Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD
Photo: Joseph Heitman
Elected 2003
Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD, is a James B. Duke Professor in the Departments of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, and Medicine at Duke University Medical Center and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Director of the Duke Center for Microbial Pathogenesis. He served as director of the Duke University Program in Genetics and Genomics from 2002-2009. Dr. Heitman received his undergraduate training at the University of Chicago in chemistry and biochemistry, as an MD-PhD student at Cornell and Rockefeller Universities, where he worked with Peter Model and Norton Zinder on how restriction enzymes recognize specific DNA sequences and how bacteria respond to and repair DNA breaks and nicks. Dr. Heitman was an EMBO long-term fellow at the Biocenter in Basel, Switzerland prior to moving to Duke in 1992. Dr. Heitman and colleagues focus on the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the pathogenic fungi Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida albicans. Their studies have revealed the conserved targets for immunosuppressive antifungal drugs and delineated calcineurin and Tor signaling pathways. In parallel, studies on dimorphic transitions led to the discovery of conserved mechanisms involved in nutrient sensing, including carbon and nitrogen sources, involving a novel G protein coupled receptor that senses sugars, and an ammonium permease related to the Rh antigens that senses nitrogen sources. Their studies in C. neoformans studies have led to definition of general principles of signal transduction that control cell development, and roles for the calcineurin, cAMP-protein kinase A, and MAP kinase cascades in mating and virulence. In parallel, they have delineated the structure and function of the mating type locus that governs development and virulence, and are currently examining the role of sexual recombination in the evolution of virulence in sub-Saharan Africa and an outbreak of C. neoformans variety gattii that is occurring on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Dr. Heitman is a recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome Scholar Award in Molecular Pathogenic Mycology, the 2002 ASBMB AMGEN award for significant contributions using molecular biology to our understanding of human disease, and the 2003 Squibb Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) for outstanding contributions to infectious disease research. Dr. Heitman has been an instructor since 1998 at the Woods Hole Molecular Mycology Course at Woods Hole, MA, is an editor of the new ASM journal Eukaryotic Cell, was elected a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) in 2003, a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) in 2003, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2004, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005).

Honors / awards

National Academy of Sciences (2021)
ASCI | Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award (2018) for his key contributions to our understanding of how eukaryotic microbial pathogens evolve, cause disease, and develop drug resistance; and his discovery of TOR and FKBP12 as targets of the immunosuppressive chemotherapeutic drug rapamycin. More