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Genome pioneer garners $500,000 prize

Leroy Hood, who co-founded the organization that mapped out the complete set of human genes, wins the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his inventions.

Leroy Hood, a pioneer of the project that mapped out the complete set of human genes, was awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize on Thursday for inventing "four instruments that have unlocked much of the mystery of human biology."

Segway inventor Dean Kamen won last year's Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Lemelson Foundation awards the $500,000 grant to the creator of what it deems the most important invention of year.

One of Hood's most noteworthy inventions is an automated DNA sequencer, a quantum leap from earlier machines used to investigate the make-up of genetic material. The Lemelson Foundation said the sequencer was central to the success of the Institute for Systems Biology's Human Genome Project, which mapped out the complete set of human genes.

Other notable instruments include a powerful device to create proteins, and an automated tool for synthesizing DNA.

"No single person has done more to create the genomics era than Leroy Hood," wrote Michael E. Phelps, chair of the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California School of Medicine. "He has not only done great science, but has created new science through which many will create new knowledge to the benefit of all mankind," said Phelps, who nominated Hood.

Other honors for Hood include the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology in 2002 and the Lasker Award for Studies of Immune Diversity in 1987. Hood is co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, and has founded or co-founded more than 10 other companies, including Applied Biosystems and Amgen.