Michael Ashburner on Scientific Research on Drosophila
  Michael Ashburner     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2008

Well, when I started genetics in the mid-sixties, they’re really weren’t and we didn’t call them model organisms, but there weren’t very many experimental organisms; there was mouse and I didn’t like mice and –they’re bloody – and there was Drosophila, and there were a few others, but almost no one was working on yeast then. And there was choline, of course. Choline and phage at that particular lab time [unintelligible], but there wasn’t – the concept of model organisms wasn’t there. I don’t think I knew consciously at the time, but it’s fairly clear to me now that, if there is a great advantage of working on an organism now, about which much is known and which has a community. Because, I think science is very much a commodore affair, I mean mathematics probably is not, I don’t know maybe it’s a myth but mathematics being a very lonely operation. But experimental science is very much a community affair and you need people to talk to and you need people to be doing similar and related things because you can build on that. But, I suppose, I was introduced to Drosophila because other people in my department were working in Drosophila, on very different things, really interesting and quantitative genetics. So I started studying patterns of gene activity in polytene chromosomes and then I had a very fruitful period when I was studying the hormonal control of these changes in gene activity in the seventies. Then I switched to doing much more genetic analyses and that was in the mid-seventies and that carried on for a period. And then I got interested in computational analysis so kind of bio-informatics. But then I played, well I didn’t play, I did a lot of work with Drosophila evolution of stages.

Michael Ashburner, a leader in Drosophila Genetics and bioinformatics, received his B.A. (1964), M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1968) and Sc.D. (1978) from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently professor of Biology in the Department of Genetics and a Professional Fellow of Churchill College.

He has been the joint head of European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and was co-founder of Flybase, the primary online database for Drosophila genetics and molecular biology, the Gene Ontology Consortium, an effort to coordinate biological databases through a defined taxonomy of gene function, and the Crete Meetings, a bi-annual event focusing on the developmental and molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster.

Among many honors, he is the recipient of the G.J. Mendel Medal (Czech Republic 1998) and the George W. Beadle Medal (Genetics Society of America 1999).

Michael Ashburner