HOPKINS is the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT.
As an undergraduate, Hopkins attended Harvard University,
where Dr. James Watson- who, together with Francis Crick,
discovered the structure of DNA- introduced her to the
study of genetics. In 1971, she obtained her Ph.D.,
also from Harvard University.
in Hopkins' lab seeks to identify the genetic basis
of early developmental processes and simple behaviors
in the zebrafish. This work could shed light on human
genes, physiology and birth defects.
also spearheaded an ongoing effort to address discrimination
against women at MIT. The administration has taken steps
to address the problems revealed by Hopkins' campus-wide
study into the matter. Hopkins' efforts received national
attention and were lauded by President Clinton.
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You said that you hoped genes would be available for everyone.
How would these genes work? Would we have to inject them
before before birth? Or would we be able to use them as
adults to correct congenital defects?
used the word 'gene' a bit sloppily to cover two things:
A gene OR the protein coded for by a gene. As you may
know, some proteins (which are the products of genes)
are already used to treat human diseases. Often proteins
that can be used this way are those that circulate in
the blood. For example, certain hormones. These can
be given to adults or children and will correct certain
defects or treat particular illnesses.
some cases, this does not work however, usually because
the protein is one that is needed inside cells. In this
case one might have to cure a person by correcting their
defective genes in one or more cell types. To do this
would require gene therapy. This topic was also discussed
on the Scientific American Frontiers program. While
not yet a readily available technology, most people
fully expect that gene therapy will ultimately become
What are the functions of some of the genes you've located?
Have you found genes that correlate to common human birth
have identified genes with many types of functions:
Some code for proteins that regulate the expression
of other genes, some are needed to help cells divide,
some are required for protein synthesis, some are enzymes,
some are receptors that sit on the surface of cells
and receive signals from outside, some are involved
in interactions between cells.
for your second question, Yes! For example, we identified
a gene mutated in an inherited form of human diabetes,
and another involved in cartilage formation and in mental
Are some genes more susceptible to mutation than others?
For example: are the genes that regulate brain development
more or less likely to mutate than the genes that regulate
something seemingly more trivial, like coloration?
genes are more susceptible to mutation. However, this
depends on the structure of the gene itself. For example,
very big genes may be more likely to be damaged by mutations,
or genes with certain types of DNA sequences may be
damaged more readily. This is not related to the biological
function of the gene however.
What virus do you use to mutate the fish genes? Is it
an engineered virus? Or one that naturally infects zebra
fish? When you first began conducting your research, was
it difficult to purposefully inject your fish with a mutation-causing
virus? Though I fully understand the positive implications
for science with your research, how do respond to animal
rights' advocates criticisms of causing mutations in your
virus we use is an engineered mouse retrovirus. This
particular virus would not have met up with a fish in
would say two things in reply to the second issue: 1)
One of the nice things about working with fish is that
the embryos develop externally and so one does not have
to sacrifice the mother to have access to the mutants.
Only embryos up to 5-6 days of age display the mutant
properties and then they are discarded painlessly. 2)
The conditions required for working with laboratory
animals are very strict as you probably know. We often
refer to our faciltiy as the fish Ritz. Not only are
we required to use humane conditions in working with
the animals, but for our scientific work, our fish must
be maintained at the highest posisble level. Water quality
is monitored daily, the fish are fed three times each
day, and tanks are cleaned constantly. Life expectancy
for a fish in our facility is probably much higher than
in nature, and much much higher than in the average
Why do most of the mutations result in death? Does that
make is easier or hardier to identify the function of
defects we can find are visible in a microscope at quite
low magnification. Thus, they are quite severe. This
may explain why most of them are also lethal. This makes
them neither easier nor harder to identify. About the
same either way.
Do you feel that as a woman scientist you bring something
different to the discipline of genetics?
have always felt that women and men think about and
do science the same way. However, on average, I would
say that the styles of behavior of men and women scientists
are a bit different. Men often seem more driven by competition
and winning, women more driven by a passion for the
subject. I have wondered whether, if there were more
women in science, it would be more collaborative. I
have often wondered whether in that case cancer might
already have been cured, for example. Competition is
great to a point, but it can also get in the way of
Do you plan to study the single-cell to multicellular
process in other organisms as part of your research? If
so, what other organisms might you consider?
studies are extremely informative. However, we are more
likely to do such studies by collaboration with other
labs or by literature searching instead of experimentation
in our own lab. We have our hands full with the fish.
Many other organisms are useful, but we would probably
be most interested in the mouse.
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