Mario Capecchi on Advice for Young Scientists
  Mario Capecchi     Biography    
Recorded: 27 Feb 2003

I mean I think to be—I mean it’s a fantastic time to actually go into science because even though the last fifty years we’ve learned enormous amounts what the complexities of—I mean particularly look at something like ourselves is so great that you can imagine that right now we know about this much when there was enormous amounts to learn. So in a sense a young scientist or even one that’s thinking about science now is a perfect time to go in because you have many, many more problems. I mean one of the nice things about science is that as soon as you answer a question you generate ten more questions. So it’s essentially it’s a never ending problem. And you can go much more in depth than you could possibly go before and you can also address much more complex problems. I mean things that right now we know nothing about. How does the mind work? What do you really by knowledge? Where is it stored? How do you retrieve it? All of those kind of questions we have absolutely no real knowledge about. But I think now that tools are available to start [to] be able to address those questions. So it’s a marvelous time. And, you know, if you can get somebody like Jim to be your mentor. Then you’re really lucky. And it’s not that Jim’s lucky, but people that would work with you would be very lucky.

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).