Robert Martiennsen on Computing and Modern Genetics
  Robert Martiennsen     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Feb 2001

The ability to navigate a computer, and I mean that, to navigate the Internet is central to biology now. And I think that’s something that people have to start to be very, very comfortable with. You know, in the 1940s and '50s the first molecular biologists were physicists, actually, and they came into biology thinking that there was some simple molecular explanation, like quantum mechanics, that could apply to genetics and it would all come together. To some extent, that actually happened. I don't think the initial vision of how that was going to happen turned out but as usual it was more of a surprise. Reality is always more of a surprise than fiction. But now its computer science and information science that people need to be familiar with, much more than physics or even chemistry, to do good biology. I think that is a change, and it's important that people really grasp that with full enthusiasm and really get to grips with it. I think that's really the only mechanistic change that I would say I still believe very strongly in a general genetics education. I don't think it's a good idea in genetics to have people study only one organism or one set of phenomenon. And I'm pleased to say that doesn't happen here. We do everything from plants to fungi and animals and the genome. In a sense, genomics have brought all those things together. It's remarkable how [my] colleagues in genomics span many, many different models and many different organisms, so I'm much closer now to C. elegans geneticists through the genome project than I was before. And this is a good thing that the genome project has really been able to do for us, I think.

Rob Martienssen is a plant molecular geneticist and professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1986 and did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

As a young scientist, he worked closely with Barbara McClintock. He currently studies plant epigenetics and development using functional genomics. He was awarded the Kumho International Science Award in Plant Biology and Biotechnology (2001).