This spring, when Applera Corp. of Foster City, Calif., asked members of its board of directors to suggest worthy recipients for gifts from the corporation, Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., the medical school’s deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, suggested a grant that would do double duty to promote her ideals in biomedical education.
Slayman, a director of Applera—the parent company of Applied Biosystems, a manufacturer of scientific equipment, and Celera, which played a major role in sequencing the human genome—took advantage of the company’s offer by earmarking their $300,000 gift to endow a fund that will support Yale’s Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) and honor the memory of her mentor and thesis advisor, Edward L. Tatum, Ph.D.
Slayman met Tatum at Rockefeller University, where she earned her doctorate under his supervision in the 1960s, just after he won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for pioneering work on genetic regulation of metabolism in the cell. “For a very famous man—he was at the height of his career—he nonetheless took extraordinary measures to work closely with every student and every postdoc in his lab group,” recalls Slayman, Sterling Professor of Genetics and professor of cellular and molecular physiology.
Tatum did part of the research that led to the Nobel at Yale in the late 1940s with his graduate student Joshua Lederberg. The two discerned how bacteria exchange and recombine genetic material, findings that paved the way for gene sequencing and genetic engineering. They shared the prize with another Tatum collaborator, George W. Beadle, Ph.D.
Slayman and Ira Mellman, Ph.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Cell Biology, were the chief architects of the BBS program. Founded in 1996, the program has become a cornerstone of graduate science education at Yale, transforming the curriculum to reflect the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of biological science. Knowing Tatum’s dedication to nurturing aspiring scientists, Slayman thought that a fund commemorating him should be linked to the program, and she hopes that the new Edward L. Tatum Fund will support an outstanding BBS student in the field of genetics.
Ever the scientist, Slayman says she hopes the Applera gift will be “autocatalytic”—a term from chemistry for the mechanism by which the products of a reaction provide fuel for further reactions—and will inspire others to support the BBS program. The gift already shows signs of self-replication: it will benefit from a university policy that matches endowment gifts to the School of Medicine, which will double its impact.