Mark D. Biggin
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Mark D. Biggin grew up in Chesterfield, England, near the Peak District National Park, where he cycled the moors and hills from an early age. He attended a local school, tracked on the basis of his IQ. He remembers one inspiring teacher of biology, from whom he developed an early interest in science, originally wanting to be a veterinarian. He attended the University of Lancaster in Lancaster, England; he so loved working in a lab that he applied to graduate school at Cambridge University, where he joined Frederick Sanger's Division at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. There he worked in Bart Barrell's lab, where he sequenced Epstein-Barr virus DNA. He became interested in transcription and took up a post-doc at Robert Tjian's lab at U. C. Berkeley. He focused on gene expression in Drosophila; on even-skipped (eve), zeste, GAGA, and NTF; and on homeodomain proteins. He then moved to a professorship in Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, where he continues to teach, advise graduate students, and work in the laboratory he started up. He is attempting to define the function of promiscuous homeodomain protein binding—activation and repression—to discover how homeodomain proteins interact in the cell.
Table of Contents
Family background. Early interest in science. Schooling in Chesterfield, England Differences between educational systems in England and US.
Attends University of Lancaster. Influential university courses and teachers. First encounter with problem solving in a lab. Intellectual climate at Cambridge University--Seeks a position in the Frederick Sanger lab at Cambridge University. Accepted into the Bart Barrell lab at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge University.
Sequences Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA in Barrell's lab. Develops innovative protocol for running gels. Postdoc in the Robert Tjian lab at University of California, Berkeley. Work on biochemical mechanisms for regulation of patterns of gene expression in Drosophila in the Tjian lab. Focus on even-skipped (eve). Starts up lab at Yale University with a dual focus on zeste, GAGA, and NTF, and on homeodomain proteins.
Accepts professorship in Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. Science funding in US compared to England. Difficulty of developing a biochemical model of how transcription factors work. Work on eve, fushi-taruzu (ftz), and UBX in vivo. Proteins binding in vivo. promiscuous homeodomain binding. Gene regulation, Zeste, GAGA, and NTF and expression. Regulatory redundancy.
How graduate students enter the lab and choose their projects. Biggin's input on student publications. Controversy generated by Biggin's work. Science funding in the United States compared to England. The pressure to produce results for grant renewal. Future of developmental biology. Human Genome Project. Resources available to the Drosophila research community.
Teaching and advisory responsibilities. Lab safety regulations. The "no-rules" rule of scientific discovery.