Oral history interview with Adrian R. Krainer

  • 1997-Apr-09 – 1997-Apr-11

Adrian R. Krainer was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay in a Jewish family of eastern European descent (Hungary and Romania), the younger of two brothers. (Krainer's father was forced to work in a Romanian labor camp during World War II and on his way through Italy to Uruguay after the war, a clerical error changed the family name from Kreiner to Krainer). His parents had a small business making leather items in Montevideo. Political unrest framed his teenage years in the 1970s, as did the Zionist movement and witnessing anti-Semitism. Krainer went to a bilingual French elementary school (such that half of his classes were conducted in French, and half in Spanish) before transitioning into a public school for two years and then into a Hebrew school to complete his pre-college education. He was inspired by some of his high-school teachers to pursue science as a career, which he did instead of medicine, and developed an early interest in classical genetics. Seeing all the science being produced in the United States in genetics, Krainer decided that he wanted to attend a U. S. academic institution and set about learning English. He applied to and decided to matriculate at Columbia University and major in biochemistry, finding a laboratory course with James A. Lewis and lectures by Charles R. Cantor quite stimulating. He worked for a time in a photocopying and messenger office on campus; he later worked in Catherine L. Squires's lab, successfully cloning a bacterial ribosomal operon. While still not feeling totally comfortable with the English language, he did quite well academically at Columbia, and was accepted both to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's graduate programs, choosing the former for his doctoral research. While at Harvard, Krainer rotated through James Wang's and Walter Gilbert's labs, and wrote a computer program in Mathew S. Meselson's lab to correlate recombination frequencies and distance of residues within proteins, before joining the lab of Thomas P. Maniatis, who had done groundbreaking work cloning full-length cDNAs. While a graduate student, Krainer developed an efficient in vitro splicing system, which made it possible to study detailed aspects of human pre-mRNA splicing mechanisms, regulation, and disease-associated splicing defects. From this work Krainer had three articles published in Cell. He moved on to an independent fellow position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, being mentored by Richard J. Roberts (a co-discoverer of splicing in 1977) and worked on purifying and characterizing snRNP and protein components of the spliceosome, before accepting a faculty position there in 1989. Throughout the interview Krainer talks about his scientific life and balancing family life with his career, all the while reflecting on life and science in Uruguay. In addition, he discusses Richard J. Roberts and Phillip A. Sharp's Nobel Prize; the system of staff promotion at Cold Spring Harbor; the rationale behind Cold Spring Harbor's "rolling-five system"; the National Cancer Institute grant review process; the advantages of the Pew scholars network; the growing tendency for clinical research to be funded over basic research; and James D. Watson' s program of bringing Eton students to Cold Spring Harbor. The interview ends with his thoughts on his participation in Programa de Desarrollo de Ciencias Básicas and the Pew Latin American Fellows program; and the valuable interactions at the Pew scholars annual meetings.

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