Recorded: 07 Jun 2004
Initially he was doing his own science more or less alone. I remember when I had just joined the lab there were people who already admired him. He had done the cell lineages. The thing where you take the fertilized egg and it divides into two and he’d done the whole thing down to 959 cells. So what you do for that is you put an embryo under a dissecting scope on a microscope slide. And then you take it to the Nomarski scope to look at the lineage. So you have to go from one scope to the other. He was doing that in a little chair with wheels and—people would show me how you could see on the floor where he had been going between the two scopes. He’s done that for two years to get the whole lineage done.
And the scope is in the museum. I’m not sure if the little piece of linoleum is in the science museum in London, it may well be actually. But that was one mode of doing science, like a monk almost. You know, totally shut down from the environment. Then to sequence the human genome he had to completely switch because he had to all of a sudden direct people. He had to be a director of a huge place with hundreds of people running around. I think I was there during a transition phase, which was an interesting phase for him as well because he did whatever needed to be done to get the work done. So for the lineage he just had to focus and use the computer here and your memory and draw whatever you saw. To sequence the genome you need a factory, so he had to run a factory. So he just followed the logic of his science. But it was new.
Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.
After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.
He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.
In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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