Patrick O. Brown

Patrick "Pat" O'Reilly Brown (born 1954) is chief executive and founder of Impossible Foods Inc.[3] and professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry at Stanford University.[4] Brown is co-founder of the Public Library of Science,[5] inventor of the DNA microarray,[6] and a former investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[7]

Patrick O. Brown
Pat Brown (Photo: Jane Gitschier)
Patrick O'Reilly Brown

(1954-09-23) September 23, 1954
Other namesPat
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Known forImpossible Foods, DNA microarrays[1][2]
Public Library of Science
AwardsNAS Award in Molecular Biology (2000)
Takeda award (2002)
Curt Stern Award (2005)
Scientific career
InstitutionsStanford University
ThesisStudies on DNA Topoisomerases (1980)
Doctoral advisorNicholas Cozzarelli


Brown received each of his degrees from the University of Chicago, including his B.S. in 1976 and M.D. in 1982. His Ph.D., granted in 1980 while under the guidance of Nicholas R. Cozzarelli, involved the study of DNA topoisomerases.[8]

Academic career

After getting his medical degree in 1982, Brown completed a 3-year pediatric residency at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago but decided he could have a greater impact through basic research.[9] In 1985, Brown took a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, San Francisco with J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus (who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries about how genes can ignite cancerous tumors).[10] At UCSF, Brown and colleagues defined the mechanism by which retroviruses, such as the AIDS virus, integrate their genes into the genome of the cells they infect, which helped lead to development of new drugs to fight the disease.[11]

In 1988, Brown became an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he continued to investigate retroviral replication.[12] In the early 1990s, Brown began developing a new technology to enable systematic investigation of the behavior and properties of whole genomes—called DNA microarrays.[13] "I had a mental image of a DNA microarray, even including the red and green fluorescent spots, a few years before I'd figured out the details of making them," Brown told The Scientist.[14]

Brown and his colleagues created a robotic dispenser that could deposit minute quantities of tens of thousands of individual genes onto a single glass slide, a “DNA microarray” or "gene chip." By flooding the slide with fluorescently labeled genetic material derived from a living sample, a researcher could see which genes were being expressed in cells.[15] Shortly after their first description of DNA microarrays, the Brown laboratory published a “how-to” manual on the Web that helped these robotic devices become standard equipment in life science labs throughout the world, in an effort led by Joe DeRisi, Michael Eisen, Ash Alizadeh, and others.[11]

Brown and his colleagues developed experimental methods for using DNA microarrays to investigate basic principles of genome organization, gene expression, cell regulation and specialization, physiology, development and disease, and the microbiome, along with statistical and computational tools for visualizing and interpreting the resulting large volumes of data. This work was especially revealing for the molecular portraits of many human cancers including lymphomas such as DLBCL, breast cancers, and other tumors, as part of diverse global collaborations including David Botstein, Michael Eisen, Lou Staudt, Ash Alizadeh, and others. Microarray technologies are widely used for comparing gene expression patterns and other genome features among individuals and their tissues and cells, providing information on disease subcategories, disease prognosis, and treatment outcome.[16]

Starting in the late 1990s, Brown began publicly voicing concern over what he called "a fundamentally flawed process of scientific publishing,"[11] in which academics typically published results of publicly funded research in private, commercial publishing houses that charged subscription fees for access to journals. “We viewed this entire process as being patently unfair. Not only were scientists in poor countries being denied access to the latest and best information out there, but the public who supports this research was being denied access as well. We felt there simply had to be a better way to do it," Brown told a University of Chicago medical journal.[11]

Brown began a collaboration with other scientists, including Harold Varmus (then director of the National Institutes of Health), David J. Lipman (then director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information), and Michael Eisen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to overhaul the scientific and medical publishing systems to make papers available on the rapidly developing Internet platforms such as Usenet and the World Wide Web.[17] "Why should publishers be able to control what I can do with information that was published by my scientific colleagues whose motivation was exactly to have their discoveries contribute to future discoveries? ... We had already existing tools that we could use to so to speak hyperlink things so that you could reorganize information in systematic ways, but they weren't really being exploited by the conventional scientific literature," Brown said in an interview with BioMedCentral Biology.[18] The magazine Nature reported that the scientists' open-access movement could "spell the end for many print titles";[19] Brown called subscription-based scientific journals "anachronisms."[15]

