Leroy Hood: Discovery Science  pg. 5

A new view of technology

“One of the most important roles of a mentor is to create unbounded environments where people can move in any direction they want, and to give them a problem that is unbounded and will challenge them. Then, just let them do it.”
Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D.
Photo by Brian Smale
In 1970, Hood returned to Caltech again, this time as a member of the faculty, his mentor’s imperatives ringing as loudly in his ears as ever. “I went to Caltech with a commitment to split my time between biology and technology,” he says. “The idea was that biology should drive the choice of the technology developed, and that the technology should lift barriers to the deciphering of important biological information.”

Over the next 20 years, Hood’s lab would develop four instruments—a protein sequencer and synthesizer, as well as a DNA sequencer and synthesizer—that allowed scientists to move readily from a protein sequence to its gene sequence and vice versa, and allowed for the synthesis of genes and fragments of proteins.

This suite of four instruments formed the technological foundation of modern molecular biology, opening the door for many new and powerful strategies, including the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The lab’s work on the automation of DNA sequencing contributed directly to the planning and realization of the Human Genome Project.

The discoveries that were enabled by the protein sequencer in the early 1980s led to a number of key disease-related breakthroughs, including the treatment of chronic anemia with erythropoietin and the implication of prion proteins in mad cow disease and its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Hood’s own research was expedited by the technologies developed in his lab, which allowed him to move from an analysis of antibody proteins to an analysis of antibody genes. The combined efforts of Hood’s lab and the laboratories of Susumu Tonegawa and Philip Leder established that the two gene/one protein theory was correct, that there were many antibody genes in our DNA, and that the genes were capable of undergoing adaptive mutation to further increase antibody diversity.

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