Franklin D. Costantini
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Frank Costantini grew up in New York City, one of three sons. His father was a chemical engineer, his mother an artist. He was good in math and liked quantitative, objective subjects. He matriculated at Yale University, working on RNase Q in Sidney Altman's lab. For graduate school Costantini chose California Institute of Technology, in part because a girlfriend was going to University of California, Los Angeles. He entered Eric Davidson's lab to work on sea urchins; William Klein, a postdoc, acted as his submentor. The science in Davidson's lab was mostly biochemical and molecular, but Costantini thought it more important to know the "logic behind doing science" than what science the lab did. Costantini still wanted, however, to focus on molecular biology, especially as applied to mammals, so he went into Christopher Graham's lab at University of Oxford. His wife, Elizabeth Lacy, also did a postdoc in Graham's lab. There Costantini worked on deriving embryonic carcinoma cell lines to go into the germ line to make genetically altered mice. At first this did not work, but Costantini showed the possibility of getting into the germ line by injecting DNA directly into the nucleus of an egg, rather than into the cytoplasm. Then a new research field, his result has now become a commonly-used technique. Thinking about another postdoc, this time at Rockefeller University, Costantini was instead persuaded to apply for a job that had come open at Columbia University, and his wife took a job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Although both are still working on mutations that affect early development, they no longer collaborate. At Columbia Costantini can do whatever he can get funding for. His lab is an exciting place, with much happening. He likes to figure out what can be done with a new and interesting technique rather than try to fit the technique to a specific project. He still works mostly on mammalian development biology and gene regulation. He says that embryonic stem (ES) cells can now enable mutations in all genes, and that his best collaboration is with Elizabeth Robertson and her ES cells work. Costantini concludes his interview by saying that his free time is dominated by his eighteen-month-old son. He also likes to cook and to travel when he can. He still loves the intellectual challenge of science.
|1980||California Institute of Technology||PhD||Developmental Biology|
University of Oxford
NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship
Irma T. Hirschl Career Scientist Award
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
Table of Contents
Grew up in New York City, New York. Family background. Two brothers, both living in Seattle. Father chemical engineer, mother artist. Good in math; liked quantitative, objective subjects. At Cornell University tried psychology courses in summer program for high-school students.
Matriculated at Yale University. Earned money by washing dishes, helping with experiments in Sidney Altman's lab. Read Gunther Stent's Molecular Genetics. Purifying RNase Q. Joseph Gall's course on chromosome structure influential. Deciding between medicine and science.
Liked atmosphere, climate, informality at California Institute of Technology; girlfriend of time going to University of California, Los Angeles. Entered Eric Davidson's lab to work on sea urchins. Davidson and Roy Britten's work on repetitive DNA important in gene regulation. Davidson's management style: very hands-on, good for grad students. Davidson dogmatic about own views. Wrote Gene Activity in Early Development. Heavily biochemical, molecular. Importance of knowing "logic behind doing science." Davidson's critical approach to others' papers. William Klein as "submentor. "
Reasons for changing field to mammalian development: easier funding; last chance to try something new; connection to human disease; still not much molecular biology applied to mammals. Went into Christopher Graham's lab at University of Oxford. Wife (Elizabeth Lacy) also got postdoc in Graham's lab. Culture of Oxford lab. Money problems. Deriving embryonic carcinoma cell lines to go into germ line to make genetically-altered mice. Not successful, but transgenic mice working. Injecting DNA into nucleus, not cytoplasm of egg. Francis Ruddle at Yale. Showed possibility of getting germ line; got additional money and a technician. Wife isolated beta-globin from rabbits for his work. Mechanical ability, good hands, patience required. Competition increase in Ruddle, Ralph Brinster, Richard Palmiter, Thomas Wagner, Rudolf Jaenisch labs. Now routine technique, not research field.
Accepted offer at Columbia University, wife at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Both still working on mutations that affect early development but different ones; independence important. His own lab exciting place; much happening. Grants. Lab composition. Division of daily duties. Likes bench work. Varies management style to suit student. Philosophy is to ask what to do with new and interesting technique rather than which technique to use for a specific project. Tension between fun and funding. Still does mostly mammalian development biology and gene regulation. No input from Columbia; can do whatever he can fund. Intellectual community of scientists. Best collaboration with Elizabeth Robertson; embryonic stem (ES) cells. ES cells now enabling mutations in all genes. Human Genome Project also important. Likes to cook. Eighteen-month-old son. Loves science as intellectual endeavor, not so much as career, as other duties interfere