Planting the Seeds of Discovery
When Bob Goldberg was a college student in the early '60s, most of
his friends were going out on dates and hanging out in bars. Not
Goldberg. He was spending his free time putting together leaf
collections. "I just had this intellectual curiosity about plants," he
His interest in plants began during his first freshman botany class
at Ohio University, in Athens. There, he also was exposed to the hot
new field of genetics. The combination was irresistible.
Goldberg, now a distinguished professor of molecular, cell and
developmental biology, has been on the faculty at UCLA for 27 years,
focusing on one single goal—how to make a seed. This means
identifying every gene in plant chromosomes and understanding its
"Why? Because seeds are the most important source of food
worldwide," he says. "If we can understand how to make a seed
genetically, we can make bigger seeds, better seeds, more nutritious
seeds. With that, you can do a lot toward increasing food
With available agricultural land shrinking, "if you can plant more
seeds in the same amount of space, you can keep the food supply
flowing," he says. "It all comes back to seeds."
Goldberg believes that undergraduates who are not planning careers
in science need more classroom exposure to science than they currently
have because it is critical to understand how science affects their
daily lives—and their future careers. Too many of them have never
experienced what he calls the "excitement of discovery."
As an HHMI Professor, he plans to design and teach a course that
will show students who are not science majors the numerous ways science
has an impact on society, for example, the social, legal and ethical
issues that arise from emerging new genetic technologies. He hopes that
a few undergraduates might even decide to change their majors and
switch to science.
Science majors, who often do not have an opportunity to work in a
real lab, will conduct hands-on research in his lab so they can learn
about genes that play a role in early seed development. Goldberg also
plans to use undergraduate molecular biology majors as teaching
fellows. "I like to teach kids how to teach," he says.
Goldberg, who last year was elected to the National Academy of
Sciences, loves teaching. He describes his classroom style as "radical
and Socratic," with multimedia and microphones "and calling on kids
long before anyone ever heard of Oprah Winfrey."