Jeffrey Wilusz

Born: October 29, 1959 | South Amboy, NJ, US

Jeffrey Wilusz grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey and attended Rutgers. He found thinking through scientific issues similar to solving puzzles. Wilusz became interested in virology and began graduate work at Duke University, where Jack Keene and Thomas Shenk became his mentors. Lessons learned in Keene's lab helped Wilusz identify a leader RNA that binds to La protein. He began the sequencing of Ebola virus-identified RNA structural regions that recognize antibodies, and began studying VA RNA in the Shenk lab. Wilusz soon took a position at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where he continued to pursue his interest in RNA research. He discusses pursuing diverse lines of research in a lab, conference presentations, publishing, funding, and trends in the biomedical sciences.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0444
No. of pages: 105
Minutes: 358

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
19-21 January 1998
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey

Abstract of Interview

Jeffrey Wilusz grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, in a Polish Roman Catholic family. His father worked in various capacities for the telephone company; his mother was a homemaker until her four children were in school, at which time she began secretarial work. Wilusz attended Roman Catholic schools all through high school (his religion continues to influence his children's lives). He entered Rutgers-the State University, where he decided to pursue veterinary medicine, and the death of his favorite dog confirmed him in that decision. He found thinking through scientific issues similar to solving puzzles, and running helped him both clarify his thinking and relax. Although his high-school education had not provided scientific training and opportunities, he studied microbiology for his undergraduate degree. Wilusz became interested in virology and began graduate work at Duke University, where he overcame his lack of familiarity with new molecular ideas and procedures and intensified his interest in virology. Jack Keene (Pew Scholar Class of 1985) and Thomas Shenk became his mentors. He met and married Susan Miller, and they had two children. Lessons learned in Keene's lab helped Wilusz identify a leader RNA that binds to La protein. The Keene lab switched from vesicular stomatitis virus research to autoantigen research, which contributed to Wilusz's ability to identify acidic ribosomal proteins in autoantigens. He began the sequencing of Ebola virus-identified RNA structural regions that recognize antibodies, and began studying VA RNA in the Shenk lab. He used in vitro polyadenylation to study protein-RNA interactions. Wilusz accepted a postdoc at Princeton University, where he had to juggle career and family life. Wilusz then moved on to a position at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, where he continued to pursue his interest in RNA research. During the interview he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing diverse lines of research in a lab; presenting research results at conferences; publishing; funding; and his current research projects. He answers questions about new technology's role in stimulating creative science; his greatest strengths as a scientist; his thoughts on scientific accountability and ethics. He describes how he juggles career and family life; the allocation of his time; his working relationship with graduate students; the problem of finding skilled lab personnel; his mentoring style; and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Wilusz concludes his interview with his opinion about trends and problems in the biomedical sciences.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 Cook College BS Animal Sciences
1985 Duke University PhD Molecular Virology

Professional Experience

Princeton University

1985 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biology

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Rutgers University

1989 to 1995
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
1995
Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982 to 1985

National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship

1986 to 1989

American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship

1989

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship

1992 to 1996

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1996

Gallo Award for Cancer Research

1996

Golden Apple Award

Table of Contents

Early Years, College, and Veterinary Medicine
1

Family background. Catholicism. Fishing with his father and friends. Sports, competitiveness, and teamwork. Brothers. Parental expectations. Enters Rutgers. Veterinary medicine. Running as a way of relaxing and thinking through scientific issues. Academics in high school and college. Decision to pursue microbiology rather than veterinary medicine.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
32

Interest in virology. Duke University. Jack D. Keene and Thomas E. Shenk. Marriage. Children. Career and family life at Princeton University. Identifies a leader RNA that binds to La protein. First publications. Switch from vesicular stomatitis virus research to autoantigen research. Identifies acidic ribosomal proteins in autoantigens. Begins sequencing of Ebola virus. Identifies RNAstructural regions that recognize antibodies. Begins studying VARNA in the Shenklab. Uses in vitro polyadenylation to study protein-RNA interactions. Presenting research results at conferences. The politics of science publishing.

Faculty Years and Reflections on Science
73

Value of publishing in prestigious journals. Research project on UV cross-linking to polyadenylation. Establishing a lab at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Funding. Thoughts on scientific accountability. Balancing career and family life. Graduate students. Mentoring. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Trends and problems in the biomedical sciences.

Index
104

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan