Jack Keene, PhD – Biography

James B. Duke Professor

research • biography • publications


Professor Jack D. Keene was born in Florida, and grew up in Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado, and California, where he graduated from Redlands High School in 1965. He is a graduate of the University of California, Riverside, and received his doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1974.

Following postdoctoral studies in molecular virology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda from 1974-1978, he joined the faculty at Duke University Medical Center in 1979. He is presently a James B. Duke Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology (MGM). Professor Keene served as chairman of the Department of Microbiology for ten years prior to its merger with Genetics to form MGM. He was Director of Basic Sciences for the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center for eight years, and founded the Duke Center for RNA Biology in 1999. Professor Keene’s entire research career since 1974 has been focused on the principles of RNA regulation and mechanisms of RNA-protein interactions using viral systems and mammalian cells. Beginning in 1985, Professor Keene’s laboratory elucidated the largest family of RNA-binding proteins, namely, the RNA Recognition Motif (RRM) proteins that are now known to be the seventh largest of all protein families in the human genome. At the same time, he cloned the first rheumatological autoimmune protein genes and developed a recombinant diagnostic test for systemic lupus erythematosus antigen that is used worldwide. In 1994, he proposed that RNA-binding proteins could coordinately regulate functionally related messenger RNAs such as those that encode proto-oncogenic proteins and cytokines. His laboratory definitively demonstrated this idea using neuronal differentiation in 2000 and these findings formed the basis for the Post-transcriptional RNA Operon and Regulon (PTRO) model of global gene regulation that he formalized in publications in 2001 and 2002. Since that time many PTRO regulatory network modules that coordinate functionally related splicing patterns, RNA stabilities and translation have been discovered in yeasts, worms, fruit flies, trypanosomes, archaea and mammals. PTROs appear to be a universal means by which transcriptional and post-transcriptional networks intercommunicate to balance and coordinate gene expression during cell growth, differentiation and cellular responses to environmental inputs.