Philippe M. Soriano
Awarded 2017 Edwin G.
By Marsha E. Lucas
Philippe Soriano with former
trainees Katie Fantuzzo and Jeff Bush.
The 2017 Society for Developmental Biology
Conklin Medal was awarded to
Philippe M. Soriano of
the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for his
extraordinary and sustained research contributions
to the field of developmental biology and mentoring
of the next generation of scientists. Soriano’s work
characterizing PDGF receptors, Src family kinases,
and Eph/ephrin has transformed our understanding of
receptor tyrosine kinase signaling mechanisms and
how specificity is established during development.
Using the mouse as a model, he has uncovered
mechanisms involved in developmental processes such
as neural crest cell migration and craniofacial
development. His loss-of-function c-Src mouse was
one of the first targeted mutations in mice.
Throughout his career, Soriano has generated
revolutionary tools that continue to advance the
mouse development community. He pioneered
gene-trapping technology in embryonic stem cells and
identified the ubiquitously expressed ROSA26 locus.
He went on to generate the R26R Cre recombinase
reporter mouse line, one of the most widely used
mouse lines in the world.
Born in the United States to French parents, Soriano
spent most of his childhood in New York City.
Growing up he collected sea shells and wanted to be
a marine biologist. In his
Conklin Medal lecture, he
shared how caring for one of those shells eventually
necessitated some medical intervention.
Soriano’s interest in science was piqued as a high
school student. He attended a French Lycée where he
received a bilingual education and was fortunate to
be taught by an “absolutely fantastic [science]
“This guy actually turned out to be a postdoc. But,
he was trying to make ends meet so he was teaching
as well. And he was incredibly enthusiastic,”
Soriano said in a July interview. “I remember going
when I was like 16 or 17 years old to the
Rockefeller Institute . . . to plate out some
bacteria . . . and of course everything got
contaminated, but it was very exciting.”
His instructor, François Bouvier, a postdoc with
Norton Zinder at Rockefeller introduced Soriano and
his classmates to various aspects of biology
including the lac operon. This was how he became
interested in genetics.
After graduating from high school, Soriano left the
US to attend college at the University of Paris
where he studied biochemistry. Most undergraduates
did not do research at that time, but he spent a
summer at the Weizmann Institute in Israel working
on tRNA processing. Upon his return, he volunteered
Giorgio Bernardi’s lab at the University of Paris
where he studied genome organization. In 1975,
Soriano received his Maîtrise-ès-Sciences, the
equivalent of an undergraduate degree in the US and
decided to continue in Bernardi’s lab for graduate
"I was fascinated by the papers of Roy Britten and
Eric Davidson suggesting that repetitive DNAs might
be involved in gene regulation and wanted to work on
genome organization.” Soriano compared the
properties of mouse and human DNA, analyzing their
GC content and heterogeneity. He also compared the
distribution of actin genes across both genomes.
Upon completing his second doctorate in 1982,
Soriano did a short postdoc at Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris before
Rudolf Jaenisch’s lab in 1984 at the
Heinrich Pette Institute in Hamburg, Germany and
later the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge,
His projects focused on two major areas. The first
was using retroviruses as cell lineage tags.
“What this essentially addressed were questions of
founder cells in the early embryo,” Soriano said.
“How many cells all together can give rise to the
He infected mouse embryos at the 4- to 16-cell stage
with a retrovirus that integrated into the genome.
The retrovirus could then be used to track
descendants of those early cells and determine what
His second focus was on insertional mutagenesis. A
germline insertion of a retrovirus into the 5’ end
of a gene could cause a null mutation. “Rudolf was
the first person to really do this in an efficient
way. It was essentially doing knockouts before
knockouts were available,” Soriano said. He
characterized an embryonic lethal mutation called
Mov 34 which turned out to be a proteasome subunit.
When Soriano took his first independent position in
1987 at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX,
he began to think about a more efficient mechanism
for knocking out genes in mice. His colleague in
Eric Barklis, found that “classic
retroviruses could insert into embryonic carcinoma
cells by essentially a splicing mechanism,” Soriano
said. This became the basis for his
trap vectors that could both knock out a gene’s
function and mark its expression. He placed a
promoterless β-galactosidase gene downstream of a
strong splice acceptor into a retroviral vector in
reverse orientation (ROSA). When this vector
inserted into the genome in the right frame and
orientation, a mutation was introduced and the
gene’s expression pattern revealed.
At this same
time, Soriano became interested Src kinases and
c-Src kinase null mutant—one of the
first targeted knockouts in mice. Soriano’s lab
would go on to knockout and characterize five more
Src kinase family members revealing the functional
redundancy of this gene family.
In 1993, Soriano left Baylor for the Fred Hutchinson
Research Center in Seattle, WA. He began to work on
growth factor signaling, particularly the PDGF
receptor as it was known to interact with Src.
In the late nineties, he returned to a mouse
identified in his original gene trap screen—the
ubiquitously expressed ROSA 26 mouse. Soriano
understood the value of this locus which showed
expression throughout development and did not code
for an essential gene. He generated the
ROSA 26 Cre
reporter strain one of the most widely used mouse
strains in the field. It allowed scientists to test
the expression patterns of their Cre
Soriano’s colleagues have expressed their
appreciation for his generosity in openly sharing
reagents and tools that he has generated over the
years. This without a doubt has benefited the larger
developmental biology community many times over.
In 2008, Soriano moved his lab to the Icahn School
of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York where he has
continued to study the role growth factor and
protein tyrosine kinase signaling pathways in
Throughout his career, Soriano has mentored dozens
of trainees who have gone on to independent research
careers in academia and the private sector. “If I
take people in the lab, I think that I have a
responsibility to them in terms of mentoring,” he
said. “I have very high expectations, but at the
same time, I’ve learned over the years that every
single person is different and that all of my
trainees are going to adopt their own style.”
important aspect of Soriano’s mentoring philosophy
is he involves his trainees in the grant writing
process—circulating drafts, getting feedback, then
revising accordingly. “In a way it becomes a group
effort with everybody contributing concepts. At the
same time, it also teaches everybody how to write
proposals which is very useful,” he said.
Soriano recounted how colleagues reacted to the work
of one of his students. “The thesis committee turned
to me and said, ‘Phil, you’re not allowed to write
your student’s thesis proposal.’ And I said, ‘Well,
I didn’t.’ And he said, ‘Well, it reads like one of
your grants.’ And I said, ‘I can’t help it if they
emulate my style.’”
This is one of the most rewarding parts of his
career. “To see my former trainees blossom and grow
. . . that is what makes it all worthwhile,” he
Soriano acknowledged several people who have been
his champions throughout his journey as a scientist.
As a teenager, family friend, René Lavigne
encouraged him to aim high and have passion for
whatever he chose to do in life. Rudolf Jaenisch
ingrained in him “the excitement of doing research
because he’s still incredibly passionate,” Soriano
said. Finally, he is indebted to
“Marianne is this extraordinarily positive,
enthusiastic person and she taught me to be a better
person and about how to mentor others by just
bringing out the best in them,” he said.
Receiving the Conklin Medal was overwhelming for
Soriano and has been a highlight of his career.
“It was wonderful that it was started off by some of
my former trainees. That's incredible. That's an
extraordinary recognition,” he said.
It also means a lot because the award is recognition
from both his peers and the Society for
Developmental Biology. “It's my favorite society
because I think that SDB has the same vision of the
importance of mentoring as I have,” he said. “I’m
really incredibly honored.”
Watch Philippe Soriano's 2017 Edwin G. Conklin