Born on 21 September 1953 in Gdansk, he studied experimental physics and biology at the University of Gdansk. He received a doctorate in biochemistry in 1979, and a postdoctoral degree in molecular biology in 1986. He was appointed as a professor in 1992. In 1980–1999 he worked at the University of Gdansk, serving among other positions as deputy rector for scientific affairs (1990–1993). In 1993–1994 he worked in the US as a visiting professor at the Institute of Oncology at the University of Utah. Since 1999 he has been the director of the Department of Molecular Biology at the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw.
Prof. Zylicz’s research involves the molecular biology of heat shock proteins. He isolated the first heat shock proteins and demonstrated their activity in DNA replication. With his colleagues, he demonstrated that heat shock proteins play a role in protection of other proteins, dissociation of oligomers and protein aggregates, and proteolysis. Since 2000 he has been working on research on the role of heat shock proteins in cell transformation. He has demonstrated that the protein p53, which is tumour suppressor, requires chaperone proteins for its action, and moreover that the MDM2 oncogene posseses a chaperone activity. He is the author of nearly 90 original papers cited in the worldwide literature (over 5,500 citations). In Poland he has served as the dissertation adviser for 15 PhD’s. Six of his closest colleagues (PhD students and postdocs) have been appointed as professors.
Prof. Zylicz is a full member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina iand Academia Europæa, a fellow of the European Academy of Cancer Sciences, and a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1997–2000 he was a member of the team of the State Committee for Scientific Research, and in 2001–2004 was a member of the Committee and chairman of the Committee’s Biological, Earth Sciences and Environmental Protection Unit. He chaired the Commission for Basic Research at the State Committee for Scientific Research in 2001–2002. Currently he is a member of the Senate of the Max Planck Society.
He is also a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), and in 2003– 2007 was a member of the EMBO Council; the Polish Biochemical Society; the Polish Genetics Society; and the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In 2008–2010 he chaired the Molecular and Structural Biology and Biochemistry Panel of the European Research Council. He also served as the Polish delegate to the European Molecular Biology Conference (2000–2004) and the European Science Foundation (2003–2005). Currently he is a member of the ERC Identification Committee, which selects members of the ERC Scientific Council.
He is the winner of such awards as the Foundation for Polish Science Prize (1999) and the Prime Minister’s Award for Scientific Achievement (2002). He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Wroclaw (2007) and the University of Gdansk (2011).
Prof. Zylicz was appointed President of the Foundation for Polish Science by the Council of the Foundation on 20 May 2005.