Mario Capecchi on John Cairns: Director of CSHL
  Mario Capecchi     Biography    
Recorded: 27 Feb 2003

I mean John was the director of Cold Spring Harbor just before Jim came here. He’s an outstanding scientist and also a very dry wit. But I think, you know, I think he wasn’t a director of the lab in the sense that what was on his mind was science. And he put all of his own energy into what he was doing as opposed to, you know, making Cold Spring Harbor a more fruitful place. And, you know, John is an extremely bright scientist. I mean the nice thing about him is he usually looks at a problem from a very different vantage point compared to many people and so you almost get some new idea and new spark from talking to him. But on the other hand Jim is very different in the sense that he wasn’t looking more so much out for himself. But he was really looking out for Cold Spring Harbor. And I think he really wanted Cold Spring Harbor to be back on the map and I think that’s what he’s succeeded in doing. You know, he’s not selfish. I mean he really does things for the betterment of the community.

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).