Sunday (Feb. 18) memorial service for prize-winning biologist Ian Gibbons

A memorial is planned for Sunday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m. to celebrate the life of Ian Read Gibbons, a longtime visiting scholar at UC Berkeley and a pioneer in the study of the molecular motors that move things around in cells.

Gibbons died at his home in Orinda, California, on Jan. 30 at the age of 86, following a long battle with multiple myeloma.

Ian Gibbons in 2017

Ian Gibbons, a UC Berkeley visiting scholar and Shaw Prize winner who died Jan. 30.

The celebration will take place at Gibbons’ home, 79 Estates Dr., in Orinda.

Gibbons, who shared the $1.2 million Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine last year, was honored, along with Ron Vale of UC San Francisco, “for their discovery of microtubule-associated motor proteins: engines that drive nerve cell growth and chromosome inheritance essential to human development.”

“Without these motors, the process of multicellular growth and division would be impossible and many diseases have been linked to the genes that encode these motor proteins,” the prize committee wrote.

“Ian was one of the true giants in the field of cell motility,” said Vale, a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology. “His discovery of the molecular motor dynein heralded the beginning of the field of microtubule-based motility, which now has become a large and important field in cell biology. Beyond his initial discovery, Ian had a stellar scientific career and made many contributions to our modern understanding of biological motion. Ian was motivated to understand how living systems work, often using simple organisms such as sea urchins and yeast, but his discoveries have had broad relevance to humans, particularly for understanding a number of developmental disorders and to diseases of the nervous system.”

Born Oct. 30, 1931, in Rye, England, Gibbons attended Kings College at Cambridge University, where he earned his B.A. in 1954 and Ph.D. in 1957.

He focused on the study of the motors that make the tails of sperm and the flagella of protozoa undulate and the cilia covering other tissues ripple. He spent the bulk of his career in Hawaii at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, which he co-founded and is part of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center operated on Oahu by the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There, he and his wife, Barbara Gibbons, studied the sperm of sea urchins, and ultimately proved that the motor powering the sperm’s tail was a protein they dubbed dynein, one of two motor proteins that move things around in the cells of animals. Vale discovered the other one, kinesin.

Gibbons and his wife later moved to California, where he continued his research in a lab at UC Berkeley before retiring to work at home in 2009.

He was a fellow of the Royal Society and received the  E.B. Wilson Medal in 1994 with his wife and the 1995 International Prize for Biology, as well as the 2017 Shaw Prize.

He is survived by a daughter, Wendy Gibbons, of Orinda, and a son, Peter Gibbons, of San Francisco. Barbara Gibbons died in 2013.

For more on Gibbons’ research, link to a 2017 profile written on the occasion of his receipt of the Shaw Prize.