As a graduate student at the Weizmann Institute in 1967, Inder Verma set out to study mitochondrial RNA from animal cells. At the time, culturing cells was a challenge. "We had to go to the butcher to get blood, then separate serum to grow cells," he recalls. But Verma soon faced an even bigger problem. "In Israel, there were a lot of orange orchards, and they had a lot of fungi," he explains. "So every plate had this gigantic green fungus on it." Undaunted, Verma ground up all the material at hand and purified mitochondrial RNA - from the fungus. "It was a great piece of luck," says Verma, now at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. No one had ever studied the properties of fungal mitochondrial RNA. "It was a very successful PhD. I had lots and lots of papers."

But more than luck, the...

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