Victor Ambros grew up in Vermont and graduated from MIT in 1975. He did his graduate research (1976-1979) with David Baltimore at MIT, studying poliovirus genome structure and replication. He began to study the genetic pathways controlling developmental timing in the nematodeC. elegansas a postdoc in H. Robert Horvitz's lab at MIT, and continued those studies while on the faculty of Harvard (1984-1992) Dartmouth (1992-2007), and the University of Massachusetts Medical School (2008-present). In 1993, members of the Ambros lab identified the first microRNA, the product oflin-4, a heterochronic gene ofC. elegans. Since then, the role of microRNAs in development has been a major focus of his research.
Primarily a developmental biologist, Prof. Ambros is interested in the genetic regulatory mechanisms that control animal development, and in particular the molecules that function during animal development to ensure the proper timing of developmental events. He has primarily employed the nematodeCaenorhabditis elegansas a model system for studying the function of regulators of developmental timing, which inC. elegansare known as the "heterochronic genes", in reference to the remarkable changes in relative timing of developmental event that are elicited by mutations in these genes. The heterochronic genes comprise a set of interrelated regulatory pathways that include proteins that regulate the transcription of other genes, and also a class of small RNA, known as microRNAs, that regulate the production of protein by the messenger RNAs of specific target genes. Much of his research in recent years has been aimed at understanding how microRNAs are integrated into broader regulatory networks related to animal development and human disease, and at uncovering the molecular mechanisms for how microRNAs exert their effects on gene expression.