Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Ehud Shapiro was awarded a B.A./B.Sc. degree with distinction in Mathematics and Philosophy from Tel Aviv University in 1979, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Yale University in 1982. His doctoral studies with Prof. Dana Angluin attempted to provide an algorithmic interpretation to the noted philosopher of science Karl Popper's approach to scientific discovery. The result was both a computer system for the inference of logical theories from facts, and a methodology for program debugging, developed using the programming language Prolog.
Joining the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics in 1982 as a postdoctoral fellow, Prof. Shapiro was inspired by the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer Systems project to invent a high-level programming language for parallel and distributed computer systems, named Concurrent Prolog. His work had a decisive influence on the strategic direction of the Japanese national project, and he cooperated closely with the Japanese on this project throughout its ten-year duration.
In 1993, Prof. Shapiro took a leave of absence from his tenured position at the Weizmann Institute to found and serve as CEO of Ubique Ltd., an Israeli Internet software pioneer. Building on Concurrent Prolog, Ubique developed "Virtual Places," a precursor to today's widely-used Instant Messaging systems. Ubique was sold to America Online in 1995 and, following a management buy-out in 1997, was sold again to IBM in 1998, where it continues to develop SameTime, IBM's leading Instant Messaging product based on Ubique's technology. Prof. Shapiro returned to the Weizmann Institute in August 1998, where he is now a professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, and Biological Chemistry, and incumbent of the Harry Weinrebe Chair of Computer Science and Biology.
Preparing for his return to academia, Prof. Shapiro ventured into self-study of molecular biology. Initially curious about the origins of life, he was sidetracked into attempting to build a computer from biological molecules, guided by a vision of "A Doctor in a Cell": a biomolecular computer that operates inside the living body, programmed with medical knowledge to diagnose diseases and produce the requisite drugs.
Prof. Shapiro is currently leading research projects at the interface of computer science and molecular biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. In the Laboratory for Biomolecular Computers in the Institute’s Department of Biological Chemistry, he and his team continue to advance the "Doctor in a Cell" vision, with the more modest and immediate goal being a "Doctor in a Test Tube": a molecular computer that uses molecular disease markers as input and, when diagnosing a disease, produces the requisite drug molecules as output.
Prof. Shapiro’s group brought this concept closer to fruition when they designed a tiny computer made entirely of biological molecules which was successfully programmed – in a test tube – to identify molecular changes in the body that indicate the presence of certain cancers. The computer was then able to diagnose the specific type of cancer, and to react by producing a drug molecule that interfered with the cancer cells’ activities, causing them to self-destruct. For this work Shapiro received the 2004 World Technology Network Award in Biotechnology and was a member of the 2004 "Scientific American 50" as Research Leader in Nanotechnology. In other projects, Prof. Shapiro designed an effective method of synthesizing error-free DNA molecules from error-prone building blocks and developed a biological model that may explain the root cause of genetic disorders that include the Huntington disease. He has also developed a method for tracing the “genealogy” of cells in the human body, an approach that in being used to investigate fundamental questions in biology and medicine, recently providing the most conclusive evidence to date that cancer originates from a single cell of a mature organism.