AAAS Fellow Ray Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
University of California, Davis
Background: A lifelong interest in genes and gene expression have led Rodriguez to study fields including recombinant DNA technology, gene regulation, rice molecular biology, nutritional genomics and, finally, human health.
Question 1: Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.
Answer: One sunny afternoon in my little high school in California's Central Valley, my biology teacher brought to class the October 3, 1963 issue of Life magazine. The cover story was on the cracking of the genetic code. He asked me to post the feature article on the bulletin board for everyone to read. This article ignited a flame in my imagination that burns to this day. I learned that all proteins, and the RNAs that produce them, are encoded in various combinations of the four bases of DNA. We now know that it's not just the codons that are encoded by DNA, but all the signals required for gene expression, regulation and function—from transcription initiation to intron splicing.
Question 2: What are you most proud of in your work?
Answer: The construction of pBR322 with my friend and coworker, Paco Bolivar, in 1976. The pBR322 plasmid was the first cloning vector approved by the NIH after the 1975 Asilomar Conference moratorium on genetic engineering. Although it's seldom used now, both its genetically modified origin of replication and its ampicillin resistance gene live on in all iterations of the pUC-based vectors. It is used for everything from genome editing to optogenetic manipulation of neurons to the production of Ebola vaccine in plants.
Question 3: Share a comment or opinion you have on a topical science-related issue.
Answer: I'm intrigued by the emerging trend of transdisciplinary or "team science." I see team science projects everywhere and in all disciplines. I believe it's a healthy response to dealing with complex systems in nature after a century of reductionism. There are implications, for young scientists, however, such as new styles of project leadership and publications with 50 to 100 co-authors. Is team science appropriate for young scientists? How will the "old guard" evaluate a young scientist's independence, originality and discoveries in the new era of team science? These are the tough questions facing the next generation of scientists.
Question 4: What is your favorite movie or TV show and why?
Answer: Of course, I love good SciFi (e.g., Star Wars, Star Trek), any SciFi where good triumphs over evil with courage, cleverness and futuristic technology. I also like "loser becomes winner against all odds" movies. "Here Comes the Boom" is a recent favorite where a high school biology teacher tries to save the music program by going into the octagon. Some of my colleagues have quietly confessed to me that they really like "Captain America."
Question 5: What's playing on your iPod/music player?
Answer: "Holy Water and Whiskey" by AAAS Fellow Maggie Werner-Washburn and friends from the UNM-Albuquerque. It's "old timey" music from the southwest so it "ain't" for everyone. Maggie sure sounds like a young Linda Ronstadt to me.