Mario Capecchi on Working with Jim Watson: Harvard University
  Mario Capecchi     Biography    
Recorded: 27 Feb 2003

I had worked in MIT in Alex Rich’s lab. So I knew about molecular biology and that and—anyone who knew anything about molecular biology also knew about Watson.

This would be 1958, ’59 and ’60 when I was working at MIT off and on. And then—the first time I met him I think was in the summer of ’61. I came to interview. I had decided—I had applied to essentially four schools; MIT and Harvard and Berkeley and Caltech. And so I went to MIT to visit there and talk to their graduate program. And then I came to Harvard and talked to Jim. And I asked him, you know,” Where should I go to college?” And he looked at me and said, “You’d be fucking crazy to go anywhere else!” And so that would seem fairly persuasive and that’s why I came to Harvard. And I came specifically to work with Jim.

This would have been in the spring of 1961. I graduated from college in 1961 and so I was looking for where I was going to go in the Fall of that year. And I spent actually the summer in Woods Hole and then after that came to Harvard and joined Jim’s group as well as—I was in a department actually, or a committee was biophysics and had gotten my degree in biophysics but in Jim’s lab.

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).