Ahead of the Curve
David Baltimore's Life in Science
Publication Year: 2001
Basing his narrative on many personal interviews, Crotty recounts the milestones of Baltimore's career: completing his Ph.D. at Rockefeller University in eighteen months, participating in the anti—Vietnam War movement, winning a Nobel Prize at age thirty-seven for the codiscovery of reverse transcriptase, and co-organizing the recombinant DNA/genetic engineering moratorium. Along the way, readers learn what viruses are and what they do, what cancer is and how it happens, the complexities of the AIDS problem, how genetic engineering works, and why making a vaccine is a complicated process. And, as Crotty considers Baltimore's public life, he retells the famous scientific fraud saga and Baltimore's vindication after a decade of character assassination.
Crotty possesses the alchemical skill of converting technical scientific history into entertaining prose as he conveys Baltimore's huge ambitions, intensity, scientific genius, attitude toward science and politics, and Baltimore's own view about what happened in the "Baltimore Affair." Ahead of the Curve shows why with his complex personality, keen involvement in public issues, and wide-ranging interests David Baltimore has not only shaped the face of American science as we know it today, but has also become a presence in our culture.
Published by: University of California Press
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TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
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On a blustery autumn day in 1986, the wind ripples across David Baltimore's trenchcoat and jostles his briefcase as he quickly crosses a courtyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His beard has a gray hair for every hundred times he has been asked when he will cure cancer. His navy blue suit is stylish; he dresses much better than he used to, back when biology wasn't ...
ONE: GREAT NECK, LONG ISLAND
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Great Neck was on of the many commutervilles lining the route of the Long Island Railroad in the years following World War II. This sleepy little New York town had become famous up and down Long Island for its excellent schools. Everyone at Great Neck High School was expected to go to a four-year college; higher education was both imperative and assumed. ...
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Swarthmore College is snuggled in a quaint town outside Philadelphia. When Baltimore arrived, the streets were narrow and wooded, and the few small bridges were made of stone. The thousand students referred to the town beyond the college as "the Village" or simply "the Vil." The campus itself looked borrowed partly from the English countryside and partly ...
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The explosive growth of molecular biology made the late 1950s both a great time and a chaotic time to become an apprentice molecular biologist. Baltimore could get involved in molecular biology immediately, but it was difficult to see how he could become a great scientist. The MIT graduate program in biology was rigidly structured, requiring students to learn ...
FOUR: SALK INSTITUTE
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David and Sandra drove out to California in his white Valiant. Spring 1965 was the height of the popularity of the Beach Boys and surfing in southern California. La Jolla, home of the Salk Institute, was a wealthy town on the coast, full of Mercedes Benzes, jewelry stores, and art galleries. It has only one season-spring. The Salk was a mile north of town, near the ...
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Landing back on the east coast was a relief to Baltimore. He felt he was there to stay. He and Alice went apartment hunting together in the snowy Cambridge neisghborhoods around Inman Square, Central Square, and Harvard Square. They picked a small flat on Soden Street, not too far from the MIT campus, and settled in together. Eight months later, they ...
SIX: RECOMBINANT DNA
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January 1971. The main building of the Stanford University School of Medicine was the ugliest building on campus. The beautiful central quad was a spacious collection of buildings laid out like a vast Spanish villa, all coordinated with terracotta roofs, fine murals, intricate stone carvings, and covered walkways around sun-drenched courtyards. But the medical school, ...
SEVEN: NOBEL GOLD
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In the fall of 1975, Baltimore was starting his year-long sabbatical at Rockefeller University, working with Jim Darnell. He needed a break from MIT, and he wanted to be near his parents in New York. His father had had his first heart attack that summer and was in and out of Mt. Sinai Hospital for months. Concerned, David, Alice, and their newborn daughter ...
POLIOVIRUS: AN INTERLUDE
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Once the Cambridge ban on recombinant DNA was lifted, one of the first pieces of DNA that the Baltimore laboratory cloned was the poliovirus genome. This work was done by Vincent Racaniello, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab. Since poliovirus is an RNA virus, Racaniello first made a DNA copy (cDNA) of the poliovirus RNA using reverse transcriptase. He ...
EIGHT: WHITEHEAD INSTITUTE
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Edwin "Jack" Whitehead started a biomedical company called Technicon in 1939. Over the next forty years he led the company to success, and he sold Technicon to Revlon for $400 million in 1980. Whitehead, an energetic and persistent man, wanted to use some of his wealth to found a biomedical institute, and in 1974, with the help of his advisers, he began ...
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By 1989 Rockefeller University's president, the indomitable Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, was approaching the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five. The Rockefeller trustees were hunting for a suitable replacement. They wanted someone who could restore the university to the grand status it had held early in the century and at the same time tear ...
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Baltimore's return to the MIT biology department was heralded as a homecoming. Some MIT researchers wondered why he didn't return to the Whitehead. That had been an option, but the biology department made him a lucrative offer, funded through a multimillion-dollar donation by Ivan Cottrell, a wealthy Rochester dentist. The Whitehead Institute was ...
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In a move that surprised even his close friends, Baltimore accepted the presidency of Caltech, the California Institute of Technology effective fall 1997. Paul Berg said incredulously, "I was sure he was not going to take it. . . . He kept telling me about how much he would miss Boston, how much he liked Boston, and how MIT was pulling out all stops to keep him." ...
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In writing this biography I depended on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources. I conducted a series of interviews with David Baltimore between 1994 and 1998. I am indebted to a number of other people for participating in interviews, including Paul Berg, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, James Darnell, Irving Weissman, Robert Baltimore, Maurice Fox, Marc Girard, ...
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Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2001