Philippe M. Soriano

Born: June 10, 1953 | New Rochelle, NJ, US

Philippe M. Soriano grew up in New York City, with parents of French descent. Soriano's childhood trips to France persuaded him to attend the University of Paris, where he worked with DNA sequences in higher mammals in the lab of Giorgio Bernardi. His work on DNA cloning and fractionation techniques earned Soriano two doctorates, and he taught cDNA cloning in South Africa and Tunisia, a topic he uses to discuss science in Third World countries, his international perspective, and the danger of scientific inbreeding. Soriano began a postdoc in the Jaenisch lab in Hamburg, which later moved to MIT, then left for a position at Baylor College of Medicine. He discusses his future research and his plans to move to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0570
No. of pages: 124
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Neil D. Hathaway
8-11 October 1992
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Abstract of Interview

Philippe M. Soriano grew up in New York City, the younger of two children.  His parents are of French descent:  his mother was born in Algiers, Algeria, and his father in Cairo, Egypt.  He attended the Lycée Français, which had a typical French curriculum with the addition of some usual American classes.  No one else in his family was involved in science, but Soriano showed an early interest, especially in a number of fields of biology.

Soriano’s several childhood trips to France helped him decide to attend the University of Paris.  It was also the case that French science, especially genetics, was outstanding at the time.  Although he found that there was a great culture shock involved in being in France, he did not regret his college years there, as they gave him a very different perspective on his work.  During the summers Soriano worked at the Bayer labs in Germany and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  He pursued his doctorate at the University of Paris, working with DNA sequences in higher mammals in the lab of Giorgio Bernardi; Soriano reflected on higher education in France and the strengths of Bernardi’s lab.

His work on DNA cloning and fractionation techniques earned Soriano two doctorates, after which he was offered a chargé de recherche position by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).  Soriano used gene delivery techniques at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire in Orléans, France and sought to make transgenic mice, though he also discussed Rudolf Jaenisch’s first gene knockout experiment that resulted in a lethal mutation and his own attempts to clone a histocompatibility gene.  At Bernardi’s request he taught cDNA cloning in South Africa and Tunisia, a topic Soriano used to speak about science in Third World countries, his own international perspective, and the danger of scientific inbreeding.

Soriano began a postdoc in the Jaenisch lab in Hamburg.  After about six months Jaenisch moved his lab (people, mice, and some equipment) to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Soriano explains the setup of the lab in Hamburg, the complicated move, and the state of science in Germany.  For his work, Soriano infected embryos with retroviruses to create transgenic mice, determined at what stage cells are allocated to somatic or germ cell lineage, implemented noninvasive means of tracking cells, conducted loss-of-function studies, and used retrovirus probes instead of electroporation. 

Deciding not to return to France, Soriano left the Jaenisch lab for a position at Baylor College of Medicine.  He received Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding and comparea it to other types of funding, in the context of which he talka about the cost of running a mouse lab and big labs versus small labs. 

Soriano’s interest in the src gene continues, and he explains more about cell lineages; functional redundancy; interpreting gene knockout results; licensing and selling mutant mice; cooperating with biotechnology companies; and ethical issues involved in working for biotechnology companies and surrounding gene therapy.  He concludes his interview by discussing his planned move to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.  And he describes some of his future research plans and compares and contrasts basic science research and applied research.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1971 Lycée Français Baccalauréat
1975 University of Paris Maîtrise ès-sciences
1978 University of Paris Doctorat de 3ème cycle
1982 University of Paris Doctorat d'état ès-sciences

Professional Experience

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

1981 to 1982
Attaché de recherché
1982 to 1984
Chargé de recherche

Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire

1982 to 1984
Postdoctoral Fellow, Groupe de Biophysique Cellulaire

Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology

1984
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Tumor Virology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1984 to 1987
Postdoctoral Fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Baylor College of Medicine

1987 to 1993
Assistant Professor

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

1993 to 1995
Associate Member

Honors

Year(s) Award
1976 to 1978

Fellowship, Délégation Générale à la Recherche Scientifique et Technique

1978

Fellowship, Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale

1978 to 1980

Fellowship, Ligue Nationale Française contre le Cancer

1984 to 1985

Fellowship, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

1988

Biomedical Research Support Grant, Baylor College of Medicine

1988

Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Award

1988 to 1992

Scholar, Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

1988 to 1993

Assistant Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Table of Contents

Early Years, Graduate Education in France, and Work in Germany and Israel
1

Childhood in New York City. French ancestry. Attends the Lycée Français. Early interest in science. Importance of all fields in biology. Experience of the sixties. Decides to attend the University of Paris. State of science in France. Culture shock of being in France. Spends summers working at the Bayer labs in Germany and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Pursues his doctorate at the University of Paris and works in the lab of Giorgio Bernardi. Higher education in France. Working with DNA sequences in Bernardi's labs. Studying repetitive DNA sequences. Strengths of Bernardi's lab.

Earning Doctorates, Research in France, and Teaching Internationally
33

DNA cloning and fractionation techniques. Earns two doctorates. Offered a chargé de recherche position by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Using gene delivery techniques at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire in Orléans. Seeks to make transgenic mice. Rudolf Jaenisch's first gene knockout experiment results in a lethal mutation. Tries to clone a histocompatibility gene. Teaches in South Africa and Tunisia. Science in other countries. International perspective. Danger of scientific inbreeding.

Postdoctoral Work in Germany and Move Back to the United States
49

Working as a postdoc in the Jaenisch lab in Hamburg. Transplanting the lab to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Setup of the lab in Hamburg. State of science in Germany. Infecting embryos with retroviruses to create transgenic mice. Determining at what stage cells are allocated to somatic or germ cell lineage. Need to use noninvasive means of tracking cells. Loss-of-function studies. Using retrovirus probes versus using electroporation. Cooperation among mouse-genetics labs. Knocking out the src gene leads to osteopetrosis in mice. Knocking out other members of the src family. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences funding. Leaving the Jaenisch lab and coming to Baylor College of Medicine. Decides not to return to France. Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding. Cost of running a mouse lab. Big labs versus small labs. Reasons for going to Baylor.

Current Research and Reflections on Science
84

Interest in the src gene. More on studying cell lineages. Functional redundancy. Interpreting gene knockout results. Licensing and selling mutant mice. Cooperating with biotechnology companies. Ethical issues involved in working for biotechnology companies. Ethical considerations surrounding gene therapy. Planned move to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Future research plans. Basic science research versus applied research.

Index
120

About the Interviewer

Neil D. Hathaway