Aerial shot of the HHMI's Maryland headquarters.
On a pristine 23-acre campus in Maryland located just a few miles from the National Institutes of Health, a handful of scientists decides how America's richest privately held biomedical research organization should distribute more than $500 million in funding annually. But the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, perhaps America's most prestigious patron of biomedical research, has undergone a changing of the guard at its Chevy Chase headquarters in the past year--and, as a result, a slight change in funding philosophy as well.

Last January, Nobel laureate Thomas Cech, an RNA researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder and an HHMI investigator since 1988, became the new HHMI president, replacing Purnell Choppin. Gerry Rubin, an HHMI investigator and professor of genetics at the University of California, Berkeley, who led efforts to sequence the Drosophila genome, came on as vice president for...

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