Ron Plasterk on Zebrafish Knockout Genes
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

So in a way if you are cynical you could say that you always repeat yourself. When I moved into the worm field eighteen years ago or so, I did quite a bit of genomics technology like make the first mutant library to do knock outs in C. elegans. Three years ago I started doing that in zebrafish again. We made a library of mutants from which you can get knock outs and all that. The same story, but now for a vertebrate. And it’s a resource for the community. I won’t go into details but basically what you do—I’ve called it before, the American solution to the mutation problem. You shoot first and you ask questions later. What we do is we mutagenize the genome and then you just have a thousand progeny. You go through them one by one by DNA analysis, by sequencing to find a mutant in the gene that you are interested in and you pick out that mutant and you work with it.

We’ve created the first knock out in the zebra fish by this approach. The first gene we knocked out was RAG1 which is involved in making the immunoglobulin system by gene switching. And if you make a knock out it will not make immunoglobulin genes and therefore it is basically immuno-deficient. And since then we’ve applied that to other genes and other RNAi that I’m interested in, but also for others in the field.

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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