Gerald Rubin on Nature vs Nurture
  Gerald Rubin     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

Well, I obviously believe in genetics and genetics and genes as determinants of all sorts of things. And no intelligent person cannot believe that there is genetics, because anyone who’s had children or looks at families who can say—the whole idea where you look like your parents or look like your Great Uncle Harry. I mean, everyone believes in genetics.

On the other hand, everyone believes that you can modify behavior and you can see that children who are well brought up and have good manners and whatever, that there’s a modification of behavior. So I think that both things exist. And it’s only a matter of extent. Some people believe more is determined genetically, and other people believe that more is determined, you know, by the environment. But both are clearly there, and it’s unambiguously proven that, you know, both things contribute.

I think, you know, your genetic background certainly gives your predilections to things, right? So you might be born with great musical ability, but if no one ever teachers you to play the piano or whatever—you know, Mozart or whatever, would never have been a great composer if someone gave music lessons when he was a child. So I think there’s both things, you know, play a role. But I do believe that you’re born with certain, you know, just like people are born short or tall or with dark hair or light hair. You’re born with certain abilities, or diseased genes, or are there chances that you’re going to get some, be more likely to get some disease or another disease. I mean, those are clearly there. And I think they’re useful to know what your tendencies are because that allows you to modify your behavior. So I think there are good studies that say that some people can smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and never get lung cancer, and other people are very susceptible. If you knew which we were, you would know whether to worry about whether you’re smoking or drinking or how much you ought to watch your diet, whether you’re likely to get diabetes. I think the hope is that since nobody can be good at everything and do everything exactly the most healthy, perfect way in which it would be different for different people. I think the hope of this genetic medicine is you will know for you as an individual what are the important things for you. Then you can choose to modify your behavior and influence your outcomes.

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.