Congratulations to our own Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology, Mario Capecchi for his work that just was co-awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Sir Martin J. Evans and Oliver Smithies.
This gene targeting work was pioneering, allowing scientists for the first time to target genes into mouse embryo stem cells which allowed for subsequent technologies such as cloning, genetic modification and gene therapy.
I am actually surprised it took this long as it would be hard to quantify how much science has been dependent upon Mario’s work or even work that comprised prior Nobel Prize awards. Certainly my science going back to my dissertation has relied on transgenic techniques pioneered by Mario Capecchi and I owe much to him, but more importantly the doors for much discovery made in bioscience over the past several decades would simply not have been possible without Mario’s pioneering work.
Mario’s is a storied history. He was born in 1937 Italy under the specter of fascism where his mother was sent to Dachau concentration camp leaving Mario as a street urchin wandering the streets of Verona, Italy for the next four years. After the war, he and his mother were reunited and immigrated to the United States where he was able to attend Antioch College, earning a degree in chemistry and physics followed by his doctorate at Harvard in biophysics with James D. Watson as his mentor. He continued his work at Harvard until he accepted a position in 1973 here at the University of Utah where we’ve had the honor and privilege of getting to know him through classes, collaboration or talking over coffee while he developed the technologies that have led to this award.
It is fair to say that Mario’s gene knockout work has revolutionized bioscience, but I’d also like to note that his continued work analyzing the mouse Hox gene family and other lesser known current projects might very well serve to make equally significant contribution to science and medicine. I look forward to those results with just as much anticipation as the genetic work that has made Mario famous.