Following undergraduate studies at Carleton College, Ben Black did a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Virginia on pathways for nuclear protein export in the lab of Bryce Paschal. After a four-year postdoctoral fellowship with Don Cleveland in the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego, Black started his own group at UPenn to continue the work he had started in the area of chromosome biology. Perhaps his best known work as an independent investigator is uncovering the physical basis for how nucleosomes containing the histone variant CENP-A epigenetically mark centromere location on the chromosome, and helping elucidate how these nucleosomes can seed new centromere assembly and maintain centromere location through a cell cycle-coupled self-propagation mechanism ultimately required to guide faithful chromosome inheritance. He has been recognized for his work with a fellowship from the American Cancer Society, a Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the Michael S. Brown New Investigator Award.
Over the last 10 years, the Black lab has contributed strongly to the chromosome field with discoveries in the following areas: (1) Rough biochemical and structural studies, defining the epigenetic mark that specifies the location on the chromosome of the centromere, which, in turn, confers the faithful inheritance of the chromosome at cell division (2) Elucidating the chromatin assembly pathway that epigenetically propagates centromere identity (3) Providing the genetic proof that centromere identity through the mammalian female germ line (>1 year in mice) relies upon spectacular stability of the special centromere-specifying nucleosome (4) Making key advances in the regulation of the master mitotic kinase, Aurora B (5) Important findings utilizing hydrogen/deuterium coupled to mass spec with several diverse chromatin complexes.