Michael Grunstein, a child of Holocaust survivors who migrated to North America and who pursued a fertile scientific career at the University of California, Los Angeles, has passed away at 77. Grunstein’s discoveries concerning the role of histone modifications in gene expression were honored with a 2018 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which he shared with David Allis.  Through tour-de-force genetic studies in yeast, Grunstein demonstrated that histones dramatically influence gene activity within living cells and laid the groundwork for understanding the pivotal role of particular amino acids in this process. In doing so, Grunstein helped overturned the accepted knowledge about histones—proteins in the nucleus of the cell around which DNA is wound. Prior to the work of Grunstein and Allis, histones were thought to function as inert structures that simply package DNA. Grunstein’s genetic studies demonstrated that nucleosomes in intact eukaryotic cells do not serve merely as static spools that hold DNA; rather, they help regulate genes.

Grunstein and Allis (who passed away in 2023) have transformed our view of the histone proteins. Histones are not passive participants in DNA packaging, but rather, are key contributors to biological responses.