H. Robert Horvitz on The Future of CSHL
  H. Robert Horvitz     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

Well, how the lab will be in 50 years depends on many things, assuming that it remains a laboratory of biology, which is the simplest assumption, one question is: What happens to the biology in 50 years? The second question is: Who will be the leaders between now and then and what will their private visions be and how will they manifest them? Because Cold Spring Harbor, if it maintains its general size, will never be big enough to be a broadly and generally—I’d say to have a broad and general program in biology overall. The rationale that Jim has had—and I think that it’s the right one for the laboratory—has been to focus on initially one and then a few areas and to try to make Cold Spring Harbor as good as any place in the world in a very limited number of areas. And that’s been a very successful formula. The yeast group that was there was phenomenal in what it did; the tumor virology was spectacular in what that group accomplished. And I think that as an approach is very reasonable.

Now there are some newer efforts that are under way and again with that rationale, it seems very plausible, and I think without being able to pinpoint this area or that area, because you don’t know what the biology is going to be, and you don’t know what the interests of the people are going to be.

The principle is that a small number of areas with world class people and interactions, not just one person per area but a number of them to make the environment unique and powerful both, that I think will be what’s anticipated. But I say that only looking backwards; that’s what it has been, and it has been good. If I were there and had to define a future, I would think a little bit harder and maybe come up with a different answer.

H. Robert Horvitz received his Ph.D. in 1974 from Harvard University, under the tutelage of Jim Watson. He joined the MIT Department of Biology faculty in 1978, and was named David Koch Professor of Biology in 2000. He is also Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and was appointed Investigator at the McGovern Institute in 2001.

Horvitz is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience. In 2002, he was award the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston “for their discoveries concerning 'genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'."

Horvitz currently studies how genes control the development of the nervous system and how the nervous system controls behavior. He has elucidated a molecular genetic pathway for programmed cell death (apoptosis), which is fundamental to nervous system development in all animals.