This lecture is dedicated to the memory of Donald “Buzz” Wassenberg, a Master’s degree candidate at San Diego State University at the time of his death in 1986. He died of cystic fibrosis at the age of 26. Buzz was an outstanding individual, both personally and professionally. He displayed an enthusiasm about life that was not dampened by the severe medical problems he faced. His approach to science was innovative and he generated an excitement regarding new experimental ideas and results.
Buzz had completed his laboratory research in Dr. Sandy Bernstein’s laboratory and had begun writing his thesis prior to his death. SDSU awarded his Master’s degree posthumously at the spring, 1987 graduation, where Dr. Bernstein presented the completed thesis and the degree to Buzz’s parents. This research was subsequently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. To honor his memory and to provide inspiration to his peers and colleagues, we have begun an endowment fund. This allows us to bring top investigators to SDSU to present recent advances in genetic disease research.
MARIO R. CAPECCHI was born in Verona, Italy in 1937. He received his B.S. degree in chemistry and physics from Antioch College in 1961 and his Ph.D. degree in biophysics from Harvard University in 1967. His thesis work, under the guidance of Dr. James D. Watson, included the analysis of the mechanisms of nonsense suppression; the initiation of protein synthesis, including the demonstration of Formylmethionine tRNA as the initiator of protein synthesis; and the mechanisms of protein termination. From 1967-69 Dr. Capecchi was a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. In 1969 he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Harvard School of Medicine. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1971. In 1973 he joined the faculty at the University of Utah as a Professor of Biology. Since 1988 Dr. Capecchi has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; since 1989, a Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Utah School of Medicine; and since 1993, Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology. He is also co-chairman of the Department of Human Genetics.
Dr. Capecchi is best known for his pioneering work on the development of gene targeting in mouse embryo-derived stem (ES) cells. This technology allows scientists to create mice with mutations in any desired gene. The power of this technology is that the investigator chooses both which gene to mutate and how to mutate it. The investigator has virtually complete freedom on how to manipulate the DNA sequences in the genome of living mice. This allows scientists to evaluate in detail the function of any gene during the development or post-developmental phase of the mouse. His research interests include the molecular genetic analysis of early mouse development, neural development in mammals, production of murine models of human genetic diseases, gene therapy, homologous recombination and programmed genomic rearrangements in the mouse.