Ron Plasterk on Surprises in Genomics: The Promise of Discovery
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

Every time you think you’ve seen most of it, there are all sorts of novel things coming up, right? I mean, we thought we’d seen most levels of gene regulation, transcription, there is splicing, then there’s protein phosphorylation, I think you get the whole story—histone modification, which is recently novel. And now of course the reason that I’m here at Cold Spring Harbor is because of the symposium where I’m in a session on RNAi and on small RNAs. There’s a whole world there of these micro RNAs that regulate gene expression! I don’t think anybody would have thought that six or seven years ago. I think every major discovery has been followed up by a first wave of enthusiasm, of this is going to cure cancer and Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Then there’s always the disappointment. Then quite often what you see is that it will come back in a second wave. You see that for gene therapy, the initial idea; now we know the oncogene is the disease gene we’re going to use gene therapy and we’re going to cure cancer. I think people will be disappointed in that. Now you do see that in some cases that gene therapy is still there and maybe now it is going to make a difference. That’s true for aging research. That’s true for a lot of these fields. The initial enthusiasm, the disappointment and then the second wave which is more realistic and so I think it doesn’t matter that much. How you see a lot of companies that want to use RNAi and small RNA to cure disease. And probably most of that is not going to work. It doesn’t matter.

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.

More Information: Wikipedia