Nobel laureate to lecture at BYU

From a homeless 4-year-old to a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Dr. Mario R. Capecchi will share his remarkable life story as part of the annual Reed M. Izatt & James J. Christensen lecture series at Brigham Young University on Jan. 24.  He will also speak about the gene targeting research that won him and two of his colleauges the 2007 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Capecchi was born in Verona, Italy, to an American mother and Italian father. During World War II, the family was torn apart when his mother was sent to the Dachau concentration camp and Capecchi was left on the streets at only four-and-a-half years old. His mother found him six years later, nearly dead from malnourishment.  They eventually moved to the United States where he started school for the first time. 

After finishing grade school, Capecchi attended Antioch College where he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics. He graduated from Harvard University with a PhD in biophysics in 1967.

Capecchi taught for several years at Harvard Medical School.  In 1976, he began his research at the University of Utah, where he is still employed. 

Since 1992, Capecchi has received 24 different honors and awards, culminating in the prestigious Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2007. Capecchi and two colleagues, Sir Martin Evans and Dr. Oliver Smithies, were co-recipients of this honor for their work with “knockout mice,” genetically engineered mice with targeted mutation to turn off specific genes. This research has the potential to cure a variety of human diseases.

The public is invited to attend both of Dr. Capecchi’s lectures on Jan. 24, the first of which will be a technical session entitled “Gene targeting into the 21st Century: mouse models of human diseases from cancer to neuropsychiatric disorders,” at 2:00 p.m. in W112 of the Ezra Taft Benson Building (BNSN). The general session, entitled “The making of a scientist: an unlikely journey,” will be at 4:00 p.m. in the Joseph Smith Building (JSB) auditorium.

These lectures are part of the yearly Izatt-Christensen lecture series hosted by the Department of Chemical Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. The public is invited to attend.

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