Oral history interview with Jeffrey Wilusz

  • 1998-Jan-19 – 1998-Jan-21

Jeffrey Wilusz grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, in a Polish Roman Catholic family. His father worked in various capacities for the telephone company; his mother was a homemaker until her four children were in school, at which time she began secretarial work. Wilusz attended Roman Catholic schools all through high school (his religion continues to influence his children's lives). He entered Rutgers-the State University, where he decided to pursue veterinary medicine, and the death of his favorite dog confirmed him in that decision. He found thinking through scientific issues similar to solving puzzles, and running helped him both clarify his thinking and relax. Although his high-school education had not provided scientific training and opportunities, he studied microbiology for his undergraduate degree. Wilusz became interested in virology and began graduate work at Duke University, where he overcame his lack of familiarity with new molecular ideas and procedures and intensified his interest in virology. Jack Keene (Pew Scholar Class of 1985) and Thomas Shenk became his mentors. He met and married Susan Miller, and they had two children. Lessons learned in Keene's lab helped Wilusz identify a leader RNA that binds to La protein. The Keene lab switched from vesicular stomatitis virus research to autoantigen research, which contributed to Wilusz's ability to identify acidic ribosomal proteins in autoantigens. He began the sequencing of Ebola virus-identified RNA structural regions that recognize antibodies, and began studying VA RNA in the Shenk lab. He used in vitro polyadenylation to study protein-RNA interactions. Wilusz accepted a postdoc at Princeton University, where he had to juggle career and family life. Wilusz then moved on to a position at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, where he continued to pursue his interest in RNA research. During the interview he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing diverse lines of research in a lab; presenting research results at conferences; publishing; funding; and his current research projects. He answers questions about new technology's role in stimulating creative science; his greatest strengths as a scientist; his thoughts on scientific accountability and ethics. He describes how he juggles career and family life; the allocation of his time; his working relationship with graduate students; the problem of finding skilled lab personnel; his mentoring style; and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Wilusz concludes his interview with his opinion about trends and problems in the biomedical sciences.

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