Born in Seattle, Washington, Buck received her Bachelor of Surgery in psychology and microbiology in 1975 from the University of Washington, Seattle and her Doctor of Philosophy in immunology in 1980 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Buck completed postdoctoral research at Columbia University under Axel.
She was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Richard Axel, for their work on olfactory receptors. She is currently on the faculty of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. In 1991 Buck became an assistant professor of neurobiology at Harvard University where she expanded her knowledge of the nervous system.
Her primary research interest is on how pheromones and odors are detected in the nose and interpreted in the brain.
In their landmark paper published in 1991, Buck and Axel cloned olfactory receptors, showing that they belong to the family of G protein-coupled receptors. By analyzing rat deoxyribonucleic acid, they estimated that there were approximately one thousand different genes for olfactory receptors in the mammalian genome.
This research opened the door to the genetic and molecular analysis of the mechanisms of olfaction. In their later work, Buck and Axel have shown that each olfactory receptor neuron remarkably only expresses one kind of olfactory receptor protein and that the input from all neurons expressing the same receptor is collected by a single dedicated glomerulus of the olfactory bulb.
National Academy of Sciences. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Royal Society]
She is a Full Member of the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, an Affiliate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington, Seattle and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Buck was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2015.