,” \IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “His discoveries concerning cellular development and gene expression have positioned him at the forefront of modern-era biologists and, more importantly, point to potentially far-reaching consequences in the fight against cancer and other deadly diseases.

"We are proud to call Dr. Allis an alumnus of Indiana University, and we are extremely pleased that our graduating students will have the opportunity to hear the insights of such an esteemed and pathbreaking scientist, one who has dedicated his work to improving our health and quality of life,” McRobbie added

Since 2003, Allis has been the Joy and Jack Fishman Professor and head of the Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics at The Rockefeller University. He previously held faculty posts at institutions including Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Virginia Health System.

Allis frequently has been honored for being the first researcher in the world to discover histone modifications as fundamental regulators of gene expression.

That discovery illuminated how chemical modifications of histone proteins, around which DNA wraps itself in the cell’s nucleus, affect gene expression. His work has ignited the field of epigenetics, a relatively new area of study that explores the inheritance of physical changes that cannot be traced back to mutations in the DNA sequence.

Allis is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was the Nicholson Lecturer at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden. Other honors include his receiving the 2011 Lewis Rosenstiel and Howard Ricketts Awards, both for distinguished work in basic medical science.

Last year, Allis was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize, which is bestowed annually on two scientists or engineers from around the world who have made significant contributions to the advancement of science and technology, thereby furthering the causes of peace and prosperity.

Also in 2014, he was selected as a laureate of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, considered by some to be in the topmost tier of international prizes. His prize was presented by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs, and actor Jon Hamm of TV’s "Mad Men" series, in a gala event hosted by the titans of Silicon Valley.

He also received the 2008 ASBMB-Merck Award, the 2007 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2004 Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, the 2003 Massry Prize and the 2002 Dickson Prize in Biomedical Sciences. In 2007, Allis was honored as a distinguished alumnus of the University of Cincinnati, where he received his undergraduate degree in biology, graduating summa cum laude.

Allis explains the role of histone proteins: “They are believed to function like master on/off switches and determine whether particular genes are active or inactive. Knowing how to turn particular genes on or off could reduce the risk of certain diseases.”

Mutations in the genes encoding histones themselves have been uncovered in high frequency in a wide collection of deadly pediatric cancers. Allis is passionate about understanding fundamental mechanisms in these diseases so that new therapeutic strategies can be developed.

A highly prolific investigator, Allis has presented many distinguished lectures, has published more than 300 scientific papers and is the co-editor of "Epigenetics," of one of the most highly acclaimed textbooks in the field.

Additional commencement information

At the graduate commencement ceremony, doors will open at 1 p.m., and the procession of graduates will begin at 1:45 p.m.

There are no tickets and generally no reserved seats at commencement ceremonies. People with wheelchairs and those who need accessible seating should make reservations by contacting the Office of University Events at 812-855-3762 or emailing

For those with family and friends who are unable to attend, commencement ceremonies will be broadcast live via streaming video at The commencement ceremony also will be available for viewing later, along with videos of past commencement ceremonies archived on the site.

Complete information about commencement ceremonies on IU campuses is available on the Office of University Events website.

Related Links

C. David Allis

C. David Allis | Photo by Zach Veilleux / The Rockefeller University

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Mark Land

Associate vice president, IU Communications

  • Office 812-856-1172

Ryan Piurek

  • Office 812-855-5393
  • Cell 812-340-1018
  • Btown Banter