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Fund honors a mentor, boosts young scientists

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2005 - Autumn


When Applera Corp. of Norwalk, Conn., asked members of its board of directors last spring to suggest recipients for gifts from the company, Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., the medical school’s deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs and a member of Applera’s board, suggested a grant that would also promote her ideals in biomedical education.

Slayman earmarked $300,000 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. She met Tatum at Rockefeller University in New York City, where she earned her doctorate under his supervision in 1963, a few years 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,” recalled Slayman, Sterling Professor of Genetics and professor of cellular and molecular physiology.

Tatum, who died in 1975, did part of the research that led to the Nobel while he was on the Yale faculty. Tatum and his graduate student Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D. ’47, who shared the prize, along with Harvard geneticist George Wells Beadle, Ph.D., discerned how bacteria exchange and recombine genetic material, findings that paved the way for gene sequencing and genetic engineering.

Ever the scientist, Slayman said 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. Applera’s contribution already shows signs of self-replication: it stands to benefit from a university policy that matches endowment gifts to the School of Medicine, which will double its impact.

Applera is the parent company of Applied Biosystems, which develops and markets scientific equipment, and Celera, which played a major role in sequencing the human genome.