Studying for my qualifying exam has been quite stressful, but, in the course of my literature review, I have come across the stories of some amazing female scientists who have provided me with the motivation needed to keep going. One such woman is the molecular biologist Jane Gitschier. I first learned about Jane because her lab was one of the first to isolate the gene for Menkes disease, a genetic disease causing copper dysregulation. Further research on the gene she isolated showed it to be a copper transporter (now known as ATP7A) – patients with Menkes disease have mutations in ATP7A that make it hard for the body to control copper levels, leading to neurological and connective tissue problems and, if untreated, childhood death.
Jane received a BS in Engineering from Pennsylvania State University, followed by a PhD in Biology from MIT. After a post-doctoral experience at the biotechnology company Genentech, she returned to academia, joining UCSF’s faculty and rising to Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Associate Director of the Institute for Human Genetics (IHG). While at UCSF, she worked on diverse research topics including the genetic basis for “perfect pitch” and policies around genetic privacy.
When her HHMI funding expired, she had to downsize her lab, so she went looking for opportunities to engage with science that wouldn’t require big grants. She had long had a passion for history and a love of getting to know people, so she jumped at the opportunity to conduct interviews for the journal PLoS Genetics. She loved this side job, where she herself was inspired by the stories of the more than 40 geneticists, historians, and journalists she talked with. She was especially struck by the influence high school teachers had on her interviewee’s future, so much so that she even considered becoming a high school teacher after retiring from academia.
Jane retired from UCSF in 2013, where she is now a Professor Emeritus. In retirement, she is pursuing hobbies as diverse as her research interests – composing music, attending architecture school, and writing a book. You can read her interviews at http://collections.plos.org/jane-gitschier-interviews
Photo credit: PLoS