<figcaption> Credit: © Jason varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
Credit: © Jason varney | Varneyphoto.com

Ken-ichi Noma, a geneticist at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, stands at a bench in his lab and squirts a sample of Saccharomyces pombe onto a microscope slide. He adjusts the microscope focus knobs, and an image of green, globular cells wavers on the monitor attached to his microscope. "How are you doing?" he asks the cells. "Are you happy?" Noma says that coddling his yeast cells is the key to success in the field of yeast genetics.

Noma's love for yeast evolved slowly. As a child he aspired to become a medical doctor, but instead studied electronics at Takuma National College of Technology in Japan. Though Noma's heart was not in electronics, he persisted at Takoma, but he could not shake his desire to help humans by understanding biology. "I wanted to do something different," he recalls.

As a graduate student in the...

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