Adrian R. Krainer

Born: September 14, 1958 | Montevideo, UY

Adrian R. Krainer was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. Political unrest, anti-Semitism, and Zionism framed his teenage years. He attended Columbia University to study biochemistry, finding courses with James A. Lewis and Charles R. Cantor, and research with Catherine L. Squires quite stimulating. While at Harvard for graduate school, Krainer worked with Thomas P. Maniatis, developing a system for cell-free RNA splicing, which enabled them to elucidate the mechanisms of human pre-mRNA splicing. He took an independent fellow position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, mentored by Richard J. Roberts, and began to characterize snRNP and protein components of the splicing machinery, before accepting a faculty position there in 1989.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0582
No. of pages: 153
Minutes: 299

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
9-11 April 1997
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York

Abstract of Interview

Adrian R. Krainer was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay in a Jewish family of eastern European descent (Hungary and Romania), the younger of two brothers. (Krainer's father was forced to work in a Romanian labor camp during World War II and on his way through Italy to Uruguay after the war, a clerical error changed the family name from Kreiner to Krainer). His parents had a small business making leather items in Montevideo. Political unrest framed his teenage years in the 1970s, as did the Zionist movement and witnessing anti-Semitism. Krainer went to a bilingual French elementary school (such that half of his classes were conducted in French, and half in Spanish) before transitioning into a public school for two years and then into a Hebrew school to complete his pre-college education. He was inspired by some of his high-school teachers to pursue science as a career, which he did instead of medicine, and developed an early interest in classical genetics. Seeing all the science being produced in the United States in genetics, Krainer decided that he wanted to attend a U. S. academic institution and set about learning English. He applied to and decided to matriculate at Columbia University and major in biochemistry, finding a laboratory course with James A. Lewis and lectures by Charles R. Cantor quite stimulating. He worked for a time in a photocopying and messenger office on campus; he later worked in Catherine L. Squires's lab, successfully cloning a bacterial ribosomal operon. While still not feeling totally comfortable with the English language, he did quite well academically at Columbia, and was accepted both to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's graduate programs, choosing the former for his doctoral research. While at Harvard, Krainer rotated through James Wang's and Walter Gilbert's labs, and wrote a computer program in Mathew S. Meselson's lab to correlate recombination frequencies and distance of residues within proteins, before joining the lab of Thomas P. Maniatis, who had done groundbreaking work cloning full-length cDNAs. While a graduate student, Krainer developed an efficient in vitro splicing system, which made it possible to study detailed aspects of human pre-mRNA splicing mechanisms, regulation, and disease-associated splicing defects. From this work Krainer had three articles published in Cell. He moved on to an independent fellow position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, being mentored by Richard J. Roberts (a co-discoverer of splicing in 1977) and worked on purifying and characterizing snRNP and protein components of the spliceosome, before accepting a faculty position there in 1989. Throughout the interview Krainer talks about his scientific life and balancing family life with his career, all the while reflecting on life and science in Uruguay. In addition, he discusses Richard J. Roberts and Phillip A. Sharp's Nobel Prize; the system of staff promotion at Cold Spring Harbor; the rationale behind Cold Spring Harbor's "rolling-five system"; the National Cancer Institute grant review process; the advantages of the Pew scholars network; the growing tendency for clinical research to be funded over basic research; and James D. Watson' s program of bringing Eton students to Cold Spring Harbor. The interview ends with his thoughts on his participation in Programa de Desarrollo de Ciencias Básicas and the Pew Latin American Fellows program; and the valuable interactions at the Pew scholars annual meetings.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 Columbia University BA Biochemistry
1986 Harvard University PhD Biochemistry

Professional Experience

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

1986 to 1989
Postdoctoral Researcher
1989 to 1990
Staff Investigator
1990 to 1994
Senior Staff Investigator
Senior Staff Scientist

State University of New York at Stony Brook

Faculty Member, Graduate Program in Genetics
Faculty Member, Molecular and Cellular Biology


Year(s) Award

Phi Beta Kappa


Phi Lambda Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society


Josiah Macy Foundation Scholar

1986 to 1989

Cold Spring Harbor Outstanding Junior Fellow

1992 to 1996

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years

Family background. Uruguayan national identity. Jewish identity. Parental expectations. Attends a French school. Political unrest in Uruguay. The tracking system for science students in high school. High school science education. Decides to continue his education in the United States. Applies to American universities. Learns English. Encouragement from high school science teachers. The escalating political crisis in Uruguay in the 1970s. Trip to Argentina. Anti-Semitism. The Zionist movement in Uruguay. Interest in genetics. Desire to pursue a PhD rather than an MD.

College Years and Graduate School

The lack of career opportunities for scientists in Uruguay. Declares a major in biochemistry at Columbia University. The premed orientation of the biology department at Columbia. Takes math classes. Humanities requirements. Chemistry and biochemistry course work. Stimulating lab courses with James A. Lewis and Charles R. Cantor. Works part-time in a photocopying office on Campus. Begins work in the Catherine L. Squires lab. Applying to graduate school. Off-campus trips into New York City. Cost of education at Columbia. Encouragement from mentors at Columbia. Success cloning a ribosomal operon in the Squires lab. Decides to attend Harvard University instead of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Graduate School, Postdoctoral Years, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Physical chemistry. Fellow students. Writes a computer program for Matthews . Meselson to correlate recombination frequencies and distance of residues within proteins. Maniatis's groundbreaking cloning of full-length cDNAs provides the basis for his lab' s cell culture studies. Attempt to clone a defective, thalassemia-related gene. Rotation in the James Wang lab. Interests in the roles of enhancers and splicing in gene expression. Studying enhancer function using S1 mapping of in vitro transcripts. Article on in vitro splicing is accepted by Cell. Work in the field coupling transcription and splicing. Maniatis's role in work on T7 RNA polymerase. Travels to Uruguay with future wife Denise Roberts. The process of deciding authorship for the Cell publication. Barbara Ruskin's Cell article on the lariat structure. Evidence that U2 is involved in splicing. Identifying the lariat structure. Denise Roberts's career trajectory. Juggling family life and career. Important mentoring from Richard J. Roberts. Attempts to characterize snRNP components. James D. Watson.

Life at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory

Richard J. Roberts and Phillip Sharp's Nobel Prize acceptance lecture. The system of staff promotion at Cold Spring Harbor. The rationale behind Cold Spring Harbor's "rolling-five system. " The National Cancer Institute grant review process. Funding. The Pew scholars network. The caliber of lab graduate students and postdocs. Watson' s program of bringing Eton students to Cold Spring Harbor. The state of science in Uruguay. Programa de Desarrollo de Ciencias Basicas and the Pew Latin American Fellows program. Qualifying exams at Harvard. Valuable interactions at the Pew scholars annual meetings.


About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan