Categories: Epistemology, Molecular biology​

Prof. Ellen Rothenberg

Ellen Rothenberg joined the Division of Biology of the California Institute of Technology in 1982; since 1994 she has been a full professor. She is one of the leading molecular immunologists, focusing on gene regulatory mechanisms for T-cell development from stem cells.

Interview themes:

  • *From biochemistry to molecular immunology
    *As a woman in molecular biology
    *Molecular biology and immunology
    *Impact on human immunology

  • Interview with Ellen Rothenberg.pdf

  • Interview Excerpt

  • UD: I’ll come back to your present-day work later. Now I would like to ask a few questions about the recent history of immunology, in particular, how did molecular biology influence immunology, and how did immunology influence molecular biology? All those exceptions in immunology rendered molecular biology much more complicated, didn’t they?
  • ​ER: Oh no, no, no, it was wonderful. Now, it was very, very early. Susumu Tonegawa found out about the rearrangement of the immunoglobulin genes in 1975, ’76, and this was before cloning. And he could do this even with the incredibly primitive methods at the time. (He did get the Nobel Prize for it, so he’s easy to find.) But there were a couple of things that were interesting about this. As eukaryotic molecular biology developed, it was breathtaking how fast things happened. As late as when I was a graduate student, one of the things that we were taught, in 1972, ’73 was the colinearity of the gene with the protein and the RNA transcript. But RNA splicing already in 1974 broke this. Splicing first came from virology; it came from adenoviruses. This was one of the major things that we were taught was unthinkable in mammalian cells, but viruses are allowed to be weird. So this “exception” was accepted in the viruses. Then after cloning came in and you could get the equivalent molecules from the host mammalian cell, you could see that this was actually a general phenomenon. So that was one violation that turned out to be a new generality, that was ’74. 


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