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Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve: David Baltimore's Life in Science

Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Ahead of the Curve
    Book Description:

    Shane Crotty's biography of David Baltimore details the life and work of one of the most brilliant, powerful, and controversial scientists of our time. Although only in his early sixties, Baltimore has made major discoveries in molecular biology, established the prestigious Whitehead Institute at MIT, been president of Rockefeller University, won the Nobel Prize, and been vilified by detractors in one of the most scandalous and protracted investigations of scientific fraud ever. He is now president of Caltech and a leader in the search for an AIDS vaccine. Crotty not only tells the compelling story of this larger-than-life figure, he also treats the reader to a lucid account of the amazing revolution that has occurred in biology during the past forty years. Basing his narrative on many personal interviews, Crotty recounts the milestones of Baltimore's career: completing his Ph.D. at Rockefeller University in eighteen months, participating in the anti-Vietnam War movement, winning a Nobel Prize at age thirty-seven for the codiscovery of reverse transcriptase, and co-organizing the recombinant DNA/genetic engineering moratorium. Along the way, readers learn what viruses are and what they do, what cancer is and how it happens, the complexities of the AIDS problem, how genetic engineering works, and why making a vaccine is a complicated process. And, as Crotty considers Baltimore's public life, he retells the famous scientific fraud saga and Baltimore's vindication after a decade of character assassination. Crotty possesses the alchemical skill of converting technical scientific history into entertaining prose as he conveys Baltimore's huge ambitions, intensity, scientific genius, attitude toward science and politics, and Baltimore's own view about what happened in the "Baltimore Affair."Ahead of the Curveshows why with his complex personality, keen involvement in public issues, and wide-ranging interests David Baltimore has not only shaped the face of American science as we know it today, but has also become a presence in our culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93026-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
    (pp. 1-6)

    On a blustery autumn day in 1986, the wind ripples across David Baltimore’s trenchcoat and jostles his briefcase as he quickly crosses a courtyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His beard has a gray hair for every hundred times he has been asked when he will cure cancer. His navy blue suit is stylish; he dresses much better than he used to, back when biology wasn’t lucrative and he was anticapitalist. His mind is actively planning, analyzing, and reviewing as he walks toward the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, which he started four years earlier and where he has assembled perhaps the...

    (pp. 7-14)

    Great neck was one of the many commutervilles lining the route of the Long Island Railroad in the years following World War II. This sleepy little New York town had become famous up and down Long Island for its excellent schools. Everyone at Great Neck High School was expected to go to a four-year college; higher education was both imperative and assumed. Here David Baltimore went to school. He was one of those students whom everyone referred to as “gifted,” and when his brother came through the same classes four years later, the teachers still remembered David.

    In school, David...

    (pp. 15-31)

    Swarthmore college is snuggled in a quaint town outside Philadelphia. When Baltimore arrived, the streets were narrow and wooded, and the few small bridges were made of stone. The thousand students referred to the town beyond the college as “the Village” or simply “the Vil.” The campus itself looked borrowed partly from the English countryside and partly from a Virginia plantation. It was the kind of place where, in the spring, once the chill left the air, professors sometimes held classes beneath a fragrant magnolia or near a patch of flowering lilacs. Parrish Hall, which housed the president’s offices and...

    (pp. 32-64)

    The explosive growth of molecular biology made the late 1950s both a great time and a chaotic time to become an apprentice molecular biologist. Baltimore could get involved in molecular biology immediately, but it was difficult to see how he could become a great scientist.

    The MIT graduate program in biology was rigidly structured, requiring students to learn oceans of knowledge during their first year in a series of biological problem-solving classes. Students quickly developed a chalkboard understanding of experimentation, learning to wield a battery of biochemical and genetic approaches for solving biological problems: identifying a gene that gives fruit...

    (pp. 65-71)

    David and sandra drove out to California in his white Valiant. Spring 1965 was the height of the popularity of the Beach Boys and surfing in southern California. La Jolla, home of the Salk Institute, was a wealthy town on the coast, full of Mercedes Benzes, jewelry stores, and art galleries. It has only one season—spring. The Salk was a mile north of town, near the University of California at San Diego, about eighteen miles outside San Diego proper. David and Sandra rented a house in Solana Beach, two towns up the coast from La Jolla. It was a...

