Ron Plasterk on RNAi Applications
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

The one thing I like about RNAi is just biology, is just the recognition that there is something, which is ancient because it is shared between fungi and plants and animals, which apparently is there for a good reason, and is strongly conserved. We don’t quite know what it is. So we’re really in the romantic phase, we’re still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. So that is what I like about it the most. Of course, the reason most people are excited about it is something else, to use it as a tool.

The immediate application of RNAi as a tool is in studying gene function. In knocking down genes at a grand scale. Genome wide RNAi, first done in worms but now it can be done in mammalian cells as well. Only in the third place I would say is the application to try and use RNAi to try and tune down disease genes and all that. We’ll have to see whether that will work, potentially of course because it is so specific you can really target it to a specific gene because they were talking about a short while ago you can even be a little specific.

There have been studies where you could turn down tune down the mutated version of an oncogene but not the wild type version. So that’s heaven, Hershey Heaven. That’s Hershey Heaven—the way you know what you want to do and you know the work, you know the importance, of course, there is this minor problem here and that is the delivery problem and we will have to see whether that can be solved.

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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