You're only as old as your DNA

Fifty-three years ago tomorrow, I was still in high school and hadn't heard of DNA much. But, I started college in '59 and remember all of us eagerly going to a lecture on DNA and its structure. I don't know whether that pulled me into genetics, but I know the opportunities I received at the University of Connecticut had me switch from medical technology to zoology as a major. Graduate school came next, and by then, I was eager to attend that revered school, The Johns Hopkins University.

Yes, The is part of the title. So is the s on the end of Johns. I was lucky enough to be there while Milton Eisenhower was president of the school and I was thrilled to learn as a first year student that I would be working with Milislav Demerec, a reknowned geneticist at Brookhaven National Labs. His son-in-law, Phil Hartman, became my mentor and advisor for my PhD thesis. I even worked with Bruce Ames, whose DNA mutation test made World Book Encyclopedia and pharmaceutical companies worldwide. What an exciting time!

One of my thrills quite a while ago--since I had to leave genetics for a long time--was browsing through books at Powell's bookstore in Portland, OR and finding myself referenced in a large book on Salmonella typhimurium genetics. I even learned that the solution I proposed in my thesis to explain a mutation that shut off the histidine operon was correct. That was the time of operons, operators, and nonsense mutations. That day in Powell's, I felt overwhelmed by the memories of the work I had been part of and had to sit with a cup of coffee (and probably a cookie or two) for a while to calm down.

Now, all these years later, we're celebrating DNA and the human genome. I'm glad to be back in genetics.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

P.S. I'm going on a cruise to Alaska in May and have had three wonderful people--genetic counselors--volunteer to keep the blog going while I am gone. I'll be introducing them to you in the next few days. 

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