Maurice J. Kernan

Born: May 7, 1962 | Dublin, IE
Photograph of Maurice J. Kernan

Maurice J. Kernan was born in Dublin, Ireland. He loved natured and enjoyed bird watching on nearby Bull Island. He attended Trinity College, where he developed an interest in genetics and conducted summer research at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. Kernan's project focused on nitrogen fixation done Rhizobium in the root nodules of legume plants, specifically trying to isolate the rec-A gene from that bacterium by complementation-testing transformed, rec-A deficient E. coli with bits of Rhizobium DNA. Kernan moved to the United States for graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison, joining Barry Ganetzky's Drosophila laboratory; his doctoral research led to a pair of Cell papers. After a postdoc, he accepted a faculty position at SUNY Stony Brook, where he is today.

Access This Interview

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0595
No. of pages: 117
Minutes: 501

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
8, 11 and 18 November 2002
State University of New York, Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York

Abstract of Interview

Maurice J. Kernan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest of four siblings. His father worked for an insurance company; his mother was a housewife. A love of and interest in nature was nurtured during trips to a nearby area of salt marsh and sand dunes, known as Bull Island, where he explored and watched birds (many of his science projects in school were nature-based and came from his time there); he was also an avid reader, a sailor, and interested in cartography. Kernan began in public school but then switched to a Jesuit school around the time he was eight years old, staying there until he graduated. He matriculated at Trinity College in his hometown, intent on pursuing the biological sciences for his undergraduate education. While there, he developed an interest in genetics and was given a unique opportunity to conduct summer research with a Trinity alumnus, Mittur Jagadish, on the Cornell University campus in the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. Kernan's project focused on nitrogen fixation done by a symbiotic bacterium, Rhizobium, in the root nodules of legume plants, specifically trying to isolate the rec-A gene from that bacterium by complementation—testing transformed, rec-A deficient E. coli with bits of Rhizobium DNA. While at Cornell he also heard a lecture from Allan C. Spradling, who, with Gerald M. Rubin, had just figured out how to make transgenic Drosophila with P elements. After earning his degree, he moved to the United States for graduate research in genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joining Barry Ganetzky's Drosophila laboratory; his doctoral research led to a pair of Cell papers in the early 1990s. Kernan undertook postdoctoral work in Drosophila on mechanotransduction with Charles S. Zuker (Pew Scholar Class of 1988) at the University of California, San Diego, and from there he accepted a faculty position at SUNY Stony Brook. At the end of the interview Kernan discusses setting up his laboratory and research program and learning to be a laboratory manager. He also discusses funding, teaching, balancing family life with his career, competition and collaboration, the nation's scientific agenda, and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 University of Dublin, Trinity College BA Genetics
1990 University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD Genetics

Professional Experience

University of Wisconsin, Madison

1985 to 1990
Research Fellow or Graduate Research Assistant

University of California, San Diego

1990 to 1993
Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
1993 to 1994
Visiting Research Biologist, Department of Biology

State University of New York at Stony Brook

1995 to 2001
Assistant Professor
2001
Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Center for Developmental Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Fellowship

1985

UW-Madison: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Fellowship

1989

University of Wisconsin-Madison: Lubrizol Industrial Fellowship

1991

Genetics Society of America: Sandler Memorial Award for thesisresearch in Drosophila

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

Table of Contents

Childhood and College
1

Growing up in Dublin, Ireland. Natural history. Bull Island. Family history. Parents. Siblings. Structure of schools. Reading. Biking. Maps and the natural world. Hiking. Sailing. Switching schools. Art, writing, and science. Observations on Bull IslandReligion and spirituality. Attending Trinity College. Research at Cornell University. Mittur Jagadish. isolate the rec-A gene by complementation. Lecture by Allan C. Spradling. Impressions of America.

Graduate School, Postdoctoral Work, and Becoming Faculty
42

More about books, family, school, and college. Applying to graduate schools in the United States. University of Wisconsin Madison. Rotations. Genetic molecular analysis of nap. Chromosome walking. Michael J. Stern. Publishing in Cell. Barry Ganetzky's lab management style. Katherine Loughney. Rachel Drysdale. Segregation Distorter. Graduate life. Lewis Thomas. Postdoctoralwork at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Charles S. Zuker. Zuker's management style. Charlesisms. Phototransduction. Subtractive hybridization. Screening larvae. Applying for jobs. Karen Kwik. Parenthood. Becoming faculty at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Setting up lab nompA. Mechanotransduction. Centrioles. Polycystins. Teaching. Travelcommitments. Funding.

The Scientific Life
73

Writing journal articles. Lab management style. Professional duties. WoodsHole Marine Biology Lab. Drosophila at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Balancing family and career. Meeting and life with Karen. Fatherhood. Leisureactivities. Current and future research. Transduction. Cell differentiation. Polycystin. Patents. Origin of ideas. Science, scientists, and the public. Tenure. Competition and collaboration. Grants in the United States. Public policy andscience. Privately funded research. Gender. Pew Scholars Program in theBiomedical Sciences. Final thoughts.

Index
114

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten