Mario Capecchi on Jim Watson’s Harvard Laboratory
  Mario Capecchi     Biography    
Recorded: 27 Feb 2003

I started in the fall of 1961 and then I was there actually all the way through 1969. So I was there a long time.

I mean I think these are—what was exciting at that time [was] that we didn’t know very much about, for example, protein synthesis. One of the initial problems that I got involved with is in initiation of protein synthesis; how do you actually start the whole process. And then from there we went on to—and we were very instrumental in showing for example that formalmethianine is involved in the initiation of protein synthesis. And then we went on to work at the other end of the protein synthesis. That is how polypeptides chains are terminated. And actually participated in, you know, that centrine was a protein. This was work that we were at that time competing with Brenner’s lab who, you know, felt that there should be a tRNA that was specific for termination. And what we went on to show was actually [that] it isn’t, it’s a protein that’s actually involved in recognition of molecules, that nonsense codines. And then triggered release of the polypeptide chain. So we went from start to finish.

And in many,many things in-between, I mean. So it’s—we had many experiments work. There’s lots that didn’t work. But I think that’s part of life.

Mario R. Capecchi, Ph.D., is a scientist and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center and a founding member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. He also serves as the Distinguished Professor and Co-Chairman of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah, where he joined the faculty in 1973.

In 2007 Mario Capecchi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Oliver Smithies and Martin Evans for their research on gene targeting techniques, specifically working with mice embryo-derived stem cells. In the 1980s Capecchi pioneered a technology known as "knockout mice" which revolutionized genetic and biomedical research. This technology allows scientists to replace or disrupt specific genes in mice to understand how a similar gene disruption in humans may cause or contribute to diseases.

Capecchi, abandoned and homeless as a 4-year old child in Italy during World War II, was reunited with his mother and immigrated to the United States in 1946. After receiving a B.S. in physics and chemistry from Antioch College in 1961, he joined Jim Watson's Biological laboratory at Harvard University where he received a doctorate in biophysics in 1967. Capecchi remained at Harvard, first as a junior fellow until 1969, followed by four years as Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Harvard School of Medicine, until he left for the University of Utah in 1973.

Capecchi is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1991) and the European Academy of Sciences (2002). His other numerous honors include the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research (1992), Gairdner Foundation International Award for Achievements in Medical Science (1993), General Motors Corporation's Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize for Outstanding Basic Science Contributions to Cancer Research (1994), Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences (1996), the Franklin Medal for Advancing Our Knowledge of the Physical Sciences (1997), the University of Utah's Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence (1998), the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2001), the National Medal of Science (2001), the Wolf Prize in Medicine (2003), the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) International Award for Cancer Research (2003), and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology (2005).