Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Martin Latterich

  • 2004-Jan-12 – 2004-Jan-13
  • 2004-Jan-15

Martin Latterich was born in Hamburg, Germany, though lived in Mönchengladbach, Germany until he left for college. His mother, a trained chemist who worked in quality control at a company that manufactured perfume, had a congenital kidney defect that required treatment, so Latterich spent a lot of time with his maternal grandmother, who was an accountant, and his maternal grandfather, who was an artist trained at Düsseldorf Art Academy and who started his own arts and graphics business. From a young age he was interested in his mother's work, like gas chromatography and atomic absorption spectroscopy, visiting her at her office often. With a proclivity towards science and technology, Latterich spent much of his youth performing his own experiments (with chemistry sets and the like) and taking apart pieces of electronics. In high school he entered and placed in the Jugend Forscht, a National Young Scientists Competition, with work on cadmium: he studied the toxicity of cadmium—when in ionic form compared to when taken up as an organometallic complex—in algae and in Daphnia (water fleas). Latterich chose to attend Durham University in the United Kingdom for his undergraduate degree, during which time he undertook an undergraduate research project studying pathogenesis mechanisms and crown gall tumors with Charles Shaw. For the summer after his second year at college he worked under John Boyle at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Manchester, England on exonucleases: he wanted experience in mammalian-type cell biology/biochemistry, which he felt Durham could not offer (its strongest focus was in plant sciences). Latterich decided to stay at Durham for his graduate degree since he was interested in working with Martin Watson and on lysosome vacuole biogenesis. He met Randy W. Schekman and decided to go to his laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, as a postdoctoral fellow in order to research vesicular movements in intracellular transport. From there he accepted a position at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. After some time in the academy, he decided to move into industry to gain access to resources unavailable at a university, first working for Diversa Corporation and then for Illunina, Incorporated. Ultimately, though, he chose to return to academia and accepted a position at McGill University in Montreal, Québec, Canada, researching membrane-fusion elements required for intracellular transport. During the interview Latterich discusses his family life and his career, especially his wife and daughter; setting up his various labs; learning about the history of science; and the practical applications of Latterich's research. He also talks about his funding history; the process of writing journal articles; product development in industrial science; scientific collaborations between the academy and industry; and his role on scientific advisory boards. The interview concludes with Latterich's thoughts on the privatization of research; morality and scientific research; the role of the scientist in educating the public about science; science and religion; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences in his work.

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