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

You were completely on your own, I mean. He really gave you enormous leeway and that’s good. I mean I think if you are self directed. You know, it’s bad for somebody who needs guidance. But I think most of the people that he got were actually were good enough to be able to go on in their own and find what they really wanted to pursue. So he didn’t guide us at all on a day to day basis. The one time that he does—he’s very tough on you is when you’re ready to write it up. And you write your manuscript and you hand it to Jim and Jim just shreds it to pieces. And he was very careful and I think, you know, something that I learned from him is it’s very important how you write up the story because that’s essentially your record. And what you have to remember is about the reader. I mean you have to make it easy for the reader. Make is comfortable and make it enjoyable for the reader as opposed to just simply trying to communicate what you think about the things. And I think Jim is a very good writer. And I think he also perpetuated that rigorousness to us, his students. [*JDW writer clip!]

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).