H. Robert Horvitz on Jim Watson: Professor
  H. Robert Horvitz     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

Talking to Jim – I have to think back about conversations – Jim was very focused. I know one time he came in and observed me working on some matrix algebra that was relevant to a population genetics course—a population biology course that I was a teaching assistant in. He looked at it and said it wasn’t going to help with the biochemistry. So he was quite focused on the experimental. But, and it’s a matter of when—I mean certainly over the years I’ve talked to Jim about many different topics. Many personal topics, many more philosophic topics, many far-reaching topics about the nature of science, and people, and the world. But when that started I’m not so sure. I think the first conversations I had with him, were as described already, becoming involved in the lab, and then telling him my first data and what I actually had found, and I concluded from that, which he found quite boring and told me to get on with the interesting things. But I think the conversations that were deeper and broader came more with time. I mean, it did take a little while to get to know him and for him to basically decide if you were worth talking to in detail.

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.