H. Robert Horvitz on Jim Watson, “Lucky Jim”
  H. Robert Horvitz     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

One could say that anybody who has success is lucky because there are a lot of people who are smart and capable who don’t have as much success as other people. On the other hand, many people with talents of a variety of sorts do well. Jim has talent, so it’s not pure luck. The phrase “Lucky Jim” has been used, I guess, for some number of years, but Jim goes well beyond luck. Jim is smart. Jim is street smart, so he knows what he wants and how to go about getting it. Jim is scientifically smart. Jim has a fantastic intuition. Jim is people smart, and you know, what has happened, you could look perhaps at one thing or another and say there was some luck involved. Trace back the history to any particular event; and, of course, if not for A, B, C, and D, that event might not have occurred, but the fact is when you look back overall at what Jim has done, there is a lot more to it than luck. Luck didn’t make Cold Spring Harbor. Luck didn’t make the Human Genome Project. Those were both driven by Jim, consciously and with dedication. They were not luck. [The] double helix [has a] complicated history, lots of people have talked about it. There are certain circumstances that could have led to a different history; but the fact is that he was pretty engaged and pretty responsible, and I think he deserves a lot of credit.

H. Robert Horvitz received his Ph.D. in 1974 from Harvard University, under the tutelage of Jim Watson. He joined the MIT Department of Biology faculty in 1978, and was named David Koch Professor of Biology in 2000. He is also Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and was appointed Investigator at the McGovern Institute in 2001.

Horvitz is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience. In 2002, he was award the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston “for their discoveries concerning 'genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'."

Horvitz currently studies how genes control the development of the nervous system and how the nervous system controls behavior. He has elucidated a molecular genetic pathway for programmed cell death (apoptosis), which is fundamental to nervous system development in all animals.