Gerald Rubin on Transposable Elements in Drosophila
  Gerald Rubin     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

Sure. No, I mean I can tell you what I sort of made my reputation on, if you will. And that was in the early 1980s, I started working on drosophila as a postdoc with David Hogness and then I got my first job at Harvard Medical School, which I didn’t like very much. And after three and a half years, I moved to the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Biology. So this is the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Genetics formerly, and I moved to the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Embryology in Baltimore in 1980. And I had been working on transposable elements in drosophila. And there was a phenomenon in drosophila called hybrid dysgenesis where transposable elements, it was speculated this was due to transposable elements causing mutations, much like McClintock’s work on maize. And we had cloned a gene in drosophila, the white gene, its possible for making the eye color—the eyes red so mutants have white eyes. And I was actually here at a symposium in 1980 in the lunch line into Blackford Hall and was talking to Bill Engels, who was a drosophila geneticist and Margaret Kitwell about how on my test, this model of hybrid disgenesis that these transposable elements are mobilized and make mutations. And they said, well, you’ve cloned the white gene. We can make mutants for you, you know, white mutants that were made during hybrid disgenesis, and if the model is right to do the transposable elements, when you look in the mutant white gene, you should find these transposable elements. So we did that experiment and we found these transposable elements. And then Alan Spradling and I, who was at Carnegie, another staff member at Carnegie, devised a way to use those transposable elements as vectors for doing gene transfer in drosophila. So in 1982, Alan and I figured out how to make transgenic drosophila to do gene therapy in drosophila. So we were the first successful gene therapy on any multi cellular organism. And being in genetic engineering in flies. And it’s led to a lot of—it made me famous or whatever, so I got good jobs and everything. So it made my career, but it actually led to a lot of ability to do genetic engineering in flies and move genes and do all sorts of genetic manipulations.

Gerald Rubin is a geneticist, molecular and cell biologist. As Director of the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project, he led the sequencing of the entire fruit fly genome. Currently, as Vice President and Director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, his research focus is on developing the biological and computer tools that are capable of analyzing and displaying the vast amount of information available from the genomic DNA sequencing of the fruit fly. He uses these advanced techniques to decipher gene regulation and expression at a genome-wide level in Drosophila and determine the function of certain fruit fly genes.

Gerald Rubin is also a professor of Genetics and Development at the University of California, Berkeley. He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as an URP (Undergraduate Research Program) in the early 70’s working under Lionel Crawford and Ray Gesteland before moving to Cambridge to earn his Ph.D. in molecular biology. He did postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine and became an assistant professor of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School prior to commencing his genetics professorship at Berkeley in 1983.

Gerald Rubin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Among the awards he has received is the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry.