Mark M. Davis
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Mark Davis grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the second of five children. His father was a civil engineer, his mother an architect. Davis took an early interest in science, thanks to wide reading and an influential high school biology teacher. Davis matriculated at Johns Hopkins University. Trouble in a mini organic chemistry class sent him to Peter Johnson's synthetic organic chemistry lab, where he helped produce two papers. He switched majors to biology because he thought it answered important questions. He worked in Michael Beer's lab, trying to sequence DNA with a transfer scanning microscope. Hopkins was known for its membrane biologists, and Davis, interested in molecular biology, wanted to combine the study of DNA with classical genetics studies. He consulted his advisors, who told him to take a physical chemistry class and suggested graduate studies at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). There he went into Edward Lewis' Drosophila lab, but he hated flies and found Lewis difficult to work with. He then went to Eric Davidson's lab, where he worked with Glen Galau and William Klein on sea urchins. Davidson was harshly critical and Davis found the lab atmosphere oppressive; he moved to Leroy Hood's lab. There he worked successfully with Philip Early, an early molecular biologist. Davis cloned the first mouse genomic library. His approach to science is to prepare thoroughly, to avoid what others do, and to look for variations. Davis's next move was to National Institutes of Health. In William Paul's lab he designed a general technology to find genes expressed at very low levels. At Ronald Schwartz's suggestion Davis used pulse field gel technology to discover delta chain of T-cell receptors. Recognizing that T-cell receptors are important for immunology, Davis, the only molecular biologist in his department, began his work on T-cell receptors, work that continues today. Davis still works in his lab, which is beginning to do biochemical work on T-cells, trying to engineer expression of membrane proteins in soluble form. His lab is also working with transgenic mice, a more difficult system for which he gets help from Pamela Bjorkman and others. Davis applies to science the strategies of fencing; he compares the principles of economy and mastery in fencing to samurai movies.
|1974||Johns Hopkins University||BA||Molecular Biology|
|1981||California Institute of Technology||PhD||Molecular Biology|
National Institutes of Health
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Stanford University School of Medicine
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Intra-Science Research Foundation Award
Milton and Frances Clauser Doctoral Prize, California Institute of Technology
The Passano Foundation Young Scientist Award
|1985 to 1988||
Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Foundation
|1985 to 1989||
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Science Award
Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology and Immunology
Kayden Award from the New York Academy of Sciences
|1988 to 1990||
Member of the Allergy and Immunology Study Section, Division of Research Grants, National Institutes of Health
Gairdner Foundation International Award
Table of Contents
Grew up in Pittsburgh, second of five children. Father a civil engineer, mother an architect. Drifted into science. Double Helix. Merv Griffin show. Scientific discovery exciting. Made chlorine gas with chemistry set. Biology teacher, Michael Tomko, in high school. Worldly Philosophers, biographies of economists. Used Junior Achievement experience in interview for college.
Matriculated at Johns Hopkins University. Found biology interesting; liked lab work. Entered Peter Johnson's synthetic organic chemistry lab. Johnson enthusiastic and hands-on. Switched to biology as more interesting; chemistry a kind of "guessing game," while biology had "deeper purpose," answering important questions. National Science Foundation summer project in Alsoph Corwin's lab. Transfer scanning electron microscope in Michael Beer's lab, sequencing DNA. Sequencing important, not investigated by James Watson and Francis Crick. Hopkins known for membrane biologists: Saul Roseman, Michael Harrington, Maurice Bessman. Gerald Rubin and Allan Spradling at Carnegie Institution next door to Hopkins doing molecular biology. Trip to Europe.
Hopkins advisors said to take physical chemistry. Poland's class on macromolecules. Wanted to interface study of DNA with classical genetics studies. Accepted postdoc at California Institute of Technology. Max Delbrück. James Bonner. Edward Lewis' Drosophila lab. Hated flies; found Lewis distant, hard to understand. Went to Eric Davidson's lab. Davidson's personality, outside interests. Worked with Glen Galau and William Klein. Exceedingly critical atmosphere. Interesting work in Ronald Konopka's lab but chose Leroy Hood's lab instead. Philip Early and beginnings of molecular biology. Molecular immunology; Thomas Maniatis. Mammalian cloning. Antibody diversity. First mouse genomic library. Fencing as preparation for science. Davis's approach to science.
William Paul's lab. Did not want to clone lymphokines. Finding difference in gene expression. Immunoglobulin issues already solved. Designed general technology to get at genes expressed at very low level. Major histocompatibility genes boring; people still working on them ten years later. Medawar quotation again: work on important problems. Ronald Schwartz and T-cell receptors. T-cell receptors work ongoing; important for immunology. Transgenics.
Still works in lab sometimes. Believes good scientists must be good in lab to keep up with new technology, get new insights. Maniatis and Hood really understood how things work and could teach others. His lab heading to biochemistry about T-cells. Trying to engineer expression of membrane proteins in soluble form. Tried to teach himself protein chemistry, what he considers last part of T-cell recognition. Fencing techniques applied to science. Economy and essence of fencing lead to devastation of enemy. Susumu Tonegawa also a samurai in science.