Ariel Ruiz i Altaba

Born: November 13, 1962 | Mexico City, MX
Photograph of Ariel Ruiz i Altaba

Ariel Ruiz i Altaba was born in Mexico City, but raised in Spain. From an early age he was interested in science and nature, collecting specimens. He matriculated at University of Barcelona, but decided to move to the United States to study molecular biology, a subject that piqued his interest after a lecture about DNA cloning. In G. Nigel Godson's lab at New York University, he published his first paper, on the promotion, termination, and anti-termination in the rpsU-dnaG-rpoD macromolecular synthesis operon of E. coli. He moved to graduate study at Harvard University under Douglas A. Melton, researching peptide growth factors and Xhox3, a vertebrate homeobox gene for anterioposterior patterning. After a postdoc, he accepted a position at the Skirball Institute at NYU. He is now a professor at University of Geneva Medical School. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0278
No. of pages: 93

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
19-21 August 2002
University of Geneva Medical School Geneva, Switzerland

Abstract of Interview

Ariel Ruiz i Altaba was born in Mexico City, Mexico, but was raised in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, the youngest of three brothers (the other two are also scientists: a theoretical physicist and an evolutionary biologist). His mother was a painter and a writer; his father a chemical engineer who left academia to start his own business. From an early age Ruiz i Altaba was interested in science and nature, collecting specimens from the sea and hiking a lot. Though he was in a Catholic-leaning school, the fascist doctrine of Spain and of Francisco Franco impacted some of his early schooling until Franco's death in 1975; he considered his childhood pretty typical. Ruiz i Altaba had some good teachers, but many were unequipped to teach the subjects they were assigned, and so there was little- to no depth in any of his science classes. He matriculated at the University of Barcelona, but in his sophomore year he decided to transfer to New York University (NYU) in order to study molecular biology, a subject that piqued his interest after a lecture about DNA cloning. He spent three months in Angel G. Pellicer's laboratory before moving into G. Nigel Godson's lab after hearing a lecture on bacterial genetics from James R. Lupski (Pew Scholar Class of 1990), who was working in Godson's lab. Ruiz i Altaba finished his undergraduate degree at Columbia University but continued to work in Godson's lab, publishing his first paper, which was on the promotion, termination, and anti-termination in the rpsU-dnaG-rpoD macromolecular synthesis operon of E. coli. He moved on to graduate study at Harvard University under Douglas A. Melton, researching peptide growth factors and Xhox3, a vertebrate homeobox gene for anterioposterior patterning, and then on to a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University with Thomas M. Jessellon development and patterning in the nervous system, in particular the Gli gene regulation and signaling in hedgehog. From Columbia he accepted a position at the Skirball Institute at New York University. Throughout the interview Ruiz i Altaba reflects on the relationship between art and science and the notion of objectivity. He also talks about the grant-writing process; duties to his professional community; national research funding; the process of writing journal articles; the issue of patents; and the privatization of scientific research. At the end of the interview he discusses the role of scientists in educating the public; using art and the visual image to teach science; competition and collaboration in science; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences in his work. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Columbia University AB
1989 Harvard University PhD Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Columbia University

1989 to 1993
Postdoctoral Training, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
1993 to 1994
Associate Research Scientist, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior

New York University School of Medicine

1994 to 2000
Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology
2000 to 2003
Associate Professor, Department of Cell Biology

University of Geneva Medical School

2004 to 2005
Full Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987

Paul Mazur Fellowship, Harvard University School of Arts & Sciences

1989 to 1993

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1994

Young Investigator Award, Mechanisms of Development

1995

Whitehead Fellowship for Junior Faculty, New York University

1997 to 1999

Basil O'Connor Starter Award, March of Dimes Foundation

1999 to 2000

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

2001 to 2003

Hirschl Award

2004

Louis Jeantet Professorship

2005

Leenaards Prize

Table of Contents

Early and College Years
1

Early interest in science. Decides to study molecular biology after hearing a lecture about DNA cloning. Siblings. Parents. Childhood experiences. Early schooling. Influential teachers. Religion. The University of Barcelona, Spain. Percentage of women in biology classes. Possible alternative careers. Interest in comparative religions and Buddhist philosophy. Impressions of Japan. Familybackground. Childhood hobby of making collections. Public perceptions of science and medicine. Transfer to New York University to study molecular biology. Impressions of New York City. Transfer to Columbia University. Meets and works in Angel Pellicer's laboratory at New York University. A lecture by James Lupski on bacterial genetics. Work in G. Nigel Godson'slaboratory.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
26

Work on the macromolecular synthesis operon. Douglas Melton's laboratory at Harvard University Doctoral research on peptide growth factors and on Xhox3, a vertebrate homeobox gene for anterioposterior patterning. Postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University. Research on development and patterning in the nervous system in Thomas M. Jessell's laboratory.

Faculty Years
36

Art. Research collaborations. Current research on dorsal-ventral patterning in the central nervous system. Accepts position at the Skirball Institute at New York University. Setting up his laboratory. The grant-writing process. National research funding. Laboratory management style. Future research on brain function and development. Patents. Privatization of scientific research. Thehistory of science.

Final Thoughts
64

Tenure at the Skirball Institute of New York University. Educating the public. Using art and the visual image to teach science. Scientific progress. Competition and collaboration in science. The national science agenda. Gender issues in science. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
91

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten