Nobel Prize-winning molecular geneticist Dr. Mario Capecchi is the Science Director for the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists.
Born in Verona, Italy, Dr. Capecchi had a rough start in life. His father, an Italian airman, was deemed missing in action during World War II, and his mother was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Eventually left on his own at 4 years old, Mario almost died of malnutrition.
After being saved from the camp, his mother spent a year searching for her son and finally found him at a hospital in Reggio Emilia. With the help of American physicist Edward Ramberg, Mario’s uncle, she brought her son to the United States where he excelled in both chemistry and physics.
Dr. Capecchi received his undergraduate degree at Antioch College in Ohio with dual majors in chemistry and physics. He went on to graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he developed an interest in molecular biology.
He transferred to Harvard University to study under James Dewey Watson, the molecular biologist, geneticist, and zoologist credited as the co-founder of the DNA structure. Watson oversaw Capecchi’s doctoral thesis, and he graduated from the university with a PhD in biophysics.
Today, Dr. Mario Capecchi is a Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at University of Utah School of Medicine. He is also the co-chairman of the school’s Department of Genetics. Since 1988, he has worked as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
His work that involved creating the “knockout mouse,” a genetically engineered mouse inactivated by replacing an existing gene with artificial DNA, won him the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with his project partners, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies.
The development of the knockout mouse opened the door to allow other scientists to manipulate DNA sequences in living mice. The technology enables researchers to create mutations of any gene in a mouse.
He is also interested in the analysis of early mouse development along with the production of murine models of human genetic diseases.
Dr. Capecchi is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine.
Besides the Nobel Prize, he has been awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the National Medal of Science, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research, the Gardner Foundation International Award for Achievements in Medical Sciences, and dozens of other honors from all over the world.
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