  8. Five MIT
    (pp. 72-86)

    Landing back on the east coast was a relief to Baltimore. He felt he was there to stay. He and Alice went apartment hunting together in the snowy Cambridge neisghborhoods around Inman Square, Central Square, and Harvard Square. They picked a small flat on Soden Street, not too far from the MIT campus, and settled in together. Eight months later, they were married in a quiet ceremony inside the nearly invisible MIT chapel, with virtually no one in attendance. It was a private moment.

    A photo of Associate Professor Baltimore taken during his first few weeks back in Cambridge shows...

    (pp. None)
    (pp. 87-113)

    January 1971. the main building of the Stanford University School of Medicine was the ugliest building on campus. The beautiful central quad was a spacious collection of buildings laid out like a vast Spanish villa, all coordinated with terracotta roofs, fine murals, intricate stone carvings, and covered walkways around sun-drenched courtyards. But the medical school, on the western edge of the campus, consisted of a hundred-yard-long, monolithic edifice apparently designed in a bizarre fit of Egyptomania. Constructed of huge concrete tiles with a squared-spiral pattern on them, the outer walls looked more like freeway soundproofing than anything else. Cramped and...

  11. Seven NOBEL GOLD
    (pp. 114-132)

    In the fall of 1975, baltimore was starting his year-long sabbatical at Rockefeller University, working with Jim Darnell. He needed a break from MIT, and he wanted to be near his parents in New York. His father had had his first heart attack that summer and was in and out of Mt. Sinai Hospital for months. Concerned, David, Alice, and their newborn daughter Lauren, whom they nicknamed “Teak,” moved to New York. Alice was taking a sabbatical from Harvard to work at Rockefeller. They lived in the on-campus Rockefeller faculty housing, at 1500 East 63rd Street, and they hired a...

  12. POLIOVIRUS: An Interlude
    (pp. 133-138)

    Once the cambridge ban on recombinant DNA was lifted, one of the first pieces of DNA that the Baltimore laboratory cloned was the poliovirus genome. This work was done by Vincent Racaniello, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab. Since poliovirus is an RNA virus, Racaniello first made a DNA copy (cDNA) of the poliovirus RNA using reverse transcriptase. He then pasted the poliovirus DNA copy into a plasmid using the recently developed recombinant DNA cloning techniques. He used a new DNA sequencing technique developed by Frederick Sanger (who won his second Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1980 for this powerful...

    (pp. 139-178)

    Edwin “jack” whitehead started a biomedical company called Technicon in 1939. Over the next forty years he led the company to success, and he sold Technicon to Revlon for $400 million in 1980. Whitehead, an energetic and persistent man, wanted to use some of his wealth to found a biomedical institute, and in 1974, with the help of his advisers, he began searching for a suitable location. The search was complicated. He commented many years later, “It’s easier to make $100 million than to give it away.” Several medical schools rejected his offer because Whitehead burdened the gift with too...

    (pp. 179-198)

    By 1989 rockefeller university’s president, the indomitable Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, was approaching the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five. The Rockefeller trustees were hunting for a suitable replacement. They wanted someone who could restore the university to the grand status it had held early in the century and at the same time tear Rockefeller away from its stagnant organizational structure and hiring practices and reduce the university’s spiraling deficit. Impressed with his success at the Whitehead, they approached Baltimore, who was captivated by the opportunity. He loved New York, and, after his success at the Whitehead, he was sure that...

    (pp. 199-217)

    Baltimore’s return to the MIT biology department was heralded as a homecoming. Some MIT researchers wondered why he didn’t return to the Whitehead. That had been an option, but the biology department made him a lucrative offer, funded through a multimillion-dollar donation by Ivan Cottrell, a wealthy Rochester dentist. The Whitehead Institute was still just across the street, and Baltimore ate his lunch in the Whitehead cafeteria almost every day. Phillip Sharp had just won the 1993 Nobel Prize in medicine and was now head of the department, which he moved to the new Building 68, on the north side...

  16. Eleven CALTECH
    (pp. 218-220)

    In a move that surprised even his close friends, Baltimore accepted the presidency of Caltech, the California Institute of Technology, effective fall 1997. Paul Berg said incredulously, “I wassurehe was not going to take it. . . . He kept telling me about how much he would miss Boston, how much he liked Boston, and how MIT was pulling out all stops to keep him.” But Baltimore made the move wholeheartedly. Why? Perhaps it was just the draw of sexagenarians to the sun, but Baltimore spun it as, “If it was not a challenge, why do it?” He...

    (pp. 221-222)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 223-260)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 261-270)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-273)