In 2001, Brown, Eisen and Varmus co-founded the Public Library of Science (PLOS) to make published scientific research open access and freely available to researchers in the scientific community.[20] Funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the non-profit organization advocated for designing alternative systems to fund for scientific publishing.[21]

In 2002, Brown was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences, identifying him as one of the top 2000 scientists in the nation. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[22]

Impossible Foods

In 2009, Brown took an 18-month sabbatical where he considered how to spend the rest of his career.[23] Brown decided that the world's largest environmental problem,[24] and the problem where he could have the most impact, was the use of animals to produce food. He organized a conference to raise awareness of the problem.[25] But the National Research Council workshop, called "The Role of Animal Agriculture in a Sustainable 21st Century Global Food System,” had minimal impact; soon after, he decided the best way to reduce animal agriculture was to offer a competing product in the free market.[23]

By the end of his sabbatical, Brown had articulated the first steps of his business plan and began to recruit a small team of scientists to determine precisely why meat smells, handles, cooks and tastes like meat.[23] Brown said he had a "hunch" that the key to meat's unique taste was its high abundance of heme, an iron-containing molecule in blood that carries oxygen and is found in all living organisms.[26] Brown theorized that, if he could generate large amounts of heme from plant sources, he could recreate the taste of animal meat.[27]

Brown and a small group of early employees tested the hunch by digging up clover roots, which for the plant kingdom contain high amounts of heme. "I dissected them off with a razor blade then blended them up just to see what I could extract. I was just poking around, feasibility-testing some ideas. I got to a point where, though I didn’t have much data, I had enough to go and talk to some venture-capital companies — of which there are a ridiculous number in Silicon Valley — and hit them for some money,” Brown told The Sunday Times.[28] Brown raised a Series A round of $9 million from Khosla Ventures and founded Impossible Foods in July 2011. Brown and his team spent five years researching and developing the Impossible Burger, which launched in restaurants in 2016.[29] Impossible Foods is also working on plant-based pork, chicken, fish and dairy products made without any animals.[30]

Brown strongly supports labeling Impossible Foods’ products as “meat,” regardless of its source. In a 2018 interview with Quartz, he noted, “animals have just been the technology we have used up until now to produce meat... What consumers value about meat has nothing to do with how it’s made. They just live with the fact that it’s made from animals. If we’re producing a product that is delivering everything that is of value in meat for consumers, it’s filling that niche.” This assessment, according to Brown, appropriately categorizes meat by “what functional role it plays,” rather than its source of origin.[31] These statements have put Brown at odds with the meat industry, which by mid-2019 had successfully pressured state legislatures in Missouri[32][33] and Arkansas[34][35] to pass laws barring plant-based protein manufacturers such as Impossible Foods and competitor Beyond Meat from labeling their products as “meat.”


In 2000, Brown received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology.[36]

In 2002 he received a Takeda award, recognizing his work in "the development of DNA microarrays with pre-synthesized DNA probes and the promotion of the technology by releasing the production methods on the Internet."[37]

In 2005 he received the Curt Stern Award for his contributions to the development and application of gene-based expression microarrays.[38]

In 2006 he received the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor for Basic Research, acknowledging "his revolutionary development of low-cost, accessible automated microarrays, and his life-saving contributions to the field of functional genomics...which in turn has produced insights into critical genetic information for diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, prostate cancer, and early stage breast cancer."[39]

In 2010 the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF) selected Brown for the ABRF 2010 Award in recognition of Brown's pioneering work in the development of microarrays and the diverse applications of this technology in genetic research.[40]

In 2016, the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Economic Forum named Brown a Technology Pioneer for his design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations "poised to have a significant impact on business and society."[41]


