Brenda L. Bass

Born: October 5, 1955 | Fort Lauderdale, FL, US

Brenda L. Bass grew up in Florida. After briefly attending Emory University, she transferred to Colorado College, obtaining her degree in chemistry. She became a research technician at Rush Medical College, where she worked for three years before returning to University of Colorado, Boulder to pursue a PhD. There she worked in Thomas R. Cech's lab, focusing on self-splicing RNA and its implications for biological catalysis. In 1985, she accepted a post-doc with Harold Weintraub in Seattle, Washington and worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for four years. She then accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Utah, where she is still an associate professor and an assistant investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0412
No. of pages: 81
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
24-26 July 1995
The University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah

Abstract of Interview

Brenda L. Bass grew up in the 1960's in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her parents were young and had no opportunity to finish college, taking jobs as realtors. As a result, Bass was often cared for by her maternal grandmother, to whom she attributes her independence, her toughness, and her love of the truth. Severely asthmatic and allergic, Bass lived at the Children's Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver, Colorado, from age eleven to age twelve and a half. Here she developed a love for the West and a very different perspective on social conditions in the South, determining that she would always want to live in the West. She returned to Florida to finish her junior high school and high school years. She then attended Emory University for a year, studying English. Dissatisfied with the program, she took a semester off and then transferred to Colorado College, where she planned to study nutritional chemistry. Interest in nutritional chemistry developed into interest in chemistry and ultimately into biochemistry. After obtaining her BA she remained uncertain as to what she wanted to do, and she applied to Rush Medical College in Chicago, Illinois. She walked out of a nutritional chemistry class when the teacher brought out plastic models of foods. She became a research technician at Rush, which she worked at for three years before returning to University of Colorado, Boulder, to pursue a PhD in biochemistry. There she worked in Thomas R. Cech's lab, focusing on self-splicing RNA and its implications for biological catalysis. When she received her PhD, in 1985, she accepted a post-doc with Harold Weintraub in Seattle, Washington, where she worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for four years. She then accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Utah, and from 1995 until the present she has been an associate professor there as well as and assistant investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She has published numerous papers; she is involved in conferences and committees; and her first love remains "the bench." 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 Colorado College BA Chemistry
1985 University of Colorado, Boulder PhD Biochemistry

Professional Experience

Rush University

1977 to 1979
Research Technician, Rush Medical Center

Colorado College

1979 to 1980
Teaching Assistant

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

1985 to 1988
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Utah

1989 to 1995
Assistant Professor
1995 to 1999
Associate Professor

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1994 to 2009
Assistant Investigator

Honors

Year(s) Award
1983 to 1984

Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) recipient

1985 to 1988

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship

1990 to 1994

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1991 to 1996

David and Lucile Packard Foundation fellowship

Table of Contents

Childhood and Family Background
1

Growing up in Florida. Severe asthma and allergies. Social climate of Florida in the sixties. Education in public schools. Racial tensions in high school. Interest in music and writing. Views on religion, especially with regard to Mormons at University of Utah

College Education
21

Attends Emory University, intending to study English. Transfer to Colorado College. Interest in nutrition prompts Bass to study chemistry. Preference for living in the West. Sexism and gender issues. Becomes lab tech at Rush Medical College. Interest in biochemistry.

Graduate School
38

Teaching Assistant at Colorado College. Working in Thomas R. Cech's lab. Discovers that RNA itself can catalyze a splicing reaction. Bass's own research projects. Postdoctoral research with Harold Weintraub at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Discovers covalent modification of double-stranded RNA substrate during dsRNA unwinding. Variety of projects in Weintraub's lab.

Further Career
63

Assistant professorship at University of Utah; then associate professorship. Assistant investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Differences between Cech and Weintraub as scientists. Studying antisense in Weintraub's lab—Bass's field of study expands from double-stranded RNA adenosine deaminase to dsRNA-binding proteins in general.

Philosophy and Difficulties Practicing Science
67

Funding concerns in the scientific community. Relative merits of large and small labs. Need to avoid focusing on competitors' results. Bass's teaching responsibilities and training style. Importance of being involved in conferences and committees—Future research plans—Risks and benefits of collaboration. Love of "the bench". Good science as a combination of instinct, luck, and persistence.

Index
79

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan