Greg E. Lemke

Born: December 31, 1955 | Lima, OH, US

Greg E. Lemke attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in biology and minored in music. He was a teaching assistant in Annamaria Torriani-Gorini’s microbiology class; he liked short experiments with fast results. He worked on glycoproteins in the labs of Phillips Robbins and Ellen Henderson. Lemke chose California Institute of Technology for graduate school because it was strong in molecular biology and neurobiology. In Jeremy Brockes’s lab he worked on Schwann cells, which he found to be his life’s interest. For his postdoctoral work, Lemke he took his project to a postdoc in Richard Axel’s lab. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies offered him a job and the independence of his own lab. He took his project with him; half of his lab continues the myelin work, attempting to understand signal transduction in the development of cells and studying differentiation in Schwann cells. The lab is also working on protein-tyrosine kinase. He hopes one day to understand how cell fate is specified during development, with a particular interest in the nervous system.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0741
No. of pages: 35
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Richard Sawyer and Arnold Thackray
19 June 1990
Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

Greg E. Lemke grew up in Delphos, a small town in Ohio. He was the oldest of three children; their father was a railroad lineman and their mother a housewife. Lemke was always curious, always liked science. Though his parents were not college graduates, his paternal aunts were, and they encouraged Lemke with books and magazines.

Lemke entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he majored in biology and minored in music. He was a teaching assistant in Annamaria Torriani-Gorini’s microbiology class; he liked short experiments with fast results. He worked on glycoproteins in the labs of Phillips Robbins and Ellen Henderson. Lemke chose California Institute of Technology for graduate school because it was strong in molecular biology and neurobiology. In Jeremy Brockes’s lab he worked on Schwann cells, which are easy to grow and manipulate. He found his life’s interest in Schwann cells, which are homologues of the cells in the central nervous system; these cells form myelin around central nervous system axons; he was funded by the Kroc Foundation and a National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant. For his postdoctoral work, Lemke he took his project to a postdoc in Richard Axel’s lab and began to clone. There he was funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies offered him a job at just the right time; he was eager to return to California, and he wanted the independence of his own lab. He took his project with him; half of his lab continues the myelin work, attempting to understand signal transduction in the development of cells and studying differentiation in Schwann cells. The lab is also working on protein-tyrosine kinase. He has an adjunct position with the University of California, San Diego, but few administrative duties. He is writing a few chapters of a textbook on molecular neurobiology as well. All of this allows him less time in the lab than he would like.

Lemke talks about the importance of the Pew award and the contacts he has as a result of the award. He thinks the present system of science works pretty well, and that there is a great deal of interesting science going on. He discusses patents and ethical considerations, as well as the competition he faces from other labs. He hopes one day to understand how cell fate is specified during development; that is, how complex organisms develop (with a particular interest in the nervous system). How exactly are genes turned on? Although he works on basic science his findings may someday yield clinical implications. There is Schwann cell involvement in multiple sclerosis and neurofibromatosis. He believes that knowledge is a general benefit for mankind. He is now thinking about spending less time in his lab so that he might have a family.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1978 Massachusetts Institute of Technology SB Life Sciences
1983 California Institute of Technology PhD Neurobiology

Professional Experience

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

1983 to 1985
Post Doctorate, Molecular Biology

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

1985 to 1991
Assistant Professor
1991 to 1995
Associate Professor
1995 to 2012
Professor and Director, Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
2002 to 2003
Chair of the Faculty
2009 to 2010
Chair of the Faculty
2012 to 2017
Françoise Gilot-Salk Professor
2014 to 2015
Chair of the Faculty
2014 to 2018
Director, Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Laboratory

University of California, San Diego

1986 to 1991
Adjunct Assistant Professor
1991 to 1995
Adjunct Associate Professor
1996 to 2018
Adjunct Professor, Departent of Neuroscience

Honors

Year(s) Award
1978 to 1981

Kroc Foundation Graduate Fellowship

1983 to 1985

Muscular Dystrophy Associate Fellowship

1986 to 1990

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

1987 to 1989

Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Award, March of Dimes

1990 to 1995

Rita Allen Scholars Award, Rita Allen Foundation

1994 to 2001

Javits Neuroscience Investigator (Merit) Award, NIH

2007

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Grew up in Delphos, Ohio, near Lima, Ohio. Oldest of three children. Father lineman on railroad; mother housewife. Roman Catholic schools. Always liked science; always curious about many things. Father’s siblings college graduates; encouraged reading.

College Years
4

Preferred Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Princeton University. Majored in biology, music minor. Participated in sports. Teaching assistant in Annamaria Torriani-Gorini’s microbiology class cemented interest. Phillips Robbins’s and Ellen Henderson’s labs. Schwann cells homologues of the cells in the central nervous system that form myelin around central nervous system axons. Funding from MIT and National Merit Scholarship.

Graduate School Years
7

Chose California Institute of Technology for place, not person; especially strong in cell and molecular biology and neurobiology. From rotations chose Jeremy Brockes’s lab; Schwann cells easy to grow and to manipulate. Lab small and new; lots of interaction with Brockes. Purifying mitogen in nervous system. Funded by Kroc Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant. Research smooth until sequencing. Schwann cells good entrée into molecular biology and prime cloning targets.

Postdoctoral Work
10

Wanted to continue myelin work in good molecular biology lab. Considered several other labs, but chose Richard Axel’s lab at Columbia University. Axel’s management style hands-off until results begin coming in. Funding from Muscular Dystrophy Association. Help from other postdocs. Considering places for his own lab.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies
13

Job opened at right time. Relationship with Axel. Molecular neurobiology new field at time. Contract specifics. Renato Dulbecco’s lab. Adjunct appointment at University of California, San Diego. Little administrative work at Salk. Faculty gradations. Took project from Axel’s lab. Cloning genes in structure of myelin; signal transduction in develop of cells. Differentiation of Schwann cells. Writing textbook. Typical day. Half of his lab working on myelin; other half other projects. Importance of Pew award: supplies and larger lab. Collaboration with Shing-Yan Chiu. Skinner and Sertoli cells. Discussing basic issues with Paul Matsudaira.

Further Thoughts
22

Major question: how cell fate is specified during development. Some myelination genes also can influence other systems. How do complex organisms develop? Particularly interested in nervous system. In five or ten years hopes to be able to identify molecules involved in signal transduction and understand their interactions. Also working on protein-tyrosine kinase genes during neural development. Notch1 from Drosophila. Role of molecules in formation of vertebrate nervous system. Molecular biology good for neuroscience. Competition from other labs. Myelin system difficult, involved, driven by technology. Patents and ethical problems. Does science for itself; might have clinical implications in long run. Schwann cell involvement in multiple sclerosis, neurofibromatosis. Thinking about less time in lab; wants family. Sports, music, art, friends, singing.

Index
34

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Richard Sawyer