  1. Schena, M.; Shalon, D.; Davis, R. W.; Brown, P. O. (1995). "Quantitative Monitoring of Gene Expression Patterns with a Complementary DNA Microarray". Science. 270 (5235): 467–470. doi:10.1126/science.270.5235.467. PMID 7569999.
  2. Eisen, M.; Spellman, P.; Brown, P.; Botstein, D. (1998). "Cluster analysis and display of genome-wide expression patterns". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 95 (25): 14863–14868. doi:10.1073/pnas.95.25.14863. PMC 24541. PMID 9843981.
  3. "Impossible Foods 2015 Disruptor 50". 2015-05-12.
  4. "Patrick O. Brown - Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus | Welcome to Bio-X".
  5. Gitschier, Jane (2009-07-17). "You Say You Want a Revolution: An Interview with Pat Brown". PLoS Genetics. 5 (7): e1000560. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000560. ISSN 1553-7404. PMC 2705184. PMID 19609358.
  6. "Why we developed the microarray, Patrick Brown :: DNA Learning Center".
  7. "Patrick O. Brown".
  8. Brown, P. O. (2013). "An interview with Patrick O Brown on the origins and future of open access". BMC Biology. 11: 33–110. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-33. PMC 3626920. PMID 23587113.
  9. "DNA Learning Center".
  10. "The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize".
  11. "Medicine of the Midway". Spring 2005.
  12. "DNA Learning Center".
  13. "Stanford Medicine Magazine". Fall 2005.
  14. "The DNA Microarray". August 2005.
  15. "Steal This Research Paper! (You Already Paid for It.)". Mother Jones. September 2013.
  16. Trevino, V.; Falciani, F.; Barrera-Saldaña, H. A. (2007-06-11). "DNA microarrays: a powerful genomic tool for biomedical and clinical research". Molecular Medicine (Cambridge, Mass.). 13 (9–10): 527–541. doi:10.2119/2006-00107.Trevino. PMC 1933257. PMID 17660860.
  17. "New Communication Paradigm for Science in the 21st Century". Journal of Young Investigators. May 2010.
  18. Brown, P. O. (2013-04-15). "An interview with Patrick O Brown on the origins and future of open access". BioMedCentral Biology. 11: 33. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-33. PMC 3626920. PMID 23587113.
  19. "The writing is on the web for science journals in print". Nature. 1999-01-21.
  20. Brower, Vicki (2001-11-15). "Public library of science shifts gears". EMBO Reports. 2 (11): 972–973. doi:10.1093/embo-reports/kve239. ISSN 1469-221X. PMC 1084138. PMID 11713184.
  21. Eisen, Michael B.; Brown, Patrick O.; Varmus, Harold E. (2002-09-12). "Public-access group supports PubMed Central". Nature. 419 (6903): 111. doi:10.1038/419111c. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 12226637.
  22. "HHMI Bio". HHMI. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  23. "The Biography of a Plant-Based Burger: One man's mission to make meat obsolete". 2016-09-06.
  24. "The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production". Time. 2013-12-16.,
  26. "Silicon Valley's Bloody Plant Burger Smells, Tastes And Sizzles Like Meat". NPR. 2016-06-21.
  27. "We tried the plant-based 'impossible burger' that's backed by Bill Gates". CNBC. 2016-08-02.
  28. "Can the meat-free Impossible Burger save the world". Sunday Times. 2017-04-19.
  29. "David Chang Adds Plant Based 'Impossible Burger' to Nishi Menu". Eater. 2016-07-26.
  30. "The Secret of These New Veggie Burgers: Plant Blood". WSJ. Retrieved 21 Apr 2015.
  31. Purdy, Chase; Purdy, Chase. "Functional foods are boring. Someone tell Silicon Valley". Quartzy. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  32. Purdy, Chase; Purdy, Chase. "A single state wants to determine the definition of meat for America". Quartz. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  33. "What's Meat, Anyway? Missouri Label Law Says It Comes From An Animal; Some Disagree". Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  34. Purdy, Chase; Purdy, Chase. "The war on cauliflower rice". Quartz. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  35. Brantley, Max (2019-03-14). "Legislature has a beef with labeling lab-grown protein as meat". Arkansas Times. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  36. "NAS Award in Molecular Biology".
  37. "Takeda Award 2002 Achievements Fact Sheet" (PDF) (Press release). Takeda Foundation. Retrieved 2007-10-17.
  38. Eichler, Evan (2006). "Introductory Speech for Patrick O. Brown* * Previously presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, in Salt Lake City, on October 29, 2005". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 79 (3): 427–428. doi:10.1086/500330. PMC 1559547. PMID 16909379.
  39. "American Cancer Society to Present Highest Honor to Katie Couric, Alice T. And William H. Goodwin Jr., Mary-Claire King and Patrick O. Brown for Outstanding Contributions to Cancer Fight".
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