How did you survive as a child?
Courtesy of Mario R. Capecchi
Part luck, part [ly being] resourceful, you had to get food by stealing. I became fairly good with it.... Once you are operating in a particular area, and your cover is blown, then you move on.
What scars remain? What strengths did you gain?
The easiest way is not even to think about it. The strengths are self-reliance. There are different ways of doing science. What we like to do [at this lab] is do it all ourselves.... To me, it's important to go into a biological problem and then develop [the] technology to answer that question. That is going back to being self-reliant, to finding your own food and surviving.
When you're on your own, you spend a lot of time thinking. To go from step A to step B, I can concentrate on something, it doesn't...
Define stress for you
I do everything at the last minute. Stress is having a grant due in two weeks and not having started it. I have piles of stuff; anything that is two months [off] just sits there.
How did you start studying Hox genes?
In the early 1990s, people were studying
What is your research goal?
I'm envisioning [two projects] that will take about 20 years to unravel. One is how the nervous system is put together. ...We inactivated
And two: In mammals, 99% of the genes are the same... How do you have the same genes [and] get a completely different [function]?
One of the reasons to stay with
What are your favorite papers?
In science... you never look backward. Last year's literature, you don't even think about it... [One] paper that influenced others was the 1987
What frightens you?
The more we delve into how we work; we learn how more complex we are.... I see that we are going to have to be working a long time, at least another 100 years. ...What frightens me is the desire for immediate gratification. If we try to appease that, we will sell short the whole system.
You recently made an interesting discovery
I hadn't seen a picture of the house [where I grew up], yet it was in my mind. Recently, I received a prize in Trento, near there. Mother had rented a house, north of the Dolomites [in the Alps]. So as part of this prize, they wanted a few pictures.... I found one of the house. It looks very similar to where I live now.
Do you plan to retire?
My wife says that I am going to die at the lab bench.
Christine Bahls can be contacted at