Sign up now and receive the HHMI Bulletin by mail free.
PERSPECTIVES & OPINIONS
Trained as a mathematician, Bill Jacobs says that he learns biology on a "need-to know-basis," yet his need to know is prodigious. More
Despite several publicized instances of cancer in gene therapy experiments, the rollercoaster treatment of gene therapy in the media, and mixed opinion about it on the part of the public, the field is alive and well, says one of its leaders. More
Edited by Kathryn Brown
Catherine Dulac PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY Harvard University
"Engineering. As a student, I took a lot of theory classes such as physics, math, and biology. That's very important to a scientist's intellectual training, of course. But I don't really know, for example, how a microscope works in terms of its different parts. It occurs to me quite frequently that when I have a piece of equipment from a vendor, I cannot adapt it to my needs. I can adapt my thinking to whatever I see, but if I wish to make a piece of equipment better, I do not know how to do it."
"Math. I took just one year of undergraduate math, and it was a standard introductory course. I wish I'd taken a really good math class, and then another, to get more firmly grounded in that subject—and not just for rigorously analyzing research. Like some art, mathematics has a subtle beauty, which I'm unable to appreciate because I lack that certain aesthetic sensibility. I'm always reading descriptions of books about Newton's work, for instance, and I think to myself, 'Wow, I really wish I could get more into this.'"
Michael B. O'Connor PROFESSOR OF GENETICS, CELL BIOLOGY, AND DEVELOPMENT University of Minnesota
"Math. Biology is increasingly quantitative. In my own field of develop-mental biology we now can model tissue patterns--or how molecules diffuse through tissues along gradients--with partial differential equations. Similarly, genomic analysis and statistics call for math.
I was originally a chemistry major, but I switched to biology. When I did, I stopped taking a heavy load of math courses. Now I wish I had taken more."
Daphne Preuss PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR GENETICS AND CELL BIOLOGY University of Chicago
"Finance. To turn lab observations into treatments for people, we have to launch clinical trials and develop products. Researchers often license results to biotech companies, which then license work to pharmaceutical companies.
But many of the individuals involved along the way are less interested than are scientists in actually getting this work to the public. So we ourselves must be business savvy. Classes in accounting or economics, for instance, would help us better understand how to translate research results into direct benefits for human beings."
Photos: Dulac: Kay Chernush, Lefkowitz: Scott Dingman, O'Connor: Mary Jane Shimmel, Preuss: Mark